It’s a bit late for a New Year’s resolution and I’m not a big believer in them anyway, but since I’m getting back into photography I figured it would be a good idea to improve myself a bit. This is my Photographic Resolution; it’s a loose set of goals with no timetable, but something to work towards.
- Learn Exposure – Back when I shot black and white film in high school and college I understood basic exposure. I had to manually set the shutter speed and aperture to get an exposed shot with no ability to see the result for at least a day, usually much more. I had a limited amount of film so bracketing a bunch of exposures wasn’t an option. Once I owned an autofocus film camera I used aperture priority mode almost exclusively, occasionally dialing in exposure compensation for scenes that I thought the camera’s meter would misread. Digital made me lazy. With a nearly unlimited number of shots, auto bracketing, and instant replay I can just shoot a ton of images until I get one that’s good enough. But I’m still not getting the images that I want and I’m just creating work for myself later when I have to sort though and edit the images. Using an auto mode such as aperture priority, shutter priority, or program allows the camera to do all the thinking. The camera decides what your subject is and meters for it. Not only does that take away the control but more importantly for me it results in inconsistent images. One image will look great while the next is underexposed and the next is overexposed. If I’d metered it myself they’d all be exposed the way I wanted. The camera also tries to brighten everything up and provide the most even balance of shadows and highlights. Sometimes I want dark shadows or blown out highlights. I’m going to go back to basics and learn about exposure, how to expose what, how to take control, and how to be consistent.
- Respect Depth of Field – I love background blur so I shoot everything at maximum aperture (f/4, f/2.8). This provides the most shallow depth of field making my subject sharp and everything else blurry. It’s great for portraits but not so much for landscapes. Sometimes I use f/8 when I want more sharpness throughout an image, but what about all of the other values? When should I use f/5.6? Is f/16 any better than f/11? Would I ever use f/22? There are legitimate reasons to use those values so I’m going to explore them and answer those questions.
- Learn Composition – I’ve never been good at photographic composition. I know the rule of thirds, I zoom and fill the frame, and I use negative space on occasion. That’s it. Otherwise I’m just rushing to get a shot that’s focused. I crop a large majority of my photos. I rarely photograph landscapes and I don’t go anywhere near street photography. Some of my photos are good, but few are interesting. I want to learn composition to provide myself with some variety. In most of my photos I don’t even consciously identify my subject. When it comes to placing my subject or metering for my subject I can’t always figure out what it is. That’s an issue. I’ve been taking the same pictures of different things with different equipment for years and it’s time to shake things up a bit.
- Take My Camera Places – I’m really good at making excuses as to why I should leave my camera at home – too big, won’t be there long enough, not worth photographing, awkward situation. I’d like to reduce the excuses by 50% so I don’t miss opportunities. It’s pretty simple: bring the damn thing along.
- Take Pictures Inside – It’s easy to get photos outdoors during the day. There is plenty of light to use smooth low ISOs and plenty of room for framing and composition. Bring the camera inside and it gets more difficult. There’s less light so you need higher, noisier ISOs or flash. Tungsten, fluorescent, and LED lighting create color casts that sometimes need to be removed in post (easily). There is less room so you can’t always get the shots you want, especially with the focal magnification of a crop sensor camera. But that’s no reason not to try, especially now that I have better high ISO performance and don’t have to deal with magnification. Even without those benefits I don’t want to be afraid of the indoors.
- Plan – If there is one thing I learned to do when I was away from home it was to plan shoots. Being in an area that I did not know with nothing to do for a weekend made it necessary to research and plan. There is unlimited info online about what to shoot and when pretty much anywhere. I can apply this at home too starting with our trip to Acadia National Park this summer. I also want a shot of the Boston skyline (which you’d think I already have, but no).
- Throw in Some Flash – To be honest I really don’t know how flash works. I know it can be complicated and I know that I don’t really love it. In reality flash is a very powerful tool and I’d like to get to know it a little better.
- Spend Less Time Post-Processing – Today’s image editing / management software is amazing and allows a significant degree of flexibility to process images that didn’t come out of the camera the way I saw them in my head. As powerful as post-processing tools are, it still takes time to tweak the images. By improving my technique I can reduce the number of images that require processing and thus the time required. That means I can share my images faster, and they’ll be better too.
- Do More Post-Processing – Wait, didn’t I just I wanted to do less post-processing? Yes, less mundane post-processing to fix things that I should have achieved in the camera. I’d like to take some of the time I spend not adjusting the exposure of every image performing more intricate editing. I’d like to play with image compositing in Photoshop using luminosity masks. I’d like to hand stitch my own panoramas. I’d like to compose my own HDRs.
- Practice Portraits – I take a lot of still life and documentary-style photographs. The majority of my people shots are not posed; they are captured as the action takes place. I love photos like that but they are also easier for me because I don’t have to ask anyone to do anything. Most people don’t have portraits taken of them all the time, so they are more of a rare and special occurrence. I attach all sorts of expectations to that experience and think that I need to be highly skilled and perfect in order to get an image that someone would like. That keeps me from practicing. I’ve probably photographed less than 10 “portrait sessions” in the 16 years I’ve been a photographer, most of which were done over 10 years ago. It’s time for me to try again because it’s really not that scary.
My goals can be divided into two categories – increasing the quality of my photos and increasing the occurrence of my photos. Learning how to control my camera and compose my images will result in more interesting images and less processing time. Getting out and actually taking photos will increase the occurrence of great unique images for my portfolio. There’s no timeline, no pressure, just some ideas. I’ve already started and I’m already seeing improvement.
Side Note: Though I never outlined it clearly like this, I did something similar with my writing a couple of years ago. My goal was to increase the quality of my first drafts so that I could publish faster and more often with less editing. Less editing means more writing about interesting things. This plan is also ongoing and has no concrete timeline. I do feel that my writing has improved as a result.