Updated: Mar 10
Simon Bratt Photography Blog - Feb 2021
Like anybody who’s been doing something for a long time, people generally know about it, and, rightly or wrongly, ask for your opinion. I think its quite flattering really, you have a passion and /or a skill and people ask for your advise. It puts quite a bit of responsibility on your shoulders to provide the correct advise for that person. It would be easy to scare them off with technical babble, or give them unsuitable advise, and even worse, just wrong information.
This person has shown an interest in a topic, wants to either start out or progress, and they have chosen you for help.
I never mind helping someone with photography, its great to share and nurture a budding creative person, watch them improve and develop. I think it’s in most of us to be with like minded people and, as social creatures, share the experience of a passion. One of the reasons COVID lockdown is difficult for us, we miss the physical sharing of whatever you enjoy.
So anyway, yes I do get asked quite often about photography and cameras etc. I certainly don’t put myself out there as an expert in anything, I am always learning, and there’s lots I don’t know. Somethings don’t interest me (tempted to mention Nikon there, probably to a chorus of boo’s from my fellow Nikon loving camera buddies, big shout out for Canon users). Somethings I don’t do often enough to feel qualified to give advise on. Photography is a big and wide field and although I probably cover more subjects than the average tog, there’s still a lot that passes me by. I salute those who can narrow down their field to one subject and do that all day long, I tried, it’s just not for me.
Anyway so for a bit of reflective fun, I thought id write out the top ten things I wish I’d known x number of years ago when I started.
1. Don’t fret too much about the gear (cameras, lenses etc)
Definitely start of with something very affordable. I know too many people who bought the very nice stuff only to never use it again. I would say most people give up or find its not really something they are that interested in. We have all been there, I’ve tried loads of hobbies and got bored and moved on. So don’t mortgage the house to get that £5000 lens that you’ve seen the ‘expert’ use, no yet anyway. Getting more basic gear will really help you learn the limitations of your equipment, only then will you know what part of your gear is holding you back, and what’s worth upgrading.
2. Give good consideration to the weight of your photography equipment
Some people are strong young and fit, or, like me, happy (and able) to lug around a camera bag of gear weighing between 8kg and 12kg depending on when Im doing. Then there’s a tripod, another 2.5kg for me. Plus drinks bottle and a couple of snacks. It all adds up, and it’s something that people don’t take into account when starting out. Ive known people to not take a camera out because its too heavy and their knees aren’t great etc. The one big tip I would suggest is ditch that horrible neck strap that comes with the camera and get a decent padded (over the head) shoulder strap (ie Black Rapid). It will make the camera feel so much lighter and it will position the camera on your hip which is so much easier to walk with. Try hanging a 1kg bag of sugar from your neck for a couple of hours, similar to a typical camera, it’s not nice. If weight is an issue, really consider a mirrorless camera. They have come of age now and can give a good weight and size saving. If you are thinking of a camera that has changeable lenses, then it’s possible when you go out, you’ll want to take more than one lens. It all ads up.
3. Don’t underestimate the power, and the necessity of post processing
Post processing meaning editing your images (digital or otherwise), after you have taken the shot. This might be in camera or more usually on a computer (laptop or tablet). Cameras, even today, still aren’t great at recording a high dynamic range in one image, meaning the range of light from very bright to dark shadows. Our eyes are so much better than cameras for dynamic range. So when you’ve taken you picture and got home to look at it, it might well not look as you remember, ie sky is blown out (just white, when there were clouds) or the sky is fine and the trees are just a dark blob. Maybe the camera didn’t get the colours quite right or the contrast. You can tweet those to make the image look either more realistic or even style it up and go crazy with tweaking. Not only all that (and much more) but you might want to crop or straighten the image to present it better. That is just the basic start of post processing that anyone with an interest in photography should be able to do. There are many free programs you can use, you just have to spend a bit of time learning how to do it. My preference is the Adobe suite (Photoshop etc), its not free but at least these days you can pay per month and cancel it if you don’t like it. Good free basic options include:- Photoshop Express Photo Editor (Adobe) Paint.net Or for really keen people happy to spend a small one-off amount, for a lot of editing control Affinity by Serif (a popular Photoshop alternative) There are many others
4. Be organised from the start
If you end up keeping going with photography at any level, from an occasional snapper to a die-hard machine gunner (someone who shots 50 images in 3 seconds when a bird jumps of a branch), then you will accumulate a lot of image files. You really need to get into the habit of filing your images in a way that you can find them again. There are so many reasons why you will want to dive back into your older images. You can use cataloguing software to organise your images, but I wouldn’t use it as my primary method of organisation. I am slightly against that because software changes, software comes and goes, and whatever you do now has to be bullet proof for many years. So this is what I do, it’s simple. Let’s say today is 24th Feb 2021 and I’ve been out shooting boats. I would already have a folder on my computer called 2021 (in the pictures folder). Now I’d make a new folder in 2021 called “02.24 Boats at The Broads Norfolk” and copy all todays images into that. Thats it, repeat for every new day, or even two different shoots in one day. The reason for using month first, then day, is that when I look inside the 2021 folder, all the sub folders are in chronological order, I know January is at the top and December is at the bottom. This is the least you should do. I also add keywords to each image (with Adobe Bridge), for business reasons, making my search even more detailed. I can easily search ten years of images, and as time goes by, you appreciate the small effort you put in now, even more.
5. Backup backup backup
I used to be an IT manager and I can’t tell you the number of times people lost work (privately) due to not having a backup. Our images can be very special and personal, or even valuable. Once setup a backup doesn’t have to be onerous. Plus there are various levels of backup you can do depending on budget and level of paranoia. Id recommend one or both of these two methods (I use both at once) A. External Hard drive connected to you computer. Once setup, just plug it in and run your backup software (which can be free) whenever you feel its necessary. For me I do it once a week or after every job. A hard drive is probably £80 ($60) and should last a few years. B. Use a cloud based backup. When my laptop is on, the cloud automatically copies any new images I make, up into my personal secure space in the cloud. All you need to do is occasionally check its actually working. Costs vary as different suppliers offer different features, but its starts from about £60 a year ($40) Only you know whether losing all your images is worth that. But it’s almost certain you will lose some or all of your images if you don’t implement something.
6. My images aren’t as good as others
This is a quick one, and something any beginner will feel. You have to remember photography is a skill and an art. It takes a bit (or a lot for most of us) of time to learn and get better. If you expect amazing results in your second month of taking up photography then you will be disappointed (unless you have some hidden talents or taking tuition). Just because you spent five million pounds on a camera, doesn’t guarantee stunning images. If I bought a jumbo jet, it wouldn’t make me a pilot. But thats part of the fun, learning WHY you're not happy with your images or how you can make them better. If anyone else appreciates my progression, then thats a bonus.
7. Find a subject you enjoy
Photography covers a multitude of sub-genres and topics, don’t be pigeon holed into taking landscapes just because it’s popular, if thats not your thing. Combine with something else you love and your photography will come on leaps and bounds. Plus you are less likely to give up. If it’s motor racing you love, get out there and find all the sorts of ways you can create images around motor racing. Even within that subject you can find 10 other sub topics to keep you busy, car parts, racing drivers, create a series on crowd passion, or in the garage or pit workers. Before you know it, you have great images to look at and improve on, AND it was fun.
8. Your garden (or local park) is your training field
Whatever photography you do, practise is essential. From learning you camera controls, to practising composition and how light and movement effect everything. There is nothing more frustrating than finally getting to that dream location, or once a year chance visit, only to get your camera out and you’ve forgotten how to turn it on! Or any other option you might want to try. You can’t always predict exactly what camera settings will be needed before you go, so you need to know how to adjust your camera reasonable quickly. Our closest outdoor space is perfect to playing photography in, because is convenient.
9. Photography doesn’t have to be a solitary experience
Like a lot of people, we often start off our photography adventure on our own. Thats understandable as its new and we are unsure of what we are doing, don’t quite understand the camera and don’t want to look like an idiot. It's very easy for photographers to allow this hobby or even business to become a solitary experience. But joining up with like minded individuals can have so many benefits. Camera clubs are at the heart of photography and are made up of a range of people. From someone who’s bought their first camera to others with years of experience. Most people are keen to help others, share experiences, and even arrange club outings and events. It won’t always be perfect but, in summary, being with other people who share our enjoyment for photography will usually enhance your whole outlook and knowledge.
10. Be prepared
If this is a hobby or more for you, and not just a once a year taking a few snaps, then try and get into the habit of having your camera battery charged up. Also keep your camera gear in a place where you know where it is. Often photographic opportunities just happen. You might only have a few minutes warning that something interesting is going to happen. Or if you are planning an early morning photo trip, get your stuff together the night before (when you are more awake!!) Ive learnt the hard way in the past and forgotten things light tripod bracket, even once got somewhere only to find I had forgotten to put the memory card back in the camera. After a few hours driving in the dark at 5am only to have to abandon a trip is really annoying. So now I pack the night before. I would suggest a check list too, even a short one as a memory jogger. Camera Charged battery (or two) Memory card Camera Strap Lens type (if you have more than one) Tripod Drink Snacks Hat and gloves
I hope that helps somebody's interest in photography go a little better from the start.