The number one thing you can do to improve your photography: When you put your eye to the camera make your very first shot count.
It’s like this: The moment you see an interesting shot, especially when trying to do Candid Portraiture, which is my area of interest, the best moment is already passing...so it's critical—extremely critical to get the first shot right—timing is everything.
Here are some tips to improve your first shot:
- Support with your left—Use your left hand to support the lens or body, don't be afraid to post against something or use your body.
- shoot with your right—Don't use your right hand to hold the body or lens while also trying to release the shutter.
- squeeze it don't push it—Try to be smooth as you press or squeeze the shutter release. Let the one focus be pressing smoothly.
- look at the whole frame—Look at the whole frame of your shot. Do as much in the lens cropping as possible to isolate what interested you initially.
- have your exposure set—It's easy as you are moving back and forth from various light sources, or have shifting light, to forget, but be continuously checking or metering.
- but just in case check your exposure—For me, this is a constant battle. Most of the time when I've shot in the field journalistic photos, the subjects are moving in and out of homes, light sources, and with various amounts of a-light. Check it. Seriously.
- have your depth of field set—Have your depth of field determined if at all possible prior to picking up your camera.
- focus—This can be the toughest thing, especially with very shallow DOF. Quickly focus.
- exhale not inhale—Learn to exhale as you raise the camera up to your eye. Your body will settle down and rest and you will shake less.
- relax—It can be tempting to want to rush to get a shot. I've done it soo many times only to have a shot that wasn't good anyway because I was in a hurry and didn't do something listed above.
- get used to it—You’ll never get ALL the good shots that come along. It just won’t happen. Stop and regroup. You can tell your “fishing story” about the “one that got away” later with all the other reminiscing photographers.
That said, with such a long list of considerations, you can’t sit there going through a checklist while life is passing by. It just won’t work so here are the top three: Focus, DOF, Exposure. That’s the big three overview IF the shot is interesting and you already know composition, story, etc.
Still, that can be difficult to do in the heat of the moment so the real way to improve your candid photography and journalistic photography is to become pre-emptive. Learn to see the photo developing BEFORE it actually does. I can’t teach this part, this comes from experience, the kind where there are lots of mistakes and missed shots. It’s knowing when to have your camera ready for THE shot and sometimes means not taking a shot at all if the moment has passed so you can prepare for the next one.
Some tips for training yourself to become pre-emptive (interestingly, these things will also make for more interesting photographs):
- know your subject—This is a more broad idea but encompasses the ones below. Study them, watch them, and wait for them. Be patient.
- convergence—Start to watch for things coming together in your subjects environment. This could be anything from a Taxi pulling up to the remote control for the T.V. or even another person. Where independent things come together inadvertently.
- relationship—Look for relationship cues and signals. Interactions can tell you a lot about a person and display many facets to their personality that you may not have considered.
- peculiarities—Be on the look out for those things that make your subject unique. It could be a batch of freckles or a scar or a limp or a fondness for chocolate. Open up and watch.
Don't let the fact that you are shooting with a DSLR let you get sloppy or lazy. Hone your craft. That’s all I have to say about that. :)
Let me know what you liked, what may have helped you?