Greetings, you’re listening to the Liam Photography Podcast, I’m your host Liam Douglas and this is Episode 272. In today’s episode, I want to talk about Leveling Up Your Photography and I am going to cover some tips for doing just that.
Photography is a wonderful but complex thing and many people are out there making a good living at it and others struggle. Everyone has their own “speed” if you will on how they learn and master something. Some people are able to learn Visually, so they can watch some good Youtube videos on photography, or a specific aspect of photography and master that aspect very quickly.
Other people are more “hands on” when it comes to learning something, so they can better learn and master photography by going out on their own and shooting and experimenting and honing their skills that way. They can teach themselves the Exposure Triangle and play around with changing their ISO, Shutter speed and Aperture until they master this very important part of photography and then go out and make money with their photography.
There are also the people that learn best with a combination of visual and hands on so they are able to attend a photography workshop and learn from someone who is already experienced in photography. These people can watch someone else do it and then go out with the workshop group and apply what they learned during the visual or “classroom” part of the workshop and pick photography up that way and then go back home and practice what they learned and hone their skills that way.
All of these methods are great ways to learn and become more proficient in photography and as you spend more time working on your photography, just like anything else, you will get better and better. You will learn over time how to work the Exposure Triangle and experiment with Depth of Field and how it effects your images. You will, over time learn to use light to make your compositions stronger, whether it’s natural light shooting outside or streaming in a window. Artificial lighting can come next, either Monolights or Continuous lights in your studio or a corner of your home. A person can then move the lights around, adjust the power output and adjust their camera and see how it changes their images.
Today I want to talk about some fairly simple way you can “Level Up” your photography, these are tips that can help you get there quicker. Again, everyone learns at a different speed or rate and that is fine, these tips are tips that ANYONE can use to “Level Up” their photography and get to a point where you can make money with it or just enjoy it as a hobby.
- Camera – Although your camera is important in photography, it is only important to a certain extent. Too many people put all the emphasis on the camera and not enough on other gear that in many ways are far more important to your photography. When it comes to camera, all you need is a decent DSLR or Mirrorless camera, it doesn’t need to be the top of the line model or most expensive body on the market. Today, ALL cameras are very good at making quality images, so although the camera is somewhat important, there are other factors that are more important.
- Glass – Now if you’ve been listening to this show or a while now you know I have told you before in past episodes that good glass or lenses are far more important to your photography than any camera body. You need good quality glass to get good quality images. What do I mean by good glass, well good glass are the lenses that have the wider Apertures like F/2.8 or F/1.8, F/1.4 or even F/1.2. The thing to keep in mind is the better quality glass is going to cost you more and also be larger and heavier than the lower quality glass like an F/4 or F/5.6, but it will also give you better Depth of Field and perform far better in low light situations such as shooting a wedding inside a church or a concert at an indoor venue. The wider that aperture is the more light will get to your sensor and make it easier to get that better exposure. Good glass is NOT cheap, which is why it can be beneficial to look around for the best deal you can find. Shop at local pawn shops if you have them in your area, or camera shops, which are becoming more and more rare. Buy used lenses from a good company like KEH, MBP, B&H or Adorama. Another way to save some money on good lenses is to buy an earlier version such as a Mark I instead of the Mark II or Mark III. For example, a Canon EF 70-200mm F/2.8 in the original version will be much cheaper than the second or third and newest generation of that same lens.
- Slow down – Another great way to “Level Up” your photography is to slow down and take your time. Back in the days of film, when I started, we also shot slower and took our time more as we had a limited number of shots per roll of film and EVERY shot cost us money. There was not only the cost of buying the film, but also the cost of developing that film into finished images. Today, with the majority of cameras being digital, people tend to just “spray and pray”, which means putting their camera on continuous shooting and just holding down the shutter button until the buffer or memory card is full and then hope they have some keeper shots later when processing them on their computer. You need to take your time, pretend you are shooting film and that you have a limited number of shots at a time. Just because your photos are digital, doesn’t mean you need to fill the memory card every time you go out and shoot. Spend time thinking about your composition, think of the story you are trying to tell with your camera and then press the shutter button. One of my favorite photography quotes by Ansel Adams is also on the Home page of my photography site. “The most important part of a camera is the 12 inches behind it.” That means you, you are the 12 inches behind the camera and your composition, your story IS the MOST IMPORTANT part of the camera and the total process.
- Good memory cards – Make sure you invest in good memory cards for your camera, I cannot emphasize this one enough. So many times I will see posts in photography groups I am in where someone is having an issue with shooting and it is memory card related. They bought the wrong speed cards for what they are trying to shoot and their camera spends more time saving images already shot than it does being ready for the next image. Now most memory cards are fairly good, but make certain you are buying the ones recommended for your camera. All camera makers will have a section on their website where they give you a list of recommended memory cards that they have test extensively in their labs and in the field to give the best results and they use this data to give you a list of their recommendations on memory cards as far as brand of cards and their speed to get the most performance from your camera. Don’t worry about buying the largest capacity memory cards, instead buying 32GB or 64GB cards, which are fairly inexpensive and you can buy more of them so you have spares when out shooting. Few things are more of a drag on your photography than having a memory card fail in the field and not having a spare, or getting out there to shoot and you forgot your memory card entirely. Get a memory card holder online for a few bucks, put several cards in it and keep it in your camera bag.
- Plenty of Batteries – If you are going out in the field to shoot, make sure you take enough batteries to be able to keep shooting. Another huge drag when shooting out in the field is having your battery die and not having any spares. A lot of people will say only buy the batteries made by your camera maker, which is sound advice, but those batteries are more expensive. I can personally recommend Wasabi batteries as a third party alternative as well as “Big Mike’s”. I have personally used both of these brands for years in both my Canon and Fujifilm camera bodies and have had fantastic results! Don’t go for cheap, No Name brands as you can run into issues and cause damage to your camera, but I can vouch for Wasabi and Big Mikes and with their batteries you can often get two batteries and another charger for a fraction of what you’ll pay for one camera maker battery.
- Tripod – If you are shooting landscapes or long exposure photography than another very important part of your kit will be a good tripod. Tripods come in steel, aluminum and carbon fiber and at one time, wood. A good tripod is one that is going to be sturdy out in the field when you have your camera mounted on it. Again, this is an area where like lenses, you don’t want to skimp on cheap tripods as they will let you down, but you also don’t need to break the bank. You don’t NEED a $1,000 Gitzo tripod to get the job done, you can get a good, quality carbon fiber tripod for $200 – $600, depending on your budget. More importantly, make sure it is made of good carbon fiber as far as the rating. Is it 4X or is it 10X, the number here means how thick the carbon fiber is, and of course the higher the stronger the tripod. I also recommend carbon fiber as although aluminum is fairly strong, it is much heavier than carbon fiber and if you are lugging it around out in the field all day, your body will feel the difference. I use this excellent carbon fiber tripod
- Tripod head – One last item that is equally important as a good tripod is a good tripod head. Many tripods do not come with a tripod head, so you might have to buy that separately and you need to make sure you get a good, strong, quality head unit. Make sure it’s rated for a maximum “payload” weight that is greater than the combined weight of your camera body and your biggest, heaviest lens. The last thing you want to have happen in the field is you mount your camera and lens combo on your tripod, lock it down on the tripod and then the unit collapses under the weight and your camera and or lens get damaged. Stick with buying a quality tripod head from a name brand like Manfrotto or Benro, which also makes Tripods and you should be good in the field. Just make sure like I said a moment ago that it can handle the payload and then some. If my camera and heaviest lens weigh a combined 10 pounds and I buy a tripod head rated for 22 pounds, then I know I have a good buffer as far as payload weight is concerned, especially since I often shoot with my battery grips as well and on my Fujifilm X-T4’s the battery grips allows for 3 batteries total, so make sure you factor in that weight as well. Again you do not need the most expensive Tripod head on the market, but make sure it has good controls that will lock the head down tight and prevent falling or drifting when shooting. You’d be surprised how many cheap, junk ball heads are on Amazon that will say they are rated for 20 pounds, but the control knobs do not locked down tight so you get your camera all set up and then it falls forward or backwards or to one side because the knobs do not properly tighten down and lock the head in that position. This is my ball head of choice.
Wrapping up, these are just a few of the most important tips to help you with your photography and if you are just starting out, or you are a photography student, then this episode should certainly help you “Level Up” your photography!
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