Tips to Keep Your Photography Fresh

The best of us struggle with fresh ideas when it comes to photography.

What separates the good photographers from the mediocre ones are ideas.

Most common excuses or reasons not to go out and get motivated and use that camera is this:
Oh… That’s been done countless time. I’m better than that.

It’s Newton’s1st Law of Motion which relates to inertia. A body stays at rest or continues in motion in the same direction until another force acts on it.

Inertia is something every photographer needs to overcome. Whether it’s shooting something time and again the same way, the safe way.

Or making excuses not to go use that camera.

We’re creature of habits and often we get set in our ways and don’t try other approaches.

Take a Drive in a Different Vehicle

Sometimes it can be something as easy as taking a drive. I don’t mean in your same old vehicle.

You will be surprised what you can see if you took the same drive you took everyday but in another vehicle that sits higher off the ground.

Until I started driving my GMC Safari van which sits higher than most
sedans, I didn’t realize what a difference a few feet can make.

Now I can really look into other vehicles. That voyeuristic streak aside, now when I’m on the freeway, I can sometimes see beyond the retainer walls into neighborhoods.

Use a Fixed Focal Length Lens

So perhaps all you need to do is to put on a different lens. Lose that kit lens which is so utilitarian and leave a fixed focal length lens on instead.

This forces you to really study your subject, move in closer or step back. Use your legs!

Why is this better? It forces you to really think before you release the shutter.

Use your flash off-camera

An entire blog has been written by Strobist David Hobby about the merits of off-camera flash and its possibilities, so I won’t elaborate further.

On camera flash should be a last resort because it’s unimaginative and dare I say it? Lazy.

What about that pop-up flash? It’s pathetic because of its range. That flash also shortens your battery life.

It makes all your pictures look the same because the direction of the light never changes from picture to pictures especially if you’re shooting on auto.

Have at least a point-and-shoot camera with you at all times

It’s great to challenge yourself to come up with a good picture using a very simple camera.

Focusing is slower, lenses don’t have the range of apertures you’re accustomed to and the shutter release is not as responsive.

You know the limitations, so if you can come back with a good picture, you deserve a pat on the back.

Strive to Use as Little Photoshop as Possible

Before there was digital, what did photographers do? They exposed carefully. Not everyone had the luxury of airbrushing.

They simply finalized the image in the viewfinder. That’s not unheard of.

Those who shot transparency film or slide film did exactly that.

Color corrected with gels, lit with flash and composed precisely so that the image was a full frame as possible.

That is not to say post production techniques are not worthy skills to master.

Even when using HDR, High Dynamic Range, you still need to have a strong image.

Quicktime virtual reality imagery is the same. Using it everywhere just because you know how without thought only makes it gimmicky.

Interior view of Back to the Grind Coffeehouse in Riverside.
Move your mouse over the picture. Click and drag left or right. Use the Shift key to zoom in. Control key to zoom out.

When my students turned in their first panoramas which were images stitched in Photoshop via Photomerge, this was very apparent.

The novelty of Photoshop’s capability made many forget that the end result is a still picture. One that still requires a strong subject. Otherwise it’s just a long skinny picture with no strong subject.

Maybe I left something out but I hope it gets you thinking.

I can’t believe it’s been a week since I last posted. The week long class at Riverside Art Museum for young photographers between ages 9 and up has kept me busy.

Glad I survived it.

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13 thoughts on “Tips to Keep Your Photography Fresh”

  1. Lol — I actually did photograph some really beautiful little girls after I asked their mother and they came out pretty well. I also photograph a pre-teen relative of mine all of the time, as I have since she was about four. I guess that it’s the asking of strangers part that makes me nervous! I’ll have to work at that.

  2. Jessica,
    I started out interested in landscapes. I didn’t want a single person in my pictures.

    After I got comfortable and got the hang of my cameras, I realized why I was uncomfortable including people. It wasn’t that I didn’t like people.

    Until I could work my camera quickly, I found it a major struggle and uncomfortable to keep my human subject waiting while I clumsily wrestled with my camera.

    Photographing people has a definite allure.

    Perhaps you will go down that path as well. The key thing is to keep an open mind.

    In the introductory class I teach, I make my students shoot a variety of subjects to give them a feel for where their interests may lie or where their strengths might be.

    Photographing people, especially strangers, can be fun. The challenge is in getting them to let their guard down and agree to being your subject. If they are adamant about it, move on.

    No harm, no foul. When successful, it can be big victory for your ego. It means you’re alright. Not just a weirdo-guy-with-camera.

  3. Okay — I’m actually relieved! I am sort of a reluctant photographer in that I tend to wing it quite a lot and haven’t formally studied anything — I’ve just fallen into it.

    I did read a great book about composition not long ago and had “aha” moments of why what I thought was odd for A Photographer was actually working. One of the reasons I like your blog so much is that you do show the progression and what is working and what doesn’t and why — it makes things click in that intellectual way.

    Yes, escaping into the solitude and quiet — exactly. Photographing people is harder for me. I feel like I’m invading their space.

  4. Hello Jessica,
    Hey thanks for reading and leaving your very kind remarks.

    Ever since I started teaching, I’ve been taking pictures slightly differently. Most of the time, I know exactly what I want to shoot and I get right to it.

    These days I shoot a wide shot to show what I am working with. Overall views are helpful because it provides a visual “insight” to what I was thinking and how I finally arrived at my favorite picture from a shoot.

    That sort of analytical thinking is something you can’t pick up from a book.

    If you prefer landscapes, whether you’re painting or taking a picture, it means you want to escape completely into the beauty of the scene. You don’t want people to come up to you every few minutes to chat. Landscape photographers tend to love the solitude and quiet.

    I can’t imagine Ansel Adams or Galen Rowel being a social butterfly and chit-chatting while they made their masterpieces.

    So no, you are not weird. You’re out there to create and to share your own vision.

  5. I had thought about a workshop and something instinctively said “Nnnnooooo!” The one I was looking at was in my favorite mountains, and I get down right pissy when someone is talking at me up there while I’m focusing on what I’m doing. I was also worried that I’d lose my OWN perspective of what I see there. Is that weird? I hadn’t thought about the intellectual dishonestly in quite that light, though. Excellent point.

    Love your blog!

  6. Paul,
    That’s an excellent point about shooting with a group. That’s why attending workshops can be helpful. Good instructors will stimulate experimentation and provide insights as to why they think something works.

    The key thing to remember is that in a group setting, there is a tendency that one person will take over the shoot whether it’s a model’s pose or arrangement of a still life. Most often that’s the instructor doing so.

    It’s okay to use the picture taken in that instance as a starting point to find your own way.

    Too often photographers will use that situation set up by instructors and claim that to be their very own image.

    There’s something intellectually dishonest about that.

    Sort of like attending a cooking class where the instructor provides the ingredients,kitchen and the recipe. Then a student, without so much as changing anything in the recipe, turns around and claims that is their very own recipe.

  7. Sometimes shooting with a group also gets you thinking differently. You see what others find interesting and you see things you never thought to look at.

  8. Hello Biff,
    Thanks for stopping by. I did forget to mention practice, didn’t i? I should really watch what and how I say stuff here.

    Passion is really good because that’s what drives action. It’s what spurs strangers like Alexis who care strongly, to leave comments. Without comments, this blog would be a monologue.
    How much fun is that?

    I wanted to suggest that photographers should let someone else do the driving sometimes. We miss so much whenever we are so focused on going from point A to B when we drive.
    If we were passengers we might notice something. Then again, we might fall asleep?

  9. Alexis,
    Thanks for your input. I probably used a poor choice of words, but to say my advice is “dumb?”

    Too many people reading articles online don’t realize people who write articles to share don’t always do so with arrogance and a mindset that they know it all.

    Believe it or not, I actually get something out of this as well. I’m learning among other things, how to grow a thick skin and not take comments to heart.

    I could have just as easily not approve any comment I find disagreeable.

    Do you have any opinion about the other tips I shared?

    Thanks for taking the time to leave a comment, Alexis. It only helps me get better and I say this with utmost sincerity.

  10. Having logged a few thousands of hours in a darkroom, I can tell you that before digital, we all tried to expose properly, but that didn’t mean we never manipulated the hell out of our images in the darkroom when the image didn’t turn out as “strong” as we thought it would when we clicked the shutter. (And there’s a lot of manipulation you can do in the darkroom, trust me.)

    So the exhortation to “Strive to Use as Little Photoshop as Possible” is really dumb advice.

    I don’t know of a single serious photographer — digital or analog, amateur or professional — who DOESN’T try to expose properly, but that’s not the point, is it? Just because there are hacks out there that overdo the use of Photoshop — or whatever software they’re using — doesn’t mean that using the software is intrinsically bad.

    Photoshop is simply a tool, to be used at at the photographer’s discretion at all times. The prejudice against imaging software seems to me at best counterproductive, at worst, just plain idiotic.

    Better to “strive to make the strongest image possible, in camera, in the processing, and in the printing.”

  11. Jo,
    Great to hear from you! I I think I might have forgotten one.

    Try converting some of your images into Black and White if you don’t normally .

    Always shoot in color then convert to BW. That ensures you get the biggest file size as opposed to setting your camera to shoot BW.

    Nice to hear from you.

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