Hello and welcome to this very click-baity article. I’ll be your host, Katie of Katie and Joe. While this title may seem very generic and simple, I assure you the content is as well…Well, sort of. You see, you already know the tips to make your photos better, you’re just not taking them seriously. I know because I knew all this before, but the moment I actually decided to know them for real, is the moment my/our photos got better.
Seems obvious, but if you want your photos to look good (digital or film), proper exposure is key. Exposure is something we have known about forever, but for some reason, only really took it seriously two years ago.
Shooting on film, for example (say the Pentax 67), we meter using a digital camera. We generally shoot with 400 speed film, so we set the ISO on our digi guy to 400 and test from there. When we check the digital preview, we’re making sure no part of the photo is blown out and the subject is well lit.
When we were first learning to shoot film, we overexposed everything because we heard that’s what you’re supposed to do. We have not found this to be the case. Our photos look best with dead on exposure especially since we scan our own film. If we overexpose, there are highlights that are annoying to restore in the scanning process. If we underexpose, the colors are crazy and the image has a ton of grain.
Likewise, if you overexpose your digital photos, you lose color as well as have troubles pulling the highlights down. One thing Joe hates most in the world is when he sees a photo that has a blown-out portion. Forgive me, Joe, I’m trying…
Another reason having perfect exposure helps, is it makes your editing process soooo much easier. If you expose correctly, you won’t need to change things like exposure, highlights, shadows, etc. You can just color correct or add your preset. The best way to get good looking photos is to start out with good looking photos. You can have the best preset in the world, and it still won’t help.
Once we really focused on keeping our exposure perfect and consistent, our photos became more consistent (go figure), the highlights and shadows were less clipped, the overall color was amazing, and we spent less time editing. WIN WIN WIN WIN.
ABM (always be metering)
Stupid, right? But do you keep metering your entire shoot? Especially on film, this is so important. Ever since we started metering throughout our entire shoots (even in the studio where the light is seemingly the same), we realized how much the lighting actually changes.
Sometimes a new look can change the lighting, so you’ll want to adjust your settings. For example, we were shooting in the studio the other day, and the model changed into an all white dress. Previously we were shooting at 400 ISO, f/4.5 with a shutter speed of 125. But when she came out in that long, white gown, it added a lot of light to the photo and the area around her. Also we didn’t want her dress to be blown out! We checked the metering with our digital camera, and it agreed that the scene was much brighter. So we changed the shutter speed to 250 and voilà!
If you move to a new location, it can also cause the overall light to be darker because the background may be darker or a shadow may be there that you don’t notice with your naked eye. Just keeping checking, okay? I’m even talking to you, you digital shooters.
Planning every shot
A good way to utilize every frame and get amazing photos as a result is to plan out poses or locations before you shoot. This can be in writing up a shot list the day before or simply thinking through a pose or location right before you snap a picture.
Ask the model to get in a pose before you shoot. Do you like that pose? Does it make her and the clothes look flattering (or however you want it to look)? If it doesn’t, change up the pose and check again. When you make sure the shot looks good before you take it, you waste less film and consequently less money, and can be happy looking through the negatives, scans, or raw files because you purposefully took each shot.
Purposefully make your photos instead of taking a thousand and praying a couple turn out.
You already knew this, right? Are you using this knowledge? Are you carefully taking each shot?
If you’re thinking this doesn’t matter for digital, then you are relying too much on getting the shot by taking thousands of photos (when you’re playing Call of Duty, I’m guessing you go for the machine gun over the sniper). A good photographer can get the shot in a few frames because he or she planned it out ahead of time. Don’t take unnecessary shots. You’ll be culling for days later.
This is probably my favorite “tip” of the whole article. We started doing this as soon as we started shooting film seriously (about a year ago), and because of it, we like 90% of the shots we take as opposed to 20%, we waste less film and money, and we come into the shoot having so many more ideas based on our shot list.
Be conscious of your background
It’s important to pay attention to what’s behind your subject. Ever get a photo back and realize there was a twig sticking up directly behind your model’s head? Yes, us, too. Paying attention to your background doesn’t only cover watching out for twigs. It’s important to note if the background is consistent with the theme of your shoot (the right color, pattern, or lighting) or note whether or not it distracts from the subject. For instance, does the model stand out from the background and surroundings or is she sort of camouflaged? If you’re doing a camouflaged theme shoot, then congratulations, but if you’re not, change something.
Below notice how the model’s light colored dress stands out from the black rock. Also notice the photo underneath how the model is walking in between the rocks. As she was walking, we accidentally took a shot where a rock was directly behind her head (because we weren’t paying attention!). We culled it out of the set, but made sure we snapped a shot when that wasn’t the case. We also got lower so that the sky was behind her head, and this really helped the focus be on her and help her stand out from the background.
Change your perspective
If you find your photos boring, have you changed your perspective? Sometimes you can get into a rut shooting the same poses or shooting at the same distance from your subject.
Want to make your model look tall? Shoot up at her from low on ground.
Have her stand on a ladder or a giant rock! What if you stand on a ladder and shoot?
Take a picture up really close and take some really far away.
Photos looking too flat? Get some body parts in the foreground.
Use a freakin drone for all I care!
Look at the images below. We shot upside down and one we just rotated to change the perspective. We got bored and tried something new. It’s fun to switch it up, and you’d be surprised how small and easy changes can make your photos better and way more dynamic.
Photography 101, yes? Did you pay attention?
When you look through your viewfinder, do you notice how the model looks in the frame? Like, are you actually seeing the photo? I know that you are also making sure the lighting is good, the background isn’t too distracting, the model is making a cool face, and the clothes aren’t messed up…but you need to be constantly noticing your composition. There’s only so much you can do with crop.
Watch out for cutting off the model’s feet if you’re trying to capture a full body look. Make sure your composition is making her look tall. If she looks short sitting facing you, what if you composed the shot from the side? Does she look flattering in this composition? Is your subject filling the frame in an interesting way?
Looking through the viewfinder, do you like this shot you’re about to take? Could you compose it better? How?
A fun exercise to get your composition muscles working is to try to take a photo where the model is filling most of the frame with her body. How can you fill a 4×6 or 6×7 image with limbs, body, and a face?
We hope you enjoyed these tips. Like I said, you most likely have heard them before. Now it’s time to put them into practice for real.
Sometimes if things aren’t working out for you, the best thing to do is go back to the basics. We did, and it’s helped our work tremendously.
Thanks for reading along. And remember that the world would be a better place if there were more Jeff Goldblums.