I’m no professional photographer, meaning I never make money taking photos. However, photography is something I LOVE. I’m an artist and designer at heart, so photography is great fit for me. Over the last few years, I’ve taken up photography as a hobby, and I have to say I’ve enjoyed it.
Most of my work is from attending anime and comic conventions. These cons are great for photographers, because you have a large number people in well crafted costumes and makeup, ready to pose for your photo.
On my journey as a photographer, I’ve learned a few things that have helped me get better, so I figured I’d share some of these tricks with you. Here we go!
Use a good lens
The most important thing on a camera – likely even more important than the camera body itself – is choosing the right lens. I’m assuming as a photographer, you’ve chosen a camera – mirrorless or otherwise – that allows you to change lenses. I’m sure you put a lot of thought into the camera you wanted, too. You thought about all the features, whether or not it’s weather proof, you’ve studied and compared dynamic ranges, and did a camera search on Flickr to make sure the camera actually takes decent photos.
All that effort in research you put into your camera body should be put into choosing the right lenses. I like photographing people, and I like achieving certain effects. So for me, I like a lens with a wide aperture and lots of space. So, my go to lens is a 28mm f/1.8 Nikkor lens from Nikon. This thing has delicious bokeh, and can capture incredibly sharp images in a frame visually appealing to me. It makes it so easy to work with, allowing me to put more focus on composition.
But that’s just me – you need to pick a lens for you. Many folks love using a 50mm lens – which is also quite nice. Some folks would rather take sharp images with NO bokeh – which means a wide aperture probably doesn’t matter. Find out what lens suits your style, and put your money there.
Change your POV
Point of view is everything for me. I’m a relatively tall guy, just over 6’2″, so if I’m not changing my point of view when taking a shot, my photos don’t usually look quite as natural or as visually interesting. I’ve found taking a knee works quite well for me. Given the right angle, it can add some length and visual interest to your shot. Shooting from a lower angle also allows me to capture more of the subject’s body. See below:
But that’s not to say all photos I take are from a lower angle. Sometimes it’s just as natural to take a shot from your point of view; if you’re in a moment and you see something great from your own perspective – capture it!
Shoot in RAW
This may seem obvious and quite basic, but it’s so important it needs to be mentioned. ALWAYS shoot in RAW. Yes, you may adjust your white balance to perfection, you may have total control over your lighting, but 99% of the time, you’re likely going to want to go back and color correct something. RAW is perfect for this, because you can make a very wide range of changes without compromising the integrity of your photo.
Yes, RAW photos take up significantly more space that JPGs – but here’s the thing…
When you open up Photoshop and you start layering effects on top of each other, pixels and colors on your photo begin to overlap. The sharpness and smoothness of your photo begins to deteriorate, and you’re stuck with a splotchy looking photo you should probably avoid printing. If you truly care about the quality of your photos, you will shoot RAW.
Don’t shoot in Manual mode all the time
I get it, you wanna be the best photographer and brag to all your buddies you shot all your photos in manual. What you’re NOT telling them is you took 800 photos and only kept 50; the remaining 750 were out of focus, under or over exposed, and had motion blur.
Your expensive DSLR is expensive for a reason – it’s loaded with features that allow you to focus on taking a good shot. You don’t have to be a latte sipping, pipe smoking hipster trying to take photos the “old fashioned” way if it means 99% of your photos end up in the trash bin. Stop it.
Focus on making something good; use the tools at your expense and make something you can feel happy about. If it makes you happy doing everything in manual, fine. But I find it much more creatively rewarding to not think about my settings. If I want a bokeh-licious photo, I switch to Aperture Priority mode. If I want crisp photos and fast shutter speeds, I switch to Shutter priority.
Only if I need something incredibly specific do I use manual mode. When I’m at cons, shooting events, moving from indoor to outdoor settings, I’d rather not fiddle with my camera. I’d rather go where I’m going, and start shooting. Why waste time fiddling with your camera and miss out on awesome photo opportunities?
Don’t use your camera’s on-board flash.
Chances are you don’t need it. Instead, change your camera settings or buy an external or mountable flash. These on board flashes are far too harsh and difficult to control. They create hard shadows and often dull colors.
I like to use Auto-ISO, especially when I’m photographing on the go or at conventions. Auto-ISO isn’t a feature available on all cameras or DSLR’s; I’m fortunate my Nikon D7200 has the feature, and it does relatively well with high ISO.
See this photo? You may or not have been able to tell, but it was shot in a dark room. And I mean a dark room with very little light with auto ISO turned on – the ISO was set to 1250 to be exact – which is pretty high for most folks! I had shot in aperture priority mode, with my aperture set to f/1.8, and the shutter speed set to 1/40 – wide and slow enough to let enough light in to make a vibrant photo with a lot of detail – and bokeh!
Had I used my camera’s onboard flash, you could bet the colorful tones would have been washed out by that blue-ish, white-ish light.
So instead of using your onboard flash…
Work with your environment
You don’t always need a ton of fancy lights to take a well-lit photos. Look around you – where is the light casting? Is it a harsh or soft light? Is it sunlight or a fluorescent bulb? Do you have control over the lighting or is it fixed?
At a con, after I’ve asked a cosplayer if I can take their photo, I usually move to a different angle and have them face me. I may not be able to control the light source, but I can control how it hits the subject.
At FanimeCon 2016, a cosplayer I wanted to photograph was standing in a bit of a shaded area; light was casted unevenly creating harsh lines across parts of her face and cosplay. So, when I had asked if I could take her photo, I had her walk a couple feet into some more even light. As you can see, the result is a bright, crisp, evenly lit shot.
This is probably the best piece of advice I can give as a photographer – for anything! Get creative. Experiment and find out what works for you.
Maybe that means placing your subject infront of a colored LED lamp with additional lighting from the side using your iPhone
Or maybe it means getting creative in post by taking your subject out of the environment you shot them in, and putting them somewhere else…
Or perhaps making a genuine connection with your subjects
Whatever the case may be, be as creative as can be and do what makes you happy.