Imagine a future in which you never delete another photo from your memory card. Now, imagine it’s not because your card holds two quadrillion gigabytes of data, but because your photos are so good you don’t want to throw a single one out.
It’s not as far-fetched a scenario as you might think. When I’m shooting film, I hold myself to a one-in-three rule: Every roll I send to the lab has to come back bearing at least 12 useable, sellable images.
As digital shooters, we’re easily led astray by the temptation to shoot quick and dirty in the field and clean things up later on the computer. But besides the fact that software cannot cure all ills, every minute you spend fossicking through a hard drive full of junk for a handful of digital diamonds is time in which you could be doing something more productive.
So, by way of an introduction to this column, I’ve decided to distil 10 years of pointing cameras at things into seven points that will bring you closer to being a one-in-three shooter.
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1. Invest in the best lens you can afford: Good glass makes a fundamental difference to the quality of pictures you can produce. This doesn’t have to mean spending a fortune on the latest and greatest lenses—I’ll talk about ways to cut costs on prograde glass in future editions of Sharp Shooter.
2. Polarizer: The one filter that Photoshop can’t replace is a polarizer. Slap one on the front of your lens to cut haze and reflections, intensify contrast and colour, and add punch to your landscapes.
3. Use an external flash: It could be mounted on a bracket or tripod and fired with a remote trigger or an extension cord. This lets you direct light from a more pleasing and natural angle than the on-board flash. Slap on a diffuser to take away harsh shadows and you’re ready to light like a professional.
Flashlight bounced off a ceiling or fired through a diffusing material produces a softer, more attractive effect than a direct flash. Photograph: David Stott
4. Stop shooting auto:
Basic as it sounds, if your best friends on your camera’s control dial are the miniature mountain range and the tiny sprinter dude, it’s time to take off the training wheels. Understanding the relationship between aperture and shutter speed and how each affects the final image takes roughly half an hour. This is a crucial step to becoming a one-in-three photographer.
5. Conquer the histogram: The graph your camera generates with every shot is the surest guide to whether or not you’ve nailed a good exposure. If the mountain peaks march off screen at either end, you’ve lost details in the highlights or shadows. It’s time to adjust your exposure and reshoot.
6. Develop your ‘eye’: Imbibing the work of great photographers, studying how they manage composition and see light is a road map to making great images of your own. With an idea of where you’re going, you can start the fun part—experimenting to find ways to get there.
Use a polarizing filter to cut glare and add punch to your colours when shooting landscapes. Photograph: David Stott
7. Know your enemy—and defeat him: It wasn’t until I started working on a portfolio that I really faced up to the bad habits holding back my photography. Front and centre was an annoying tendency to handhold when I should have been using a tripod, then trying to rescue the resultingly fuzzy image by sharpening in Photoshop.
Not a good look. Zoning in on your bad habits and weaknesses can be an ego blow but it’s also the best possible inspiration to get to work on getting good.
Start with these and before too long you’ll be sifting through your images to find the shiniest diamond in the pile. Your hard drive and your social life will thank you.
David Stott is a writer and photographer based in Australia
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