Photography, Filmmaking, and Design Explorations

10 Guidelines for Shooting

I’ve been asked, “How did you do that?”

Which 90% of the time is really: “What [camera] [lens] [flash] [software] did you use?” [Insert one.]

Most people don’t like my answer because what I have to say means work, not a quick fix. Sorry. It goes like this. . . .

1. You have to go do it.

Shooting + Post-Processing + Sharing is the work. If you want to make photographs you have to shoot them, post-process them, and then share them. There is no substitute for experience and to get experience you have to work.

2. Do not blame the camera.

Instead, blame the photographer: (1) He or she selected the right/wrong camera or lens for conditions. (2) He or she used the selected camera or lens well/poorly. (3) He or she decided to shoot interesting/uninteresting content. He or she takes responsibility for the final image. (And for more aspects than I ever expected. But more on that in another post.)

3. Manufacture the moment.

“Decisive Moments” in photography (per HCB) do not just “happen.” They are manufactured based on the photographer’s decision to shoot “a thing” at that exact moment in his or her particular way. I always work to find or create a decisive moment . . . and often fail.

4. Shoot all manual.

I select my focus, aperture, speed, and ISO when working to manufacture the moment. Shooting manual is the best way to keep control over the camera and get what I want from a scene.

5. Understand what the camera “sees.”

The camera has selective seeing and it’s stupid, too. It only sees what’s in frame (a lens focal length choice), and how I want it to see what’s in that frame (based on how I’ve selected settings).

6. Find the light.

In general, finding the light I want to shoot is my priority. Whatever the light is doing trumps everything else.

7. No cropping.

I shoot like I can’t crop in post. I can crop, and do, but “no cropping” is a good general guideline to follow when shooting in the field.

8. Digital development OK. Manipulation not OK.

Apple’s Aperture (and Adobe’s Lightroom) are digital developers, designed to process RAW images from the camera. On the other hand, Photoshop is designed primarily for image manipulation, which is something else entirely. I really concentrate on getting the shot I want with the camera in such a way that the shot can be developed but does not require image manipulation.

9. Develop then grade.

I develop every image I shoot (sometimes hundreds of shots from one shooting session) in Apple’s Aperture. I then grade the results and editorially select what I think are the best shots. This runs counter to the common process where people grade and then develop selected shots. Wrong order, folks. I believe you have to see each final, developed shot before making the editorial decision about whether the image is good or bad.

10. Share more than you think is prudent.

De gustibus non est disputandum, or, “there is no disputing about tastes.” I curate and share photographs that I believe are examples of my “best work.” But, I also share work I consider to be “second best” compared to the “best work.” What I’ve discovered is that any photograph I’ve shared, whether I think it’s my “best work” or I think it’s “second best”, can become popular. I’ve also discovered that popularity is like lightning, striking randomly. But, more on that another time.


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