No Bridezillas Here!

Bouquet

This past Monday I had my first experience working with models during my wedding photography class at the Minneapolis Photo Center. It was sort-of what I expected, but not completely. I went into the experience a little nervous, but relieved that there would be so many other students there to take the pressure off of me. If I didn’t know what I wanted the models to do, at least someone else would be there to give direction.

What I found is that (1) I really need to think ahead more and have some poses in mind before going into a shoot, (2) models are really nice people (at least these models were) who aren’t going to laugh at me if I want to try a pose a certain way and (3) there’s nothing scary about shooting posed people. I was also reminded about the importance of getting the lighting right; I should always be looking for shadows and glare and adjusting to make the photo more appealing.

I also took this opportunity to play with my exposure a bit and to try out high key shots and white-on-white shots. Some of these experimental shots were successes and some were failures (I won’t be showing the failures, sorry!), but I definitely learned a lot by trying different approaches. It’s reminded me that I need to experiment more in my everyday shooting, not just when I’m in a class or in a studio.

In the end I think I got some really great shots and I’m very happy with my final product. I’m now really looking forward to taking the fashion photography class and learning more about posing and working in the studio. As for weddings, I’m not sure I’m ready to take on a whole wedding at once yet. I think it would be a lot of fun to assist as a second shooter at a wedding. The pressure is off a bit that way, and I’ll get a chance to learn and grow as a photographer, while still capturing some beautiful memories in the process.

Taking Your Photography to the Next Level

On the ice

I hate to admit it, but my photography has leveled off. I have a decent grasp of the use of depth of field, how to make artistic use of long shutter speeds and how to get an accurate exposure. But I know I still have a lot to learn if I want to reach my full potential as a photographer. While I know that time behind the camera is the best teacher, I’m not learning if I’m just going through the same thoughts and actions each time I shoot. But what to do differently? What’s the best way to grow as a photographer?

The answer is not an easy one as everyone learns differently. Maybe you are a visual learner, or maybe you learn best by doing. Maybe you like to work on your own at your own pace, or maybe you prefer a group learning environment or need a team environment to get motivated. Here are a few ideas to get you going, with a little something for everyone:

Take a Class: This is probably the most obvious option, and can be the most expensive. But there is a lot to gain from taking a class, especially if that class is out of your comfort zone. Classes that have a number of sessions can help to keep you on task, with assignments focused specifically on learning the task at hand. Also, a group environment can be very inspirational as each photographer in the class is coming from their own background and experiences and may have different ideas or ways of approaching things. You’re not only learning from the instructor but also the other students. If you choose to take a class, do some research to make sure the class will match your expectations. If possible, talk to the teacher or even others that have taken the class. You’ll get the most out of a class if it’s at the right level for you.

Read a Book: If you work well on your own and can stay on task as a home study student, this is a great option for you. It can take a bit of work to sift through the countless tomes on photography to find the right book for you, but that work can pay off with a lot of lessons for only a little bit of money. If you go this route. make sure to try out the exercises in the book. They will reinforce the lesson and you may learn a bit about your own shooting habits in the process.

Join a Club: Clubs often offer educational events for a lot less than a formal class. These are often in the form of single workshops which give you the chance to learn without the commitment of going to class each week. Also, many clubs have social shooting events which give you a chance to shoot with others, trying your new skills and learning from the other shooters. These events are a great place to gather ideas for your own work. Club members can often recommend books and classes that have worked for them, if you’re thinking options 1 or 2 sound good to you.

Browse the Net: Yes, this is a danger zone for a lot of people, myself included. It can be easy to get sucked into the endless articles and blogs and find yourself at cuteoverload.com looking at kittens when you’re supposed to be learning. But there is a lot of information on the net, from blogs like this or those I’ve listed in the blogroll. Into lighting? Visit Strobist. Need inspiration? Check out Flickr.

Analyze Work You Like: Spend sometime studying photographs you like. Why is the lighting right? What makes the composition work? How is the photographer using color? There is a lot to learn form the work of others that can help your work improve.

Analyze Your Own Work: Even if you’re taking a class or receiving critiques from your photo club, it really helps to analyze your own work. Looking at past work can help you to see how far you’ve come, and also where your weaknesses lie. You may also pick up on patterns. Maybe you always put your subject in the lower right quadrant of the frame, or you always shoot at the same aperture. Finding your comfort zone is the first step in moving out of it. There’s a good chance that the answer to the question “What is my next step?” is right there in your photos.

So what am I doing to take my photography to the next level? All of the above. I’m taking two classes and supplementing them with my own reading, plus I’m keeping up with my photography club. I’m active on Flickr and I shoot every day, which gives me a lot of photography (my own and others) to study. My challenge is to push myself out of my comfort zone and to spend time on my own working with the techniques I’m learning. Little by little, I’m getting there.

Help! Lighting Newbie!

Silk Flower Setup

Last night I had my first class learning studio lighting for product photography, and I found I really have a lot to learn. Studio lighting is brand new to me – I only learned what Alien Bees are a few weeks ago, and currently know very little about different lighting types and how to use them. That’s all about to change. Last night I shot with strobes for the first time, learned what a beauty dish is and learned a few techniques for blocking stray light from entering the lens. Even though there was no prerequisite for the course, I still felt woefully unprepared, so between now and next week I’ll be reading Light: Science and Magic and Strobist to nail down the basics.  If you’ve been down this road and have tips for where to start with learning lighting, please share them with me.  I can use all the help I can get.