How to take professional pictures
Photography, like any other skill, requires a lot of time and dedication before you begin to see really beneficial results from it. The best thing you can do to learn? Give it all the free time that you can afford. Because, as with many things, a good start can mean that you reach your goal much faster than you expected – and that’s not such a bad thing, is it?
I remember how hard it was to find this kind of information when I was at the beginning of my journey to success. That’s why I have decided to share what I have learned over many years through trial and error. If you make it your mission to get into these habits, I promise you that starting out will be a much easier experience for you and soon you will be taking professional looking pictures.
So with that taken into account, let’s get started.
Why shooting in RAW is important
To make your own life much simpler and your image quality much higher, you should get into the habit of shooting in RAW format. RAW files are digital equivalents of film negatives. They capture and store much more information in shadows and highlights than any JPEG.
The result is much higher file size, but when compared to JPEG, RAW files should be the only files you shoot in due to their unmatched quality.
You will often wonder why your RAW image looks different on your computer screen than it did on your LCD preview. This is simply because your camera renders the preview as a small JPEG, and the whole image will often have more contrast, the colors will look more saturated.
But you shouldn’t worry about this too much. All the information you need is there. RAW files are the purest form of the picture you can obtain. They capture as much information as possible and leave the editing for you. Anyone who shoots in RAW format knows that the images will end up in a post production software like Lightroom or Photoshop. And frankly, there is no way around it. Every professional will edit their images. Some more and some less, but nobody can avoid it. And if you are going to edit, you want the format that will be easiest to work with and have best results.
4 Good Habits to get into early in your career
Now that we understand the importance of choosing the correct file format, we should consider a few other good habits that you should develop as soon as you can to help you along. Here’s a list of the best habits to acquire early on in your career:
- Plan your shots
You should try and visualize each shot. Plan it out and consider every aspect of it. Imagine what it will look like when it is shot and edited. Where will you present it? Pay attention to light and moving objects in your frame. Don’t leave anything to chance.
- Don’t take too many pictures
Another good habit is to take your finger off the shutter release. Yup, you read it right. Stop taking pictures. It is so easy and low cost to take pictures these days that people often don’t stop to think before each shot.
Don’t take 300 pictures and then hope for the best. Try and take no more than 3 different images of each scene. Make sure you get it perfect instead of hoping for the best. This will not only make you a better photographer, it will also save you countless of hours you would otherwise spend going through hundreds of pictures.
- Always bring your tripod
I try to never take my camera anywhere without bringing a tripod with me. This way I am sure that, if I need to, I can shoot at lower shutter speed or really wide aperture and still keep my camera stable. You never want to end up missing a shot just because you were too lazy to carry your tripod.
- Always back everything up
Last good tip I can give you is to always backup your files. Your computer is great at storing all your pictures, but nothing lasts forever. Have a dedicated backup portable hard drive. They are inexpensive and have enough space to last you a long time. Once everything is backed up in at least two physical places, consider online storage. These days there are plenty of providers to choose from. Dropbox and Google Drive are great for taking care of all your storage needs, but Flickr is also a good platform to share your images with other photographers.
Why is Post Processing important?
When it comes to post-processing, a lot of people have quite a few reasons of why it should not be done. You often hear things like – “it is fake”, “it is photoshopped”, “it doesn’t look like that in real life”, and a ridiculous one, “real photographers don’t photoshop their pictures”.
I think it is fair to say that all of that is nonsense and you should never listen to people who try to convince you otherwise.
Post processing is a term referring to picture editing after taking them with your camera. This is a practice that is as old as photography itself.
In film camera days, you had technicians editing the original negatives. In digital era, it is much easier as we use software like Photoshop or Lightroom to accomplish such things.
Photoshop vs Lightroom
When it comes to post-production, you have two main choices: Photoshop or Lightroom. Both programs have people argue for and against them, but there really is no reason why you could not use both.
Photoshop and Lightroom actually work best when used together. You can even get them in a bundle with the Adobe Creative Cloud option for photographers!
Each one of these programs is made to fulfill a different need
Lightroom makes it easier to manage your workflow. Importing and exporting files is simple, and all of your files always stay in the same place. You can rate them, add metadata, and even have the option of adding keywords for the future search.
Then there is the Develop mode. For those who have worked with film photography, this would be an equivalent of your darkroom. Here you can make same changes as you would while printing from negatives – increase contrast, exposure, dodge & burn. In Lightroom you can bring your RAW file to life and, in most cases, this digital darkroom will be all you will need to finish your pictures.
If you are still unhappy with how your image looks, you might need to do some photo manipulation. Maybe the beautiful landscape shot you took has electric wires running through it, or that street shot you did is simply destroyed by an overfilled bin.
This is where Photoshop works best. You can right click an image in Lightroom and select edit in Photoshop. This will transfer all the changes you have already made in Lightroom to Photoshop.
When it comes to Photoshop, the possibilities are endless. If you can imagine it, you can probably find a way to make it happen in Photoshop.
So which is better – Photoshop or Lightroom?
As you can see, the question really shouldn’t be which of the two programs is better or which one you need to use. The actual question is which one of them you use first. And my answer would always be: use Lightroom for editing your RAW files, and Photoshop for any photo manipulation you might need to do.
Final piece of advice
Before taking professional pictures, it is important to have more achievable goals. Start out with taking good pictures. Become a person of habit.The camera should no longer feel alien in your hand and every decision about taking a shot should come naturally. When you are happy with your composition and lighting skills, move on to editing your pictures well.
When you are editing, look at the picture and visualize what you want it to look like. Then, if you don’t yet know how to achieve that look, learn it. Never start editing without a clear idea of what you want your final picture to look like.
With your target slightly lowered, you sense of achievement will be much higher and that will encourage you to take more pictures. Without you noticing, soon you will be taking shots that could compare in quality with professional photographers. Now it is just a matter of finding your next subject.