MARKETING MANAGER AT ACCENTURE – FOUNDER AT THE SPARKSIDE, EX FOUNDER AT THEQ CAMERA EX ADMAN, MILLENNIAL.
I previously wrote about the importance of creating content in both business and personal environments, and I’ve had some more conversations specifically on the visual kind lately. According to a study conducted by Cisco, more than 84% of communication will be visual by 2018 and 95% of B2B buyers prefer shorter and highly visual content formats. I think it’s pretty clear that communication is bound to stay visual and its consistency is key to its success!
But enough with the numbers, I wrote this blog post because the question I get asked the most on my Instagram channel is “Aw man, how do I take pictures like you?” so I thought of putting together some quick pointers to help people getting their head around this matter.
First off, there is no such thing as good pictures; the beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Also, I’m in no "expert position" to tell anyone how to take good pictures. Now that we have this out of the way, I can dwell upon some very personal opinions on how to improve your photography and your approach to it — keep in mind that photography is somewhat an art, so everything is debatable and there is no right answer, only interesting approaches!
Any camera is good as long as it’s with you. Really, don’t worry about the camera you don’t have. There’s always a faster car but the F1 pilots end up driving the fastest one cause they’ve learnt how to drive every slower car before that. These days most cameras are good enough, even smartphones have become incredibly versatile ( many photographers are proving this point with iPhone fashion photo shoots ). If you really want to invest and buy a camera, go visit a camera store, spend a few hours in there and try everything they have, I do it all the time and store assistants don’t even hate me ( too much ). You’ll notice how little difference camera bodies make on the actual pictures and how much difference lenses make instead for example. Point is; get shooting!
All these pictures have been taken with an old, broken iPhone 5 — Check them out on instagram.com/JoeLesina
Want to buy a camera for your travels? Invest in something small and versatile so you can always have it with you wherever you go. I have a Fujifilm EX cause it fits in the pockets of my jacket.
Taking a bit of everything? Just get a basic Canon / Nikon with interchangeable lenses and play with it till you understand what you want. My first camera was a cheap second hand Canon 40D and it worked amazingly.
The first thing you should look into is the story you’re trying to tell, seriously. Zoom out ( figuratively ) and ask your self why you’re taking pictures in the first place, not just this one picture, but why are you taking pictures in general or in this context? Are you on holiday and taking random pictures here and there? Then you’re telling the story of someone who went on holiday.
Most photographers do their research before they start a project, to understand what’s unique and interesting about a place or a subject and how they can tell that story from their own, unique point of view, even in fashion! It’s the hardest thing to get right. People love stories and your photography should be reflecting this approach, not the other way around.
In example, Morgan Maasen is a filmmaker that travels to tropical destinations for work, Pilotmaria is a Swedish pilot that gets to see the world because of her job and Tao Liu, is a random meter reader man in China that gets to be on the streets most of his time and has an eye for interesting stuff. What about you? What’s your story? Tell that in your pictures.
You have a SaaS tech start-up company? People sitting at their desks might not be the most interesting thing, how about telling their personal stories and why they like technology through portraits? That would do great for recruitment too!
Are you travelling? Read the news, watch some documentaries and look for something unique and worth of telling a story about your destination. Always ask yourself why.
Photography is simply capturing light on a film or sensor. If there’s no light there’s no photography. This means light is the number one aspect you need to understand and learn in order to get good pictures. With the exception of artificial strobes, we have no control on the light; the world just turns around the sun every day and we get sun light for some hours, from different directions, often filtered by clouds and other atmospheric conditions. However, the one thing we can control is when we’re taking pictures and ensure the light is great when we’re out shooting. Most people see something interesting, take up their camera, shoot the picture and hope it will look good. I often skip a lot of good picture opportunities just because the light isn’t good. For example, if you’re travelling, you can make sure you visit places earlier or later in the day to catch the golden hour so you get some great lighting! Basically, be in the right place at the right time.
See how the same place looks so different during the golden hour. See picture on instagram.com/JoeLesina
Visiting a beautiful mountain trail? Make sure you reach the peak at golden hour and not at lunchtime.
Planning the office photo shoot? Check the weather, and plan according to when the light is coming through the windows best.
Sometimes you just happen to be in beautiful places, some other times you plan to be there. Most of the times, I do location research on the places I’m visiting. In a mix of Google street view, Instagram geo located pictures and other tools I get a sense of what a place looks like before I get there. I call it "virtual scouting”, this will help you prepare for what you can find there and have an idea of what the light looks like and make the most of your time when you don’t have time to look around. As they say "if the mountain won't come to Muhammad then Muhammad must go to the mountain”.
Visiting a beautiful mountain trail? have a look at what pictures of that trail look like on Instagram to get clues on light and angles! So you can make something different.
Team picture for your company? Google Street view around the area so you can find a good spot outside the office!
Again, most people see something interesting, take up their camera, shoot the picture and hope it will look good. Composition is simply your own point of view and it's what makes your pictures more interesting than your mom’s smartphone sunsets. Crawl on the floor, climb a tree, look up and down, take those few extra steps, move around and find an interesting angle! For example, I take a lot of different pictures of the same thing from different angles while I move around until I’m happy with the result, this way I ensure a lot of different variations of the same subject and I can pick the one that tells the story best later on.
See how composition can change completely the looks of exactly the same place. See it on my instagram.com/JoeLesina
Taking a picture of a nice beach at sunset? Take some steps back and start shooting left and right looking for perspective lines instead of straight towards the beach!
Taking website pictures for your company? move around desks and furniture till it looks good and literally stage new spaces just for those pictures!
Post processing and editing your pictures is important, don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. Because your pictures are coming out of a digital sensor, they are an approximation of what the nerd engineers from the camera company thought those picture should look like. That picture you just shot isn’t how the scene looks in reality, you can tell for yourself! Many times some areas come out dark in the picture but you can see them in real life, or there are great colours and great light but the picture isn’t reflecting that. Again, photography is art, ergo, it is the interpretation of the world through your point of view, so your job is to convey a message, an emotion, a story, not to click a button.
There are a number of techniques to make colours pop, to increase contrast in the sky, to soften skin, and often, they all come down to mostly moving some sliders left and right and making some selections. Most photographers have their own “recipes” that they use as the baseline for their pictures and ensure a personal style, you should play around until you’re happy with something and then use it consistently.
This picture's light and colours weren't nearly as good as the ones in real life. See the final result on my Instagram.com/JoeLesina
Taking a picture at sunset but everything other than the sky is pitch black? Move the shadow slider in Lightroom to the right and ta-daaa! Magic.
Pictures from your office look dull? play with vibrance, clarity and add some warmth simply moving sliders in Lightroom!
This is a simplified, easy to digest, overview on my approach to photography. There are a million online free resources to learn about composition, light, gear, storytelling and photography in general. And as in everything else, the more you learn the better you become — See my resources below.
Remember, there’s no right or wrong, there’s only your message and how you deliver it. Everything else is pretty much your ability to combine these things in your own personal way, so get shooting!
Snapsort — Compare cameras against each other
DxOmark — Overthink scores on sensors quality
STORIES & INSPIRATION
Boston/bigpicture — news stories in pictures
fashioneditorials.com — see how fashion stories are made
golden-hour.com — time for the best light
suncalc.net — See where the sun is at specific times
VIRTUAL SCOUTING TOOLS
Google Street View — It's like being there!
Instagram Locations — check out places shot by other Igers
Composition adjuster — Adjust your composition based on classic rules
Photoshop — the king, my favourite
Lightroom — easier than Photoshop, more suited for photography
VSCO — great filters for Lightroom and editing tools for smartphones
Snapseed — great free editing tool for smartphones
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