Photography forum: Improving my photographs

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Name: Mary
Lake Stevens, WA (Zone 8a)
Near Seattle
Bookworm Garden Photography Plant and/or Seed Trader Plays in the sandbox Region: Pacific Northwest Seed Starter
Winter Sowing
Image
Pistil
Mar 28, 2017 12:18 PM CST
I am working on bettering my photography skills. I bought a rather expensive camera. I wanted to take nice plant photographs so I bought a "Macro" lens. I think I spent the entire last year working on the computer/developing part. Ugh. Now I really want to actually start taking better pictures! It turned out that this is truly both a Right Brain and a Left Brain activity. Some folks here are taking some really nice photos just using their digital camera as a point and shoot, and there is actually a ton of merit to that approach, and these modern cameras are in fact really smart. Smarter than me, sometimes! Doing it that way leaves one free to just try and work on an effective composition/storytelling. I recall a hike last year, when I had just bought my fancy camera. My niece-in-law was taking better flower photos than me using her cell phone. But I want to do it all.
I had a completely manual 35mm camera when I was young. It had one crappy slow 55mm lens, and I had no light meter. I could hardly afford developing, so I thought about every shot. I bought a book by Kodak that explained about exposure, ISO (called ASA then), apertures etc, and I learned that. These digital cameras sure have a lot of capabilities beyond my old camera.
I have bought a tripod and all kinds of equipment.
I am taking a two day workshop this weekend on Macro Photography. I can't wait.
Here is a photo of some books I have purchased. My newest one is Digital Plant Photography by a British guy, it really gets into the technical equipment stuff. I found it at Half Price Books.
What have you done to improve your skills? What books do you like?

Thumb of 2017-03-28/Pistil/e99cbd

Name: Jakub
(Zone 9b)
Smile!
Image
p1jakub
Mar 28, 2017 5:23 PM CST
"I think I spent the entire last year working on the computer/developing part. Ugh. Now I really want to actually start taking better pictures!"
Very good you're so persistent)
I think there is only one way to improving your photo skills, and this way is called practice. Nobody can master a skill without applying it in real life. It's nice to study theory but don't concentrate on it. Go to the park or your garden and try the tips you've already learned.
Wish you good luck. You'll get the best photos I'm sure)
Best wishes,
Jakub
Name: Jakub
(Zone 9b)
Smile!
Image
p1jakub
Mar 28, 2017 5:25 PM CST
Oh, one more thing, what photo editor do you use and how much time do you spend on studying photo editing?
Best wishes,
Jakub
Name: Mary
Lake Stevens, WA (Zone 8a)
Near Seattle
Bookworm Garden Photography Plant and/or Seed Trader Plays in the sandbox Region: Pacific Northwest Seed Starter
Winter Sowing
Image
Pistil
Mar 28, 2017 6:09 PM CST
Welcome Jacub!!!!
First I found I needed a new computer. Then that I needed a new backup system. Then that it would be better to use a separate hard drive for the photos. Then discovered that the new Windows 10 was not very good, and actually a downgrade from the prior version. So I got Photoshop Elements (one of the more limited consumer versions of Photoshop). Then discovered this was still not enough, and I needed Lightroom. I bought a book and then used online resources for Photoshop, then to my horror discovered that it and the Windows catalog program were still not enough, so I had to get Lightroom. I bought the Lightroom outright, rather than the monthly subscription service. Both of these programs require study, you can't just let it happen. I just finished an introductory class totaling 15 hours for the Lightroom, it was barely enough to get me up and running. Now as I said I am going to start actually using all this! I try to console myself that if I needed to learn to use traditional chemicals in a Darkroom, it would have taken this much work and time for that too.
Oh and somewhere in there I also found a book at Half Price Books called "Thousands of Images-Now What?" Which got me figuring out how to organize and label and sort the images. Quite useful really. I plan at some point to scan in old analog photos.
Anyway, I like your Avatar Jakub. How did you learn to do this?
Name: Cal McGaugh
Escondido, California (Zone 9b)
Image
EscondidoCal
Sep 11, 2017 6:00 PM CST
Some things I use to get the best images:

1. "Rule of Thirds" ......not set in stone, but try to put the subject in a point in an imaginary grid,
e.g. like in Tic-Tac-Toe.......though you can also crop to get the right composition if the
image is large enough, and includes the subject and margins around it.

2. Wide-angle shots have more depth-of-field......telephotos have shallow DOF.
Use the focal length to your advantage and for creativity.

3. Watch for best lighting.....I like overcast or at least cloudy days, but also look for times the
sun highlights a flower or insect. The "right" light can make all the difference.

4. Look for contrasting colors, e.g. a pink rose against a dark green or shady background

5. Take lots of pics......no excuse to be frugal, when SD chips are 4-64GB. I usually use a 4GB chip so I have to
download them sooner than later, but use a 16GB or 32GB chip if I'm taking video as well.
Personal choice. I don't print the images, just view them online or on the computer, so don't need
super-large images.......5-12MB is more than adequate for me.
Though always try to compose the image and do the best with the first shot.....not just "blazing away".

6. Always keep your camera(s) ready & easy to find, including spare charged battery,and a spare empty chip.

I used to use a tripod, but now just rarely.....even my HDR images are hand-held. (High Dynamic Range images
are usually 1 shot "right on", and 2 other images +/- 2ev, then combined in a special program, e.g. Easy HDR,
Dynamic Photo HDR, to include details otherwise lost in shadow....I use the auto-bracket feature on my Panasonic
FZ150 for HDRI's in addition to a single image....the subject must be still for HDR, though to be able to keep the
3 images in register to create the HDR image....the results can be just amazing to surreal).

BTW, I always "optimize" my images (jpg).....i.e. compress them to 90%, and re-size from 4000 pixels to 1000 pixels for
uploading here, using Paint.Net, a very good free program.
Also, just found a free batch processing program, XnConvert.....it optimized 40 images at once(!) I don't know what the
limits are yet, but am impressed to say the least. Thumbs up

I'm not a pro, but have been taking images for ~50 yrs......still learning, too! Smiling
Name: Gene Staver
Portage WI 53901 (Zone 5a)
Herbs Annuals Hummingbirder Butterflies Garden Photography Cactus and Succulents
Birds Cat Lover Houseplants Garden Sages
Image
gasrocks
Sep 12, 2017 4:15 PM CST
OMG, where do I start? Modern digital cameras are really STUPID. Shooting in auto is asking for trouble. Take all the classes you can from someone who's photography you like. Once had a private student asking for help with portraits. He brought along a book. Turned to page 17 and asked me how that was done, then page 42, the page 58. I said whoa. I asked him do you like any of these portraits He said no. So why are we looking at this book? Photography is about light. Study light. Look at all the famous photos you can get ahold of and ask yourself what is special about this light. Taking a lot of pictures is not the answer. A good background is a contrasting one. Pink against shady not a good example. Rule of thirds is for idiots who don't have the time to take a real class in composition. Your computer and your software should not be the thing you are concentrating on. Become a better photographer who does not need Photoshop or LIghtroom. I use neither. Yes, practice is vital and the beauty of digital is that it does not cost you anything to take pictures. But, that shooting needs to be structured, not random. Another reason to have an experienced teacher give you assignments, challenges. It will speed up that learning curve. Equipment is not the answer to better pictures. Skill and experience is. I have people come to me often after they just spent $15K on equipment and they do have a single good picture. I do not believe in any program that does batch conversion. Each picture should be handled individually. Become involved with each picture you plan on keeping. Great photography is not simple. Do not try to learn it all at once. You will jut get frustrated and then it will be no fun. Learn/practice one thing at a time. When you can do that one thing well without breaking a sweat, try the next thing. Build up your skills slowly. I'll stop for now. Hope I gave you all some things to think about that will help. Gene
Name: Cal McGaugh
Escondido, California (Zone 9b)
Image
EscondidoCal
Sep 12, 2017 6:27 PM CST
"Well!", (as Jack Benny used to say, arms crossed).....Photographers can be very opinionated, LOL! Sticking tongue out
I agree with Gene to a point, but disagree in others. You have to see what works for you.

I enjoy the pics I take, and hope others like them, too. I'm not trying to win any contests. Smiling





Name: Rick R.
near Minneapolis, MN zone 4a
I was one of the first 300 contributors to the plant database! Garden Sages The WITWIT Badge Garden Photography Region: Minnesota Plant Identifier
Million Pollinator Garden Challenge
Image
Leftwood
Sep 13, 2017 8:14 AM CST
Thanks for the laugh, Cal. That image of Jack Benny that you brought to mind is priceless!

But for the many people here who aren't familiar, the arm folding along with the other Benny mannerisms was executed in a non-threatening way. The LOL and tongue sticking out are quite appropriate.

It ought to be said, though, that if you agree and disagree with Gene, then you agree and disagree with Mary, too.
Name: Cal McGaugh
Escondido, California (Zone 9b)
Image
EscondidoCal
Sep 13, 2017 3:07 PM CST
Hey Leftwood,
glad you appreciated the humor.....not sure Gene did, but probably was way before his time. Smiling

I re-read Mary's initial post, and don't see anything I would disagree with, or that she
would disagree with, either. (?)

Gene,
kind of over the top to label people "idiots" who use the "Rule of Thirds".....it's
Creative Photography 101, and I break it all the time. Hilarious!

I just shared what works for me, and if anyone finds any of it useful, great. That's what we're
here for.....to learn and share.

And batch processing 40 images so they are the right size and kb for uploading is
huge time saver....why spend time doing the same exact thing on each image,
one at a time?

If necessary, I crop and maybe increase the contrast and/or saturation, etc
to please me. And if I alter an image that I post here, I'll say so.

I always use the automatic "point & shoot" on my camera to take pics, and then, depending
on the subject and situation, I'll take 3 auto-bracketed shots for an HDRI.
I could go manual, or use the "Aperture preferred" or "Shutter Preferred", but prefer to
use auto......I try to keep it simple to concentrate on getting the image as I see it.
My camera has so many modes, bells & whistles that I don't use.

Mostly I pay attention to lighting, form, contrast, composition, colors, subject....not necessarily
in that order.

One thing I like to do when I go down to the garden is to stand in one place and
see how many pics I get just from that point, turning around to take it all in.
Then I may get closer or try different perspective.

Sometimes I'm surprised to see something in the image that I didn't notice at
the time, e.g. an ant clinging to the leg of this Tarantula Hawk a few days ago.
Thumb of 2017-09-13/EscondidoCal/ebfd99
This image was taken on "auto" on a cloudy day, full telephoto (to keep a safe distance!)
and just cropped, i.e. no adjustments. Originally 4000x3000/5mb, the cropped version is
1000x806/200kb.

BTW, I didn't mean to, but the ant and the head of the wasp are approximately
where the R.O.T.'s would place them. But you can crop it any way you want. Thumbs up

[Last edited by EscondidoCal - Sep 13, 2017 5:58 PM (+)]
Give a thumbs up | Quote | Post #1547179 (9)
Name: Gene Staver
Portage WI 53901 (Zone 5a)
Herbs Annuals Hummingbirder Butterflies Garden Photography Cactus and Succulents
Birds Cat Lover Houseplants Garden Sages
Image
gasrocks
Sep 13, 2017 3:26 PM CST
Boy, Jack Benny before my time. That's a good one. I suppose I cannot use my best attempt to impersonate Steve Martin (since he was before your time, ha, ha,) and say: Well excuse me. Gene
Name: Gene Staver
Portage WI 53901 (Zone 5a)
Herbs Annuals Hummingbirder Butterflies Garden Photography Cactus and Succulents
Birds Cat Lover Houseplants Garden Sages
Image
gasrocks
Sep 13, 2017 3:55 PM CST
I have no pictures on the walls of my house. Some of my students find that odd. I explain that prints take time and money and besides, I am going to take a better picture next week. Just like you all, I am still learning. That's one reason I can get excited about photography, there is always a new challenge coming 'round the corner. OK, many people find that just frustrating and give up. One of my students took the beginning class and at the end she stood up and told everyone that she took the class because she assumed that she'd then know all she needed to about photography. Now, she said, I realize I will never know enough. I asked her if that was a good or bad thing. She replied that is was reality - which is good to know. I have been a professional photographer for over 45 years. Though retired I still teach part-time. Been doing that for over 30 years at the university level. Opinionated? Yes indeed. Gene
Name: Gene Staver
Portage WI 53901 (Zone 5a)
Herbs Annuals Hummingbirder Butterflies Garden Photography Cactus and Succulents
Birds Cat Lover Houseplants Garden Sages
Image
gasrocks
Sep 13, 2017 4:09 PM CST
Please let me apologize. I worded it incorrectly. The Rule of Thirds is idiotic. People using it probably just do not know this yet. If they took a good class on composition, that would become obvious, IMO. Gene
Name: Cal McGaugh
Escondido, California (Zone 9b)
Image
EscondidoCal
Sep 13, 2017 5:26 PM CST
gasrocks said:Boy, Jack Benny before my time. That's a good one. I suppose I cannot use my best attempt to impersonate Steve Martin (since he was before your time, ha, ha,) and say: Well excuse me. Gene

You're excused. Smiling

Actually, I can remember Steve saying that. He's one of my fav funny guys.
(including Chevy Chase & Rowan "Bean" Atkinson).
I gotta watch L.A. Story again (for at least the 10th time).....great love story, too. Smiling

Aha! Not just a pro, but a pro-fessor......I knew it, I just knew it! Smiling

What do you consider to be the 10 most important things to remember about taking pictures?
Seriously, would like to know.

Learn something every day. Big Grin



Name: Gene Staver
Portage WI 53901 (Zone 5a)
Herbs Annuals Hummingbirder Butterflies Garden Photography Cactus and Succulents
Birds Cat Lover Houseplants Garden Sages
Image
gasrocks
Sep 14, 2017 11:17 AM CST
If I do not learn at least 2 things in a given day, I consider it a bad day. Gene
Name: Gene Staver
Portage WI 53901 (Zone 5a)
Herbs Annuals Hummingbirder Butterflies Garden Photography Cactus and Succulents
Birds Cat Lover Houseplants Garden Sages
Image
gasrocks
Sep 14, 2017 11:37 AM CST
In a couple of my photography classes I make sure we discuss this list: The Road to Great Photography.
1 - Learn the basics. Aperture, etc. Not from a book, nor from Google, but in a class.
2 - Learn/know your camera. If you are staring at the back or top of your camera you are not taking pictures and missing out on life. For over 35 years I was known for festivals and fairs. See that tuba player a block away? As I walk towards him I am changing camera modes, perhaps ISO, aperture, shutter speed, lenses with my right hand at my side. Practice in your cubical at work, while watching TV. Know that camera. Don't fumble. You might need to act quickly. Be prepared.
3 - Take a class in composition. Mine is 6 hours long. Beautiful thing about that class is that it has nothing to do with what camera you own. No button presses. Nothing technical. Applies to any form of art: photography, painting, drawing, flower arranging, interior decorating, etc.
4 - Take a class on perspective. I cannot believe the number of people I meet who call themselves photographers who do not even know what perspective is !
5 - Shoot with the best lens you can afford. The "kit" lenses that come with your camera are bang for the buck and a good starting point but..... Cameras come and go. Great lenses will last forever. It is the lens that makes the picture not the camera. I own or have owned all the best lenses ever made. Because of that I can win any contest you want to name.
6 - Learn light. Photography is all about light. Who wins: A or B? A = great subject in average light. B = average subject in great light. Of course the answer always is B.

Gene
[Last edited by gasrocks - Sep 14, 2017 11:42 AM (+)]
Give a thumbs up | Quote | Post #1547684 (15)
Name: Cal McGaugh
Escondido, California (Zone 9b)
Image
EscondidoCal
Sep 14, 2017 12:28 PM CST
Thanks! All great info to practice and keep in mind.
More, more! ....7.., 8. .9.........100? Thumbs up

Mary,
I hope you are getting good food for thought, and will
capture many great moments with your camera to share
with us. Thumbs up


Name: Gene Staver
Portage WI 53901 (Zone 5a)
Herbs Annuals Hummingbirder Butterflies Garden Photography Cactus and Succulents
Birds Cat Lover Houseplants Garden Sages
Image
gasrocks
Sep 14, 2017 4:00 PM CST
I'll bet a lot of my students took a photography class because they believe their camera is smarter than they are. I admit cameras are getting better results in auto than they used to but, smart? No, still stupid. OK, pick up your camera and aim it over there. Does your camera know if it is indoors or not? Does it know if it snowed last night? Does it know those 3 blobs over there are people? Does it know which of the 3 you like best? What your are thinking? What your style is? What you are trying to say? And you were going to let it decide on focus and exposure? Good luck. Gene
Name: Cal McGaugh
Escondido, California (Zone 9b)
Image
EscondidoCal
Sep 14, 2017 6:32 PM CST
gasrocks said:I'll bet a lot of my students took a photography class because they believe their camera is smarter than they are. I admit cameras are getting better results in auto than they used to but, smart? No, still stupid. OK, pick up your camera and aim it over there. Does your camera know if it is indoors or not? Does it know if it snowed last night? Does it know those 3 blobs over there are people? Does it know which of the 3 you like best? What your are thinking? What your style is? What you are trying to say? And you were going to let it decide on focus and exposure? Good luck. Gene
I agree
Know your camera.....how it reacts to light & shadow, where all the controls are without looking, etc.
It's great to have lots of features, but I find they tend to get in the way, as I only use a fraction of them.

BTW, for flowers & gardens, what camera & lens combo do you grab on a moment's notice?
Spot meter (in camera)?
Do you use Auto-bracket? E.g. +/- 1/2 ev? (not necessarily for HDRIs)

My usual workflow is to go to the garden, see a bloom perfectly highlighted, realize I forgot my camera, %$#&@!,
run back, grab camera on the railing in the hallway, run back to garden(while deftly removing the lens cap & turning on the camera setting it to auto, all in one smooth well-practiced action), hoping to not trip & to get back in one piece before the light changes......only to find there's no
chip, as it is still in my computer, and the built-in memory is full. D'Oh!
Always be prepared! Smiling
Name: Gene Staver
Portage WI 53901 (Zone 5a)
Herbs Annuals Hummingbirder Butterflies Garden Photography Cactus and Succulents
Birds Cat Lover Houseplants Garden Sages
Image
gasrocks
Sep 14, 2017 9:04 PM CST
Bracket ????? I always get the correct exposure with the first shot. I had better not ever catch any of my students bracketing. I can teach you this. OK, might take 10 - 20 years practice to get it correct but it can be done. I do not do HDR. Do not believe in it. Instead, come back and take that shot when the light is right. Gene
Name: Rick R.
near Minneapolis, MN zone 4a
I was one of the first 300 contributors to the plant database! Garden Sages The WITWIT Badge Garden Photography Region: Minnesota Plant Identifier
Million Pollinator Garden Challenge
Image
Leftwood
Sep 15, 2017 3:34 PM CST
I like how this conversation is going. Being opinionated and admitting to it sets a great tone here for learning. From that perspective, a thinking mind will learn a lot, even if such a person doesn't always agree.

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