photo craft: 5 essential photo tips to remember

Back in graduate school, I taught beginning photography classes. I taught students how to compose a photo, process black and white film, and make darkroom and digital prints. Photography has changed a bit since then.

52 Weeks in Film: Week 2
from the 52 Weeks in Film Project: January 2012: Week 2.

Since the digital revolution arrived, most people shoot with digital cameras including camera phones. However, the foundations of photographic technique remain the same. I thought I would start sharing what I know about making photographs and art. Note, these tips apply no matter what subjects you shoot.

Lesson 1.

“Good pictures are made by photographers, not cameras…”—Henry Horenstein, from Black and White Photography

5 Essential Photography Tips You Probably Know, but Still Need to Follow:

1. Read your camera manual. I know, most camera manuals are absolutely dull, but if you want to match the images in your head with those on film/paper/screen/etc, you need to know how to work your camera.

2. Learn to see. I always taught this assignment with disposable point and shoot cameras, since this lesson is about learning how to see like an artist. Use whatever camera you have that you can shoot on auto pilot with. The goal is not to think about the technical aspects of the camera yet, but to learn to develop your visual voice. Set aside an hour. Go outside, walk around wherever you happen to be right now and shoot 36 frames/photos all on automatic with whatever camera you have. Now what do you notice about the images. The color, composition, subject, light, shadow. What do the images evoke? Feel free to share the images with us, via flickr, tumblr, etc.

3. Find 5 photographers whose work you admire. A few favorites include Sally Mann, Mary Ellen Mark, Jan Groover, Uta Barth, Lee Friedlander. Study their work. What is it about their images that resonate with you? How can you incorporate those elements into your own photographs?

4. Look at the images you make. What’s in the frame? Learn to compose before you press the shutter release. See everything in the rectangle or square. Move, move, move. I shoot a lot with a 50 mm lens, which means I have to move closer to my subject most of the time. Move close, move low, move high, move far. You get the idea, just move and shoot. See what happens.

5. Find the light. A photograph is a record of light on film. Begin to notice where the light source is compared to where you want it to be. Where does the light come into the frame. Top, back, side, bottom. Begin to notice where the shadows and highlights fall in the photographers whose work you admire. Then begin to notice them in your own photographs.

Next week, it’s camera basics with getting to know your shutter speeds, ISO, aperture and how they work together.

What photographers do you admire and why?


  1. says

    Thanks for taking the time to share your knowledge! Looking forward to the next one. I get a lot of inspiration from David Loftus, who photographed the London River Cafe cookbooks. Once I discovered his work I felt such a strong connection to his aesthetic. I like things organized neatly, balance in color, and clean, simple shots.

    • ArtandLemons says

      It’s a dry read, but doing so will make you that much better as a photographer! Also, reading by chapter or topic helps.

  2. says

    Great advice, especially about composing before pressing the shutter release. Too often, I don’t take the time to look at what’s in the frame before the shot.

    Also, definitely need to read the camera manual!!


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