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The Secret Trick of all Good Photographers

Posted on May 14, 2008 by in Daily Life, Photoshop How To's | 1 comment

It’s really easy to take good pictures of my nephew Branson, he’s soooo cute. Here are a couple from Mother’s Day (May 14, 2008):

Branson 1-year old infant picture mother's day 2008

But it would also be easy (actually, easier) to mess up these shots. My mom (shown with Branson in the next picture) asked me what it is that makes my pictures look good. There are 4 basics — including the easiest “trick” of them all — that anyone can do to make their images look great:

1. Have a great subject that tells an emotional story. Clearly this is the key to any great photo … if you can tell a story and if you can interact emotionally with the viewer, then you’ve done your job as a photographer. Have a great subject, know the story you’re telling, and make sure you capture it.

2. Be able to identify the great shots. I take a lot of shots. On Mother’s Day I was hardly took any pictures … for me. That means I only took about 100 shots throughout the day — of which I liked perhaps 4. This is THE BIGGEST SECRET TRICK of all good photographers: Eliminate 98% or more of your shots, and only show the very, very best. With this trick, pretty much anyone’s work can look good. Of course, this requires that you can IDENTIFY the great shots, that you’ve got the technical aspects handled, and that you captured a good subject … but this is the easiest way to improve your photography: Only show your very best images.

Branson 1-year old infant picture mother's day 2008

3. Find great light. Always, always be looking for great light. Where is it coming from? What is its quality? Is it hard light or soft light, one source or multiples, dramatic or bland? I actually bought my loft based upon the quality of the light here: huge windows with the sun coming in just right means it’s easy to shoot here. But no matter where I am, if I see soft, natural, beautiful light then I can’t but help think about pictures. My “trigger finger” actually gets itchy … it’s funny. Know what good light looks like, and start recognizing and mentally cataloging those places where you can find or make it.

4. Know your tools! As in any art, you cannot seamlessly create what you want unless you have a mastery of the tools. Start with the basics: read your camera’s manual and buy Photoshop’s “Classroom in a Book”. Practice and drill both. Know your tools first, this is the foundation for being able to accomplish any of these points.

In the photos here, the reason the pictures look technically okay is (a) I used a good lens for portraits (50mm) with a low aperture setting to create a shallow depth-of-field. If you don’t know what this means, then you don’t know your equipment… and therefore you’re not going to get the shots you want, and (b) I used Photoshop to its full capabilities to create the beautiful black & white tones.

There’s always more, of course, but if you capture an emotional subject technically well and in great light, and only show the best images from your shoot … then you’re 95% of the way to an amazing photograph.

1 Comment

  1. This is mom! Well, I asked Jason how he takes such great shots and in return he took the time and interest to go into depth about his expertise. See above! I have an amazing son who not only is an exceptional photographer, he also loves his mom! If you are out there and read this then you know that he has to be a great guy as well as exceptionallly talented. What can I say, I am his mom!

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