(Photograph by Adriane Workman, Wraven Design Model: Adrianne Thrush, Bridgetown Mill House Inn, Langhorne PA. Shot with Canon 60D, edited using Adobe Lightroom & Photoshop)
This is the slightly cleaned up version of a response to a message from a fellow photographer who is just starting out.
Advice, advice.. I get this question increasingly often and I'm always humbled by it.. me? advice? What do I know?
but I figured I would try. So here goes..
PRACTICE. It sounds like a "duh" statement but it really makes a huge difference. Shoot anything and everything you can. If aren't doing this professionally or just don't have a packed schedule, borrow friends & family, pets, flowers, rocks! Anything.
Learn your camera. I am a loyal Canon user but any half decent camera can be used to take great photos if you know how to use it and practice enough. ALWAYS shoot in manual and change up your f stops and ISO. See what works and what doesn't with bright light, low light, back light, front light, fill flash, sun, shade etc. etc. Don't get trapped by the studio lighting/"natural light photography" debate. Shoot with whatever you have.. hell, shoot with glowsticks and flashlights just to gain perspective and experience. A photographic inspiration of mine, Jodi Samsel (https://www.facebook.com/samselphotography) shot one of my favorite portraits of my dear friend and producer at Seventh Wave Studio with an aquarium light. Don't be a snob about light sources. Use your imagination!
I also HIGHLY recommend studying/researching fine art. Concepts like the rule of thirds and asymmetry... foreground, middle ground & background, etc go a long LONG way in creating dynamic art instead of just a snapshot. Color theory will also help you construct, manage and correct your color during both the photographic and editing processes.
Take at least one computer art course (even the online seminar kind). Knowing your way around Photoshop & Lightroom is a huge advantage, especially starting out.. it helps correct over or under exposed shots, fix cropping, etc. Don't go overboard on editing tho. The very biggest/most common "mistake" (to me at least) that I see from a lot of photographers is over editing to the point where it does a disservice to your original photo. Hit Y a couple of times in Lightroom during the editing process (to view the original and the edited version) or bounce back and forth between the current and previous versions in Photoshop. If whatever you just did is not a necessary improvement, scale it back or skip it all together. Especially editing the eyes or smoothing the skin. Unless you are TRYING to make someone look like a doll (which I have for random weirdo things from time to time...) over smooth skin and over bright/contrasty eyes will just look fake or even creepy. Less is more.. although I am a big fan of vintage colorings and effects so there is a slight bit of hypocrisy there.. It's all a matter of personal taste when it comes to color/black & white/sepia/vintage color effects. But the rule of thumb (wrist?) there still stands.. if it didn't make the photo look BETTER than when you started.. Don't do it.
As far as muses go... Music. ALL THE TIME. Especially when editing. If I can manage to get time where I am not the main parent on duty, I'll even throw on my very expensive and completely worth it noise-cancelling headphones and crank it. - A must for any mom/photographer I'd say! (Any parent really.. especially those who attempt to work from home on a regular basis) What kind depends on my mood but usually the louder the better. (Anything from Marilyn Manson to Fallout Boy, Jimi Hendrix to Justin Timberlake.. I have layers. ha.) I have some ADD issues and loud music helps me focus. ..as you can probably tell from this poorly organized mash of paragraphs and topics. Tho I've been interrupted about 6 times by my boys.. so, maybe that's pretty good all things considered?
Anyway.. that's a bit of the things I've learned in the 10+ years I've been doing photography. I hope it is of some use or amusement. I've learned a lot through trial and error and what not to do.. and still have miles to go before I sleep... so take it all with a grain of salt, if you take it at all.