Advice. It’s a funny thing. If we applied all of photography’s apparent rules and dos and don’ts to our work, there would be little, if any, room for creativity and surely that’s the point. So you’ll find no textbook photography tips here; instead we asked 50 top pro and famous photographers to share the secrets they’ve gleaned from years of shooting day in day out.
Expect to be inspired and challenged by the advice of famous photographers like David Bailey and Mary Ellen Mark, as well as up-and-coming names and photographers who make it their business to take amazing pictures for their clients each day.
Starting below you will find numbers 1 through 25 from the list of jobbing pros and famous photographers we interviewed, beginning with David Noton, Mary Ellen Mark, David Bailey and ending with Thomas Marent. On page 2 of this article you’ll find numbers 26 through 50, beginning with Eric Ryan Anderson, Pal Hermanson, Damian Lovegrove and ending with Kevin Poolman. Enjoy!
50 photography tips from jobbing pros to famous photographers
1 – David Noton
When I first got into photography I thought I could take my camera for a walk and come back with stunning images, but of course I gradually realised that it doesn’t work like that. You can read about the technique until the cows come home, but what’s really the key is learning the tried and tested method of scouting a location, previsualising the light, planning a shoot and finally returning again and again until the conditions are perfect to create an award-winning image that will have your friends and family frothing at the mouth.
It sounds obvious but it isn’t. When a photographer first achieves this it really is a Eureka moment. Life, and your photography, will never be the same again. The key to constant improvement is innovation, practice, imagination, persistence and crucially, learning from your mistakes. Believe me, at least two times out of three it just doesn’t come together. Don’t beat yourself up about it; analyse why a shoot isn’t working and plan accordingly. Above all, enjoy the dawn and dusk vigils and stick at it.
David is an award-winning landscape and travel photographer who has over 25 years professional experience.
2 – Mary Ellen Mark
Be totally prepared when you shoot. If it’s a travel shoot, make sure you do all your research. Find people where you’re working that can help you – sometimes it helps a lot to hire a local assistant who really knows their way around. Keep detailed lists of what you packed, so the next time it will be easier to prepare.
If you’re working in a studio, make detailed technical notes. For example, note all the f-stops, light outputs of the strobes, distance between the subject and background, distance between camera and subject. Attach a copy of the final image to the tech notes. I promise all of this will make your photographic life much easier.
Mary Ellen Mark is a contributing photographer to The New Yorker and has been published in LIFE, Rolling Stone and Vanity Fair. She teaches at several workshops, including a Halloween Weekend Workshop in NY and a ten-day workshop in Oaxaca, Mexico.
3 – George Logan
Before setting up and producing an image, take your idea and try to accurately visualise the picture in your head, really imagine how your finished image might look. Use this as a starting point then try to create an environment where you can allow your vision to come to life using whatever it takes… location, lighting, backgrounds, models, props etc. However, don’t keep things too regimented, build in a few variables and definitely allow for happy accidents!
George is a multi-award-winning advertising photographer.
4 – Colin Prior
Many photographers aren’t aware of the depth of field preview button on their DSLR’s lens mount. This is used to stop down the aperture manually to its working size and allow you to see the effective depth of field. It also enables you to more easily read the graphics of an image and acts as a real-time conduit between the three dimensional world in which we live and the two dimensional world of photography. I find it a far more useful aid than the screen at the back of the camera, which is about as much use as a chocolate teapot.
Colin is an award-winning landscape photographer based in Scotland. He runs a host of innovative tours and workshops, pitched at different levels of expertise and all offering unforgettable experiences of wild places.
5 – Nick Turpin
Like with many things in life, confidence is central to good innovative picture making, having the confidence to be an artist, the confidence to experiment technically and with ideas, having the confidence to make decisions and see them through despite criticism and finally the confidence to stand out as unique in a visually cluttered world. The most famous photographers of today have had the confidence to be different, to lead the way rather than follow.
Nick specialises in advertising and street photography, and the founder of street photography website, In-Public.
6 – Bob Aylott
To never miss a street picture, always have your camera set to 1/250 sec at f/5.6, ISO 400. When the clocks change for summer, change the aperture to f/8 instead.
Bob is an award-winning former Fleet Street photographer who has gone on to interview the world’s best shooters.
7 – Brett Harkness
Practice, practice, practice and when you think you know it all, practice again. The most important thing for me is to be at one with my camera, which in turn gives me confidence. This confidence then exudes out to my subject, which comes back to me through the camera. You get back what you give out…
Brett is one of the UK’s most in-demand wedding and social photographers.
8 – David Solomons
Use a normal or moderate wide-angle fixed lens for shooting on the street. Telephotos and zooms tend to encourage users to be less imaginative and active with their framing and composition. I would say 90% of all my pictures were taken with a 35mm lens, it forces me to move closer to my subject matter and you get to instinctively learn how far to stand away from it before you take the shot.
David is one of the leading lights in the UK street photography scene.
9 – Alex Majoli
1. Read. My suggestions are: Amos Oz, Pirandello, Saramago, Musil.
2. Learn how to choose a good wine and know one or two recipes.
3. Walk 5 to 10km every day.
4. Read the Herald Tribune everyday.
5. Shoot a slide film every six months.
6. Be light on your equipment – one lens and one camera and in your hotel/b&b/tent, plus a back-up.
7. Buy good shoes – make sure they’re light, waterproof and comfortable.
8. Don’t try to understand things/people/cultures, before a trip.
9. Try not to organise your assignments too much before you leave home.
10. Enjoy photography, remember that it’s not a contest.
Alex is a multi award-winning member of Magnum Photos and has documented conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as covering other major stories.
10 – Matt Cardy
I’m often asked where I did my photography training and the simple answer is out on the road. So many people think that to be a photographer you need to be sat in a college classroom somewhere discussing other people’s pictures. Not that there’s anything wrong in looking for inspiration in the work of others, but as long as that’s what it does, rather than intimidating people into not getting out there and taking pictures themselves.
No matter how good your theory and technical knowledge is, the best place to learn is on the job. Often people see press photographers weighed down with gear and assume that they’ll be getting much better shots. With the advancement in digital technology, sometimes it’s quite the opposite and I’m constantly amazed by what amateur photographers can produce, alongside professionals on jobs. It’s a case of not what you have got, but where you’re at!
Matt Cardy is a news photographer for Getty Images. Find out how you, too, can be a Getty contributor.
11 – Aldo Pavan
Think about photographing what we can’t see, that we can only imagine, either an object or a concept. Can we photograph absence? Yes, we can. A portrait that excludes the face of the person, hidden by a veil maybe, the dark silhouette of a person, an object against the light or something strongly out of focus – with absence we can achieve more interesting photographs because the viewer has to become involved with the images and use their imagination to fill the space.
Aldo Pavan’s books, The Ganges, The Nile and The Yellow River, are available through Thames and Hudson.
12 – Annie
When photographing people, go simple and travel light. You don’t want to be intimidating or even very interesting. One camera, maybe two lenses and you’re set. Avoid camera vests or camera cases. I go out with just a simple backpack.
When photographing children, get on your knees. Pictures of kids are much nicer when you’re on their level and seeing things as kids see them. It’s even better when you can get the camera angle lower than the child’s eyes.
Also, try to get a catchlight in the eyes of the person you’re photographing. Simply by moving your angle, or asking the subject to slowly move their eyes or gently move their head, you can often get light reflecting in their eyes. It adds instant intimacy.
Annie is an award-winning National Geographic photographer and a Fellow with the International League of Conservation Photographers. She has completed a photo-memoir of her life called A Camera, Two Kids and a Camel.
13 – David Loftus
I remember being told at art college: ‘Always shoot with the sun behind you or to the sides to avoid flare.’ Some of my favourite shots have been taken when I’ve allowed flare to happen – fashion shots, portraits and interiors have all benefited on occasion… Keep some thick black paper and a roll of gaffer tape in your kit bag so you can extend your lens hood into more of a funnel shape, so that the flare isn’t too excessive, and shoot away.
David is one of the big names in food photography, having worked with the likes of Heston Blumenthal and Jamie Oliver. He shot Jamie’s last six books.
14 – David Bailey
It’s certainly worth remembering that exceptional photos all rely on a element of luck and that luck increases significantly when you shoot a lot. When we probed David Bailey for tip, his advice was: “Everyone will take one great picture, I’ve done better because I’ve taken two.”
David needs no introduction.
15 – Anna Kari
Once photography becomes a job it’s easy to lose the passion and fascination that originally brought you to it! It’s better to be an amateur who loves photography with all their heart than a bitter pro who can’t stop complaining how little they’re paid. Figure out what you really want to shoot, develop little project ideas and get out there and do it, and you’ll be in as good a position as a professionals to develop truly personal and amazing work.
Anna Kari is a freelance photojournalist. Her work focuses on humanitarian issues and she works extensively in Africa and Europe.
16 – Andrea Jones
There’s simply no way round it – start before the sun comes up and go to bed after it sets. That’s if you want your pictures to have wow factor. Software programs are wonderful – but there’s no human imagination that can dream up what natural light can do. And there’s no point getting to your location as the sun rises as you’ll miss the moment. Recce the day before, preferably at lunchtime when there’s no hope of good light, and then be waiting for the first (or last) rays of the day. A tough regime in mid summer but the experience is something that you just can’t beat.
Andrea is one of the world’s leading garden photographers who’s been published widely, from House and Garden to National Geographic.
17 – Annabel Williams
To me, a great family picture is one that makes a connection with the subjects. Select a location that means something to the family and reminds them of a time in their lives. Put the children in it and then capture what happens.
Annabel is probably the biggest name in photographic training in the UK.
18 – Elliott Landy
At my appearances, people often come up to me to show me their photos and begin our conversation with a caution that they’re not professional – their way of telling me not to expect too much. I tell them that the fact they’re not ‘professional’ is actually a badge of honour, because they’re doing it strictly for love and not for money.
I have known many people who take great photographs and live from other work. It’s almost better to do so because then your vision is kept pure. You take only the photos you want to take, not what someone pays you to. Many pros wind up very distressed after many years that their personal visions, blurred by the pulls of their assignments has not been expressed.
Not infrequently, you see the personal work of well-known commercial photographer and it’s actually not very good. Why is it not good? Because they have not had the practice and feedback which life offers when you ‘do your own thing,’ and then learn from it. So if you can find a way to take the photos that you want to take, that is what is important not whether you have earned money from them or not. Van Gogh, of course, is the ultimate example of an unsold master. The main thing is to enjoy what you do.
Elliot rose to fame with his iconic shots of rock musicians from the 1960s. His portraits feature on the covers of many classic albums of the time, including Bob Dylan’s Nashville Skyline.
19 – Charlie Waite
The issue that so many of us often have is the whole business of composition. Dealing with it in the abstract is never easy but I’d say that the more that we invest ourselves into the picture making process, then in theory we will attain a more rewarding result. I often look to see where any conflicts lie and try and get the elements within the image to appear to be related and not in argument with one another.The eye is very discerning and can so easily reject an image for reasons many of us do not understand. Try to inject your work with some gravitas and use light to your advantage.
Charlie Waite is the owner and founder of Light & Land, Europe’s leading photographic experience company. Light & Land run photographic tours, courses and workshops worldwide that are dedicated to inspiring photographers and improving their photography.
20 – Steve Bloom
Always remember that the camera is merely a tool, and no matter how good the technology, nothing can replace the art of seeing. Great photographs are made by learning technique and taking it to a point where it resides in the subconscious. After that, feelings should dictate aesthetics. In other words, shoot from the heart. Photography is like music or poetry, and is best created with heightened feelings. Get excited – be emotional about the photographs you take and try to feel empathy with the subject.
Steve is one of the world’s most prolific wildlife photographers.
21 – John Kenny
Try to think carefully about what happens to your images when they move from three dimensions to two dimensions – that is, your print or computer screen. Starting to understand this change, and later predict its effects, can really advance your compositions. Developing this skill can really help you capture light and be sensitive to its effects on your subjects without being excessively influenced to emphasise the obvious; helping you to look beyond those near/large objects or subjects that ‘cry out’ for your attention but often make less satisfying images.
An accomplished portrait and travel photographer, you can see John’s stunning fine art work on his website.
22 – Cameron Davidson
Finding your unique perspective is a good mindfulness exercise. To find your distinctive viewpoint is to push your work further from the pack and helps you create memorable images. One way to do this is to approach your next personal project with one camera and one lens. If it’s a zoom, tape it to the 28, 35 or 50mm position. The goal is to let your feet do your zooming and for you to move actively around your subject until you find the position that looks right to you.
For me, it’s when everything aligns perfectly in the viewfinder to tell the story and creates a graphic and hopefully, compelling image. It could be from on top of a wall, or at street level. It may be shooting at one lens/f-stop combination at a certain distance. But once you find your perspective, you’ll know it’s right and you will have another tool in your kit that helps you create images that reflect who you’re and not just a record of what was in front of the camera.
Cameron is an award-winning aerial and location photographer who shoots around the globe for the likes of Vanity Fair, National Geographic and Smithsonian magazines.
23 – John Freeman
Don’t put off until tomorrow what you can do today. Having ideas I always found the easy part, but executing them was a little more difficult. I was annoyed with myself, to see years later, someone being lauded for a photographic concept that I had thought of years before, but which I had kept in the ‘to do’ tray!
John is an award-winning freelance commercial photographer specialising in people, the body, travel and food, and he’s the author of more than 30 books.
24 – Miss Aniela
Experiment with photography and don’t fret about getting everything ‘right’. Go with the flow, don’t get your head stuck in manuals, use them only as you would use a dictionary – dip in and out. Keep hands-on. Be inspired by other artists but always develop personal ideas – using your dreams as inspiration is a good idea! Don’t just reproduce a conventional image (such as a sunset shot) other than to get started. Consciously try to be different and play with the rules. Listen to advice, but never let anyone tell you what to do, or that you’re doing something ‘wrong’. Photography is an art, not a science.
Miss Aniela is a fine-art photographer and internet phenomenon. She’s exhibited and presented her work at Palm Springs Photo Festival, Microsoft Pro Photo Summit, Seattle and Tate Britain.
25 – Thomas Marent
For me, combining the animal with the right background is very important, the colours must complement each other. In most cases, a calm or blurred background which should be in a darker light than the subject of the image will make the subject stand out more. For this blurred background-effect in macro photography use a longer lens of 100mm, 200mm or more. Another nice effect is to show the animal and plant subjects as part of their environments. For this purpose you need a wide-angle with close-focusing ability.
Thomas is a professional nature shooter whose first book, Rainforest, was published in 2006. It’s now available in 13 languages across 25 countries.
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