It drives writers nuts when non-writers say “I’ve been thinking of writing a book.” (Hey, it’s not like I tell my doctor, “I’ve been thinking of doing some surgery….”)
So I’m sure it drives photographers nuts when non-photographers (including writers) say “I’ll just take the photos for this article myself.”
The fact is that both writing and photography take specialized skills and knowledge (and professional photographers have invested money — often LOTS of money — into their gear, as well). To think that an untrained amateur can just step in and do the same job shows both an amazing amount of hubris — and a lack of respect for the craft.
But it’s is also true that we don’t always NEED professonal quality. Non-writers can scribble an effective and acceptable press release, and non-photographers can click the shutter button and come up with a beautiful and useful image. And indeed, there are many situations where we might need to step in and try our hand at someone else’s craft:
- A travel writer is visiting a remote location. There’s no way the magazine will send a photographer there, but they won’t run the story without a photograph.
- A music teacher wants a picture of himself teaching for a brochure.
- A visual artist needs some shots of her work to send in for a juried exhibit and doesn’t have time to hire a pro before the deadline.
- A magazine is interested in interviewing you — but wants to see what you look like first (Yes, they DO do this…)
I’m not a professional photographer (and I don’t play one on TV ) but I guess it’s fair for me to call myself a semi-pro. I’ve taken hundreds of shots that have been published in everything from books to magazines to calendars; I’ve also studied photography. The shot on the book cover below, for example, is one that I set up: I saw the shot, and thought that it might make a good photo for a hiking story if I climbed into the dramatic scene, so I chose the lighting and aperture settings, decided on the focal length I needed, and told a friend exactly where to hold the camera so the picture would be framed the way I wanted it. The result has been used on a book cover, in a calendar, and in a two-page magazine spread. (Sorry about the resolution here: this is from Amazon, and the resolution stinks. I’ll try to find a better copy.)
To take this photo, I followed some basic rules about composition (the rule of thirds) and lighting (shoot on cloudy days). “Real” photographers — just like real writers and real musicians — can get away with making their own rules, but when you’re not a pro, you’re better off sticking with the tried and true. Here are some suggestions
- Make sure you are using acceptable equipment. Today’s digital cameras offer great resolution, but your cell phone camera probably won’t be able to take pictures with acceptable resolution, especially for print. Magazine editors will want at least 6 or 7 megapixels, sometimes more. This info will be on the camera body.
- Shoot on the higest resolution possible.
- Take more pictures than you think you need (It’s just a memory card).
- Use the camera’s standard settings for exposures, but then experiment with custom exposures.
- The rule of thirds says that a photo is divided into 9 zones: three horizontal and three vertical. The subject of a photo should be in one of the boxes where the lines defining these zones intersect. (See the example below, then look at the photo above.)
- Shoot on cloudy days: it’s counterintuitive, but cloudy or overcast days give more gradations of light, more subtlety, and less harshness.
- Best outdoor lighting is the “golden hour” just after sunrise and just before sunset.
- Don’t have the horizon exactly in the middle of the photo: Put it 1/3 from the top or 1/3 from the bottom.
- Watch for background intrusions like a tree that looks like it’s growing out of someone’s head.
- Get close to your subject — then get closer.
- Experiment with different angles — like lying on the ground.
- Take a class!