I’m a firm believer that limiting your creativity encourages it to flourish.
Plus, having a pretty minimal and simple outlook in life in general, guidelines support this too.
It’s the opposite to having unlimited choice.
Whilst initially this freedom seems like some kind of nirvana, for me it usually ends up with overwhelm and anxiety, and, with photography, being almost paralysed by the vast array of available options.
This has been a gradual, mostly unconscious process, sometimes the only way to discover what truly works.
I’ve broken these rules down to five for making photographs and three for editing, processing and sharing them afterwards.
These are very personal to me, but hopefully in reading them you’ll notice some that you do already, or you think you could try to help increase your enjoyment of photography.
Five guidelines for making photographs
1. Only take one camera. Even though I’ve heavily purged my camera kit in recent months (and in the last eight or nine weeks used just three Ricoh digital compacts almost exclusively), it’s still sometimes a dilemma which camera to take out.
But I’d rather make this decision at home once, than have to make it every time I go to make a shot because I’ve brought three cameras and/or three lenses with me and can’t pick which one might be best.
2. Don’t crop. I don’t really understand why people crop. Since I began photographing with intention about a decade ago, I’ve always striven to make the final composition I want right there in the viewfinder or screen when I’m taking the photo. (Another reason I love cameras with viewfinders as close to 100% as possible, like my 95% K10D, or a screen that shows 100% like the Ricoh compacts.)
Refusing to crop means I have to be more thoughtful and intelligent when I’m making the composition too. And it eliminates a whole other set of potential parameters to adjust in the editing and processing stage.
3. Don’t zoom when you can move. I’m still undecided about zoom lenses, and when I do use them, I set them at a certain focal length and treat them as a prime.
One reason I love the two Ricoh zooms I’ve been using lately is their step zoom function, where rather than zoom at infinite increments, they stop at set focal lengths, eg 24, 28, 35, 50, 72mm. With my GX100, I just set up one of the custom MY settings to 24mm and another to 28mm, then it’s like having a camera with two prime lenses that I can swap at the twist of the mode dial.
I think the look, feel, distortion (or lack of) and depth of field at certain focal lengths is different, and I like to get to know one or two inside out. If I need to photograph something a bit further away, I walk towards it. If I’m too close, I step back. Again, this helps keep things direct and simple, and challenges me to work harder for the best shot.
4. Don’t mess with nature. I remember a few years ago seeing an admittedly beautiful picture of a flower with, what I thought, morning dew decorating its petals. I commented on the photo and the photographer replied about how he’d created it. By going around with a spray bottle and soaking the previously dry flowers with droplets to enhance the look before he took the picture. I was aghast!
I realised then that one of my core guidelines in hunting for beautiful photographs is to only photograph what you find naturally occurring and never to artificially alter, move or “enhance” it.
5. Set up your camera before you go. The super simple version of this is “only use very basic cameras”, so there’s very little to set up in the first place. But when I do choose to use something more advanced, then I try to set it up before I start shooting, so as to minimise in camera faffing and fiddling whilst out in the field making photographs.
Again the Ricohs are excellent for this with the combination of options plus those custom “MY” dial settings. To be honest, once I set them up the first time I’ve hardly touched anything since, meaning that in use they become virtually a point and shoot. Leaving me free to focus on finding and capturing the beautiful essentials – composition and light.
Three guidelines for editing/processing photographs
1. Be organised in filing your photos. Fortunately I’ve done this from this start! I have a folder on my MacBook called Pictures, then subfolders for film and digital. In each of these I have a subfolder for each camera. In these I then have a folder for each photo walk, named in the format yyyy-mm-dd-camera name. Eg “2017_12_06 RicohCX1”. In that I then dump the photos from that photowalk from the camera.
Once I’ve processed and edited (more on this below) I then have a folder of the best photos from that session. When I share to Flickr, I create a further subfolder called Flickr, and copy in a 50% version of the original image. I keep the 100% image for if I need to make prints, but in practice most of the time the 50% version would be good enough too.
I tend to share photos a couple at a time, so when I’ve published all that I’m going to from a particular batch (ie folder) I then edit the folder name so it has an asterisk (*) in front. Then it moves to the top in the order with all the others that have been finished with, and I can easily see the unasterisked folders left to sort and share remaining.
2. Be fiercely ruthless in editing. I’m not someone who keeps every single shot I ever make. But I’m also not as ruthless as I’d like to be in editing.
I would say that in recent times, with film, I might consider three or four photos out of a roll of 24 to be a very good hit rate. With digital, from a very good and fairly extensive couple of hours photowalk I might take 100-150 shots. And sharing 10 of these I’d consider an excellent return, maybe only five.
I think the more slack you are in editing, the more it opens the door for mediocre photos to be taken and kept in the future. Plus it dilutes your best work.
If someone has say 10 images in their Flickr/Instagram/whatever stream and every one is fantastic, you’re likely to hang out for their every new post with huge anticipation.
If someone else has 1000 photos and their best 10 of these were equally as impressive as the person with only 10 photos total, who in your mind are you going to consider the better, most exciting and most worthy of your attention photographer? Almost definitely the first person who shares 10 fantastic photos only, and nothing mediocre.
(I’m well aware my Flickr now has over 4000 images and if I went back and edited now, probably 3500 would be culled! This is an ongoing challenge!)
3. Keep post processing to a minimum. Once I’ve got the photographs on my MacBook in their own folder, I then import the lot into LightRoom. Recently, because I’ve been shooting almost exclusively in black and white, I usually then apply the basic b/w preset I’ve set up to all photos.
Then I swipe through, and any that I don’t think are any good at all I just move past. Those I like I then tweak the exposure and maybe contrast if required, then export as JPEG. Whether the original was RAW or JPEG. I then delete all the originals – including those I didn’t export because I don’t think they make the grade.
So I have left in my folder for that photowalk just the best photos, with processing applied, ready to share to Flickr etc as and when.
In fact just today I’ve simplified this further. I tried using my Ricoh GRD III to shoot JPEG only instead of RAW, used the in-camera b/w setting with the contrast at +2, and the exposure compensation at -0.7 to help avoid blown highlights. Then all I needed to do in LightRoom was a very minor further increase in contrast, then export. Even simpler and quicker, and no need for RAW files which are slower to write, upload and take up four times the space.
And that’s it really.
Having these core guidelines might seem too rigid and restrictive to some.
But I know what works for me, and without these kind of limitations I’d probably barely take any photographs at all!
What kind of rules or guidelines do you have with your photography, and how have they helped you? Please let us know in the comments below.
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