Recently, I opened up my Instagram for questions regarding photography, and I was able to answer a number of important questions received. Rather than inundate Instastories with slide after slide of text, I’d like to transcribe some of my answers here, and answer a few more questions I didn’t have time to get to.
1. What is the best camera to buy for the best value?
It is undeniable that certain expensive cameras and lenses offer more flexibility with photography. They will perform better at higher ISOs, achieve wider dynamic ranges, boast more autofocus points, excel with color handling, and produce sharper images. At the same time, I’ve invested into an immensely solid set-up - a Sony A7RIV with and a G Master lens - and I am prone to taking blurry, gross, unusable photos. A great camera can’t fix a poorly thought out shot.
The best camera you can buy is the one you’ll use the most often. There will always be limitations with your set-up, and it will take you years to navigate around obstacles to shoot the photo you want to shoot in spite of complicated conditions or to consistently shoot a series of intricate, complex, beautiful work. If you’re simply interested in preserving memories, you don’t need the best camera - just one that is easy enough for you to pack along anywhere you go.
2. How do I get that perfect portrait style where the background is blurred?
This is known as “shallow depth-of-field” or bokeh. It’s most easily achieved with a lens capable of opening up to apertures of 2f, 1.8f, 1.4f - that kind of range, and on a lens with a higher focal length - 70mm, 85mm, 135mm. It can get a little complicated getting into the details (the higher the focal length, the less necessary a wider aperture - that sentence alone needs its own in-depth explanation), but that’s the most direct way to achieve that style.
And keep note that it is just one style, not the perfect style. This particular style helps isolate your subject from the background to put a clear focus on the foreground, and it is too easy to call it the perfect style. Leaning too heavily on this style can leave your subjects blurry themselves, or it can diminish your overall photography style to be one-dimensional. Use your discretion!
3. How do I get clients to stop asking for RAWs?
A message to clients: we really, really don’t want you to edit our photos. When you ask for RAWs, a primal fear boils throughout each of us. What will you do to these photos?
Unless there is an explicit agreement with a photographer before a photoshoot, it’s considered very inappropriate to ask for RAWs. Too many photographers have been bullied to the point where they’ve offered their RAWs to clients, who, in turn, would layer on excessive facetuning and filtering to what can only be described as putrid disaster. We work hard to edit each shot, so please understand that we must charge an excessive fee to be okay releasing that level of creative autonomy.
One aspect this doesn’t include - client interaction with edits. Sometimes a photo can feel too harshly contrasted, incorrectly white balanced, or overly saturated, and it is well within your rights to ask for an extra round of edits. Pushing too far, asking for edit after edit after edit, will only ruin your relationship with your photographer.
4. What tips would you give to someone who is uncomfortable in front of the camera?
Everything feels fine, genuine, natural - and then you notice a camera lens is aiming right at you. So you start acting in rehearsed patterns, ensuring the camera will capture something you have safely practiced to be photogenic. A rare few have nailed this behavior, but the mass majority only reveal tension and discomfort to the lens. Somehow, the posed photo looks even worse than the shots where we’re mid-blink, chewing, or double-chinned.
But, photos can be deleted. The best two ways to relax in front of the camera is to encourage candid photos around you. Specific features doesn’t make a person beautiful - we each have the capacity to be captured in a genuine moment, and we will always look beautiful in those successful shots. Allow yourself to recognize and appreciate photos like that.
5. Can you give me genuine feedback to know how I can improve?
Typically, I’m horrendous at responding to DMs, but I will always, always prioritize photographers and casual shooters looking for in-depth feedback or advice. Sometimes I might give too much feedback - sorry in advance.
For years, I’ve held onto the idea that our community’s health grows significantly when we empower our artists. I won’t have all the answers, but I can hopefully provide substantial insight that helps in some way.
6. How do you usually get out of a photography rut?
Take a break. There is no reason to feel like you must be shooting all the time. Try to avoid the mentality that you need to work 20 hours a day, and sleep must be compromised for the hustle. A good nights rest will give you such incredible motivation and focus, that you will be twice as efficient compared to a constant work life.
Pivot. Try a different creative medium - painting, writing, drawing, music, pottery. The same creative wheels will still turn, but you will have an entire new realm of experimentation that will feel like fresh inspiration. Whatever you discover through that artistic process can be reapplied back to photography, and it will leave you reenergized.
Research. Specifically, off Instagram. Try Pinterest, Tumblr, photography blogs, a photographer’s printed works, magazines - anything that isn’t Instagram that provides an opportunity to explore new styles that you aren’t exposed to on Instagram.
Biographies. A photographer’s biography is inspiration in itself - how did someone else find purpose and develop their talent through their own personal journey? Biographies can give you tremendous insight into photography as an art, as a means of expression, and as a reason to pursue it as a whole.
Journal. Writing out your own thoughts can give you concrete ideas that lead to photographic concepts. Your thoughts don’t always need to be negative or dramatic feelings, but you will surprise yourself with what is actually on your mind once your write.
Change your camera. It could just be the lens. Shifting from 50mm to 24mm can feel like an incredible shift that changes how you see in general. Or, you can shift from digital to film. Film will give you pause, patience, and selectivity, ensuring you think about your shot before you shoot.