7 things I learned on my 1st year in a photography group

In August 2012 I had the enormous luck of finding a photo group that changed my photography skills 180 degrees. Through another Meetup photo group I meet PTS and the person that has the humility of sharing all his knowledge with whoever wants to learn and improve his/her photography skills.

On the very first meeting, on a hot and humid day of August 2012, I instantly learned two critical aspects for photography. Go manual and use your camera to the best of its abilities. Since then I’ve been shooting manual mode, using manual WB and making good use of Canon’s Styles. Those in camera settings to obtain the results I was looking after with countless Photoshop and plugins hours.

Since then I’ve been shooting on manual mode only. I also stopped using Photoshop instead adjusting global settings (contrast, white balance, etc) in Canon DPP.

You can find PTS on these webs:

Metup site:

But enough for this introduction. Here’s part I of what I learned in PTS.

Annotations from year one with PTS

1. Look out for the background!
IMG_8003One of the many tips I got in PTS is to always look for the background of the subject we are shooting. Background will make a photo great or a complete mess. I must admit this is something I never consciously paid attention. But since it was mentioned to me it made perfect sense and I’d incorporated it to my way of working.

Background check (pun intended!) is critical for a number of reasons. We must avoid confusing backgrounds (tree branches, cables, etc). Pay attention to the colour of the background versus the subject (know the colour wheel). Stay away from dull skies. Etc.

A good background will make your photo more interesting. Walk around, lower your PoV or walk away if background is not good.

2. Daylight Light Painting

Yes, we can light paint during daylight. It requires some equipment and special settings but if done well will render outstanding shots.

Select your subject

IMG_8557Watch for background

Set exposure and then underexpose 3, 4 or more stops.

Take the picture while you illuminate part of the subject with your torch. Use your fingers to cover part of the flashlight to reduce light.

If you add a Neutral Density filter (4,6,8 or 10 stops) then it will be easier to apply this technique. If you don’t have an ND filter then put your lens at min aperture (f22~32).

Needless to say this technique requires a tripod 😉

3. Find out your exposure range

I actually never did this exercise but is a good one and I’ll make sure I try it soon.

The idea is to find the shutter speed needed for your highlights, midtones and shadows.

So, how do we achieve this? Easy, aim to the sky (or highlight area) and check the shutter speed needed for a desire exposure. Then aim for midtones/shadows and do the same. The range between the two shutter speed values is your “working area” depending on the composition your shutter speed will be within these values.

4. Do not follow the masses, underexpose!

I read over and over that it is better to shoot to the right (e.g. Overexpose a bit). This is based on some theoretical calculations of the bits used on highlight and shadow information. All nice on paper. But it followed to the letter it renders a rather flat image.

However, if you underexpose, one stop or more, then suddenly colours come up alive, image shows a cuasi-3D effect.

My non-scientific take is that although the bit math have the logical reason in practice with today’s cameras you get better results underexposing.

This is possible due to modern sensors and processing chips that makes digital noise less of a problem.

5. Bring your props!

Some of the things I learnt during this past year seem to be so obvious but yet I wasn’t even close to discover them.

So, I was shooting outside at all times of the day, on different locations almost from the day one I bought my DSLR. But I never thought of bringing some props. Yes, a book, glasses, a bottle, a doll, etc.

It’s a simple idea but could have a huge difference in any shot.

I first experienced this when during a photowalk in a cemetery someone took out a beautiful red cover book. Putting the book on the frame of a tombstone made a big improvement. Imagine an old stone tombstone that looks almost as B&W. Add this red cover book on the composition and then you have an image that makes for a story (someone misses the deceased person? A lover, a father, a husband?). A simple red book opens the picture to multiple interpretations. Each viewer will make a conslusion of why the book is in there.

6. Do not click!

Reminds me a that episode of Doctor Who where if you blink the deadly stone angels will move close and kill you.

IMG_6972-bWell, this is the same, without the killing part 🙂

Sounds simple but it is very, very hard to do. It simply means look around, observe the subject. Move around and see how light change, and how it change the subject. Look for the background. Get back, then closer. And then, after you’ve seen how the subject change while you move, and only if you saw something interesting. Only then take a picture.

Hence, do not click unless you’re convinced the subject is worthy.

7. Challenge: take one picture. And only one.

I wrote this challenge but never really carried out. Although I got closer by observing the teachings of looking before shooting.

But this challenge is drastic. It basically means that we should identify an interesting subject. Identify all important aspects needed for a great picture (light, composition, background, etc.). Once we are done (preferably writing down the reasons/conclusions for the shot) only then shoot the picture. Only one shot!


 Editor note: illustrative pictures to come.