4 Things All Great Photos Have in Common

Episode Transcript:

There’s no formula for a perfect a photo, but every great photo starts from the same recipe. I’m Josh Cripps and today I’m going to show you exactly what that recipe is.

[opening credits]

Hey everyone and welcome to professional photography tips. If you’ve ever looked at your photography and said “meh, why don’t my photos look as good as the pros’?” then this video is for you. Regardless of the genre, whether it’s street photography, studio pet portraits, or landscapes, every great photo shares four common characteristics. So if your photos aren’t great it means you’re missing one or more of these four things.

1) An Interesting Subject

First things first, you have to shoot something that you find fascinating, intriguing, beautiful, or otherwise interesting. You can be a whiz with all your camera settings and Photoshop but if you’re not actually taking pictures of something you think is really cool, then no one else is going to find it cool either. So figure out what you love and shoot that!

2) A Good Composition

Next, you’ve got to show your subject off in a compelling way. Figure out the essence of what you’re shooting, exactly what you think is cool about it, whether it’s a specific feature of your subject, or the relationship between your subject and its environment, and compose to emphasize those characteristics.

3) Good Technique (F-Stop, Shutter Speed, ISO)

Just like composition, technique is an extension of the idea of your photo. Want to emphasize the dreamy feeling of a flowing waterfall? Then use a long shutter speed. Trying to draw attention to a model’s eyes and lips? Then use a large aperture to minimize your depth of field and reduce distractions throughout the rest of the frame. Again, think about the most important ideas of your photo, what is it really about? And analyze how you can make technical choices to support that idea.

4) Good Light

Finally, good light is crucial to a good photograph. Shoot at sunrise or sunset for warm magic hour tones, learn how to rock an off camera flash and get your strobe on, or invest in diffusers and reflectors. These are all things that can improve the lighting in your photos, though in the end only you can decide what good light is for you. And if you’re unsure, look at photos that you love and study the lighting, and before you know it the lighting in your own images will start kicking butt.

So that’s it, that’s the recipe. Those four simple, but oh so powerful things. So the next time you look at a great photo see if you can figure out how the photographer used each of these four elements. Or if you look at a not-so-great photo try identify which of the four is missing. And if you do this with your own photography you’ll see it improve by leaps and bounds.

As always, thanks for watching. Be sure to check out part 2 of this video where I analyze some examples from my own photography to show you what’s missing and how I improved the shots. Or watch some of my other videos. And if you liked this you can subscribe for more photography tips and techniques. Also visit my website joshuacripps dot com for landscape photography, tutorials, workshops and more. Until next time, have fun and happy shooting!

Photography Mistakes: Stop Screwing Up Your Shots!

Episode Transcript:

Photographers: are you tired of taking pictures like this? [footage of tripod collapsing, me falling over, tumbling down a hill, and landing in a heap. Stupid nodding face.]

Now there’s a better way! So pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and learn how to stop screwing up those shots.

[opening credits]

Hi everybody, Josh Cripps here with Professional Photography Tips. In my years as a photographer I’ve made a lot of mistakes and screwed up some pretty great photos as a result. (Wait, I’ve been at ISO 84000 this whole time??? Nooooooo!!!!!!!)

As a consequence I’ve developed a shooting checklist that helps me take the best possible photos. Now, this list won’t necessarily make you a better photographer, but it will prevent you from making the painful mistakes I have, and stop you from screwing up that great shot right in front of you.

[Before the Shoot]

Before you go out to shoot you should always make sure you have a charged battery in your camera and a spare in your bag. Also check that you have a sufficiently empty memory card loaded, again with a spare or two in your bag. Sounds ridiculously obvious but I guarantee you it’s only a matter of time until you forget one or the other so it’s always best to double check.

You also want to make sure your camera is set to shoot raw (plus jpeg if that’s your thing), that the image size is set to Large, and that you’re in the picture control you like. I’m a neutral guy myself.

It’s always good to ensure you’re in the right mode, like manual or aperture priority, and your shot type is set to single release, or mirror up, or whatever floats your particular boat. There’s nothing like pressing the shutter button at the critical moment and not realizing you’re in self timer. You’ll also want to use a remote to minimize camera shake.

Lastly, because I’m a set it and forget it type of guy, I’ll put my ISO where I think it needs to be, usually 100, and only change it during the shoot if conditions warrant.

[During the shoot]

Here’s where things get a little more interesting. Once you have your composition set up make sure your tripod legs are locked down, your ballhead is tight, and your camera plate is secure so that you don’t get saggy camera syndrome.

Also make sure to check your focus and depth of field. If you’re not paying attention it’s way too easy to bump your focus ring and poof, there goes your razor sharp landscape.

Before you take a shot inspect the front of your lens and filters for any dust or water drops and clean those off. This is especially important when shooting at high f-numbers, or when shooting into the sun. You’ll also want to clean your image sensor and the rear element of lens regularly to minimize problems there.

Now take your shot. No matter what metering mode you used or whether you’re in aperture priority or manual, you need to double check your histogram! Also check out the highlight warning (officially called The Blinkies) and adjust your exposure as necessary. If you can’t get the whole dynamic range captured in one shot then bracket a few exposures to blend later.

Next, zoom in on your image and check around the corners and edges of your frame for distracting elements or important elements that are being cut off. Adjust your composition if needed. You also want to look out for lens flare; if you’ve got it, block the offending light source and take another shot to blend in later.

I also like to bracket a few shots for white balance. Even though you can easily adjust WB in post changing it in the field can make you approach the scene in a different way and you want the opportunity to change things while you actually can.

Lastly, if you’re shooting something that’s moving like water, try different shutter speeds to see what different looks you get.

Once you’ve done all this make subtle changes to your composition and repeat the whole process. Then make big changes to your composition and repeat the whole process. That way you’ve got a multitude of different shots to choose from, all of them as good as can possibly be. Oh, and always stick around until the light is completely gone, because you never know when it might blow up!

[After the shoot]

Celebrate because you nailed it! I know some of these seem painfully obvious, but I actually have made every single one of these mistakes, so hopefully you can learn from my errors. As always, thanks for watching and be sure to check out my other videos. And if you liked this you can subscribe for weekly photo tips and techniques. Also visit my website joshuacripps.com for landscape photography, tutorials, workshops and more. Until next time, have fun and happy shooting!

Get Perfect Focus and Depth of Field in Your Landscape Photos

Want photos that are tack-sharp from front to back? Well that’s as easy as manually removing a corn-syrup based, artificially-flavored confectionery product from the infantile grasp of a newly-born homo sapiens. Greetings, humans. Josh Cripps here with Professional Photography Tips showing how you can nail the focus and depth of field in your landscape photos to get everything sharp from front to back.

To get sufficient depth of field back in the old days of film you had to rely on an in-depth understanding of the theory of focal lengths, apertures, and hyperfocal distances. Then once you’d dialed in your compositions and settings you’d squint through the viewfinder, hold down the depth of field preview button, and hit go.

Now this is still a totally acceptable way to get good DOF for your shots, and paired with enough experience this technical approach can yield wonderful results. But thanks to the advent of digital cameras we now have a tool that makes getting the right focus and DOF even easier, and much less technical: and that tool is live view. Here’s how it works:

  • Set up your composition and as a starting point dial in an aperture of f/8. For many lenses f/8 is just about the sharpest aperture, so if we can shoot there it’s a good deal. Focus about 1/3 of the way up from the bottom of the frame, then make sure you’re in manual focus..
  • Now enter live view. With some cameras (particularly Nikons) going into live view will automatically stop the aperture in your lens down to the aperture you set. But with many other cameras you’ll have to hit your DOF preview button to get the lens to stop down. In any case that’s what you want, because the live view feed is now showing you the exact focus and DOF you have currently dialed in.
  • Let’s zoom in to the immediate foreground. If it’s sharp then zoom in on the background. If that’s sharp too, congratulations! You’ve nailed your focus and DOF.
  • But if either your foreground or background is soft, it means we need to make some adjustments to our focus point and/or our aperture. Let’s start with the focus.
  • If your foreground is soft, manually pull your focus closer until your foreground is in sharp focus. Now check your background; if that’s still sharp you win! But if your b/g is soft it means you need to increase your Depth of Field by stopping down a bit. Try changing to f/11 or f/16. Once you’ve made the change to your aperture you’ll have to exit live view and come back into it, or release and repress the DOF preview button.
  • Similarly, if it was your background that was soft originally, push your focus further away until the background is sharp. If your foreground is still sharp you’re done! But if you f/g is soft you’ll need to stop down.
  • Just keep repeating this process until your foreground and background are sharp and you’ll have nailed the focus and DOF for your shot.

Be aware that the more you stop down the softer the details in your photo will become, not because of focus, but because of something called diffraction. Compare these details shot at f/22 versus these shot at f/8. So you may reach a point of diminishing returns where your image just doesn’t get any sharper.

And in some situations you might also reach the physical limits of your lens. You’ve stopped all the way down and either your background or foreground is still out of focus. So what do you do? In this case you have three good options:

  1. Get farther away from your foreground subject. Relatively speaking this puts your foreground and background closer together, making your required depth of field less.
  2. Zoom out or use a wide lens. The wider you get the more forgiving depth of field and focus becomes. In other words, it’s way easier to get an entire scene in focus at 14mm than it is at 50mm.
  3. Think more abstractly: If you can’t get everything in your shot in focus with a deep depth of field try the complete opposite: use a shallow DOF to enhance just one part of the scene.
  4. Focus stack. Set your lens to its sharpest aperture and take multiple shots of your scene, adjusting the focus point each time until you have a sharp shot for each part of your scene from the immediate foreground through to the mid ground and on to the background. You can then auto-align and auto-blend these in Photoshop to get a completely sharp master image. Don’t worry, I’ll be doing another video on focus stacking down the road.

As always, thanks for watching! Soon we’ll be looking at exactly how to get that amazing silky look while shooting waterfalls so be sure to subscribe.

Got another question? Check out our Landscape Photography FAQ here:
https://www.joshuacripps.com/landscape-photography-faq/

Be sure to subscribe to our newsletter and YouTube channel for even more landscape photography how-to.

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Understand Aperture in Photography

Episode Transcript:

G’day, and welcome to Professional Photography Tips. Today we’re going to learn to be apturelutely awesome. Wait, what does that say? A-per-tu, Oh, aperture. Today we’re going to learn about aperture. [Puzzled look, snap].

[snap] There, that’s better.

[opening credits]

Hi everyone, Josh Cripps here. In our last video we learned all about shutter speed and how you can use to control not only motion, but emotion, in your photos. [Click for this video]. Now, shutter speed is only part of the pie when it comes to understanding exposure. The other main ingredient in the exposure recipe is aperture.

The aperture, as you probably know, is an opening in our lens that allows light to enter the camera, and you can set it to be wide open, or tightly closed. And in either case you can achieve a good exposure, so why choose one over the other? To find out, let’s do a little experiment.

Put your camera in aperture priority mode, usually marked with an A or an Av. Now you need a subject and a background. I chose this tree, with those trees behind it, but you can use anything you like as long as there’s some space between you, your subject, and your background. Set your camera up on a tripod zoom in so that your subject fills a good amount of your frame and you can still see the background.

Turn the aperture control dial until the camera reads something like f/4 or as low as you can go [LCD overlay], focus on your subject, then go ahead and take a picture. Now without moving your camera turn the dial the other way till it reads f/22 or higher, and take a second picture.

If we now zoom in on those pics and compare the two and we’ll see that the shot at f/4 has a sharp subject with a blurry background, and the shot at f/22 has a sharp subject *and* a sharp background. [comparison overlay]

This is because of something called depth of field. Whenever you focus your camera on a subject, a little bit in front of it and a little bit behind it is also in focus. The size of that in-focus range is your DOF, so the more that’s in focus from front to back the deeper your DOF is.

Looking back at our test shots, we can see that the shot at f/4 has a shallow DOF, and the shot at f/22 has a deeper DOF. In other words, the bigger you f-number, the deeper your depth of field, and the more that’s in focus. [text overlay]

Why is this important? Well, it turns out that whatever is in focus in your frame will attract your viewers’ attention and whatever is out of focus will repel your viewers’ attention.

And if you think about what this means it’s pretty astounding, because what you have is a way to control exactly what your viewers look at in your photo. So if you’re shooting wildlife or portraits or flowers or anything that has a very clear, dominant subject, you’re probably going to want to choose a small f-number like f/2.8 or f/4 to create shallow dof that draws attention only to your subject. Whereas in a grand landscape photo where you want to lead your viewers on a visual journey through the entire photo from front to back you’ll want a higher f-number like 11, 16, or 22 in order to bring everything in your shot into focus.

[examples overlaid]

Now, you should note that your dof shrinks the more you zoom in, so f/22 on a telephoto lens is not the same as f/22 on a wide angle. So don’t expect to be able to get sharp focus on something right next to you and a mile away while shooting with a telephoto lens, because that means you’re defying physics!

Guys, we’ve been having a lot of fun, but can we get serious for a minute? Because there’s one aspect of aperture that, tragically, wreaks havoc on thousands of unsuspecting photographers every day. It’s the fact that the smaller your f-number is, the bigger your actual aperture is. In other words, f/2.8 represents a massive aperture, whereas f/22 is only a tiny little pinpoint. [graphic overlay]

You can think of it like crowd control: say you’ve got a horde of screaming tweens trying to get backstage at a Justin Bieber concert. If you’ve only got 2.8 security guards on duty, well then there’s a lot of space between them for those teenyboppers to make it through. But if you have 22 guards holding rank, then there’s a lot less space for the Beliebers to make it past.

And it’s exactly like that when it comes to aperture and light. Say you choose an aperture of f/2.8 for a close-up shot of a flower. f/2.8 means your aperture is a large space, which lets a lot of light enter your camera, so your shutter speed will have to be short in order to prevent overexposure.

Conversely, shoot a landscape as f/22 and you’ve chosen an itty bitty aperture. The light is just able to trickle in to your camera, so you’ll have to increase your shutter speed to compensate.

Why does a small f-number mean a big aperture and vice versa? Well, some people say it’s because f-number doesn’t actually represent a physical measurement, but rather a ratio between the size of the the focal length of your lens to light-emitting diaphragm of your lens, and other people say it’s because of magic camera pixies who want to befuddle you.

It’s hard to say who’s right, but what’s really most important is remembering that a big f-number creates a deep DOF but is actually a tiny aperture, and a small f-number makes a shallow DOF but is actually a big aperture. I know it’s confusing at first but keep practicing and it’ll become second nature. You can also leave your questions in the comments of this video and I’ll answer them. [text overlay]

As always, thanks for watching! In our next video I’ll be showing you a practical step-by-step guide to making sure you have everything in focus in your landscape photos so be sure to subscribe.

And don’t forget to visit my website joshuacripps.com for landscape photography, tutorials, workshops and more. Until next time, have fun and happy shooting!

[Thumbs up if you liked this video. Also, I’d be honored if you shared it with your friends!]

Understand Shutter Speed in Photography

Episode Transcript:

Want to become a master of time??? Then you need to understand shutter speed!

[opening credits]

Hi everybody and welcome to professional photography tips. I’m Josh Cripps and today we’re going to take an in-depth look at shutter speed.

When most people think about a photo, they imagine some instantaneous, split-second thing happening. I press a button and click, that moment is frozen in time.

But what actually happens when you press the button is that a shutter opens, light streams in, and some time later the shutter closes again. And that process is the same no matter whether you’re taking photos of hummingbird wings or of grass growing. The only thing that’s different is the amount of time the shutter is open for.

So what is shutter speed used for? Well you can imagine that during the time the shutter is open, things in your photo might be moving. If you’re taking a picture of something completely stationary that might not be the case, but hey, this is a dynamic world we live in and something is almost always wiggling around in front of our cameras, whether it’s trees blowing in the wind, animals, people, water, or clouds.

And the faster things are moving during the time the shutter is open, or the longer the shutter is open, the more you’re going to see that motion blur show up in the photo. Let’s do a quick experiment to see what I mean.

Make sure your camera is at its lowest ISO, turn off auto-ISO if it’s on. Then put your camera on shutter priority mode, usually marked as an S or Tv, and go outside on a nice bright day like this one [shutter mode overlay]. Turn the shutter speed dial till it says 1000 [1000 overlay]. Bear in mind that shutter speeds are given as fractions, so this actually means 1/1000 second. It’s only once you get close to one second that the camera begins displaying the actual duration, using quotation marks to indicate the number of seconds. [shutter speed number overlay]

Now slowly spin in a circle and take a few snaps. Note how the images are fairly sharp even though you are moving [sharp overlay].

This is because the shutter was open a very short time, so the image couldn’t change much over the course of the shot. Now change the shutter speed to 1/40 [40 overlay] and do the same thing [spin overlay small]. All of a sudden our photos are streaked with motion blur [blur overlay]. That significantly longer shutter speed adds a lot more time for our photos to blur out. And the longer your shutter is, the more motion you will see.

So in a nutshell, shutter speed is used to control how much motion appears in your photos. But what not a lot of people realize is that it’s also used to add emotion to a photo: generally speaking there less motion there is, the more tension and drama a photo has. Imagine a crashing wave pounding off some rocks; when you freeze all the little droplets of water in the air you show the drama, power, and tension of that moment [crashing wave overlay].

Conversely, the more motion you have in an image the softer, more peaceful, and more serene it tends to become. Consider another crashing wave shot with a long shutter speed: it becomes a cottony puffball, dreamy in its softness [crashing wave overlay #2].

Cool, so now you, the artist, has an amazing tool at your disposal: want your viewers to feel tension and drama? Then use a lighting fast shutter speed. Or want to convey a dreamy, serene feeling? Slow that shutter speed down.

[text overlay – a “fast” shutter speed is the same as “short” shutter speed, and “slow” is the same as “long”]

So your next step is to go out and experiment: shoot a bunch of moving objects! Make sure that you use a tripod during these experiments, otherwise you’ll add your own hand shake blur to your photos. But try your pets, trees blowing in the wind, streams, or everybody’s favorite: waterfalls. Stay in that shutter priority mode on your camera and tweak the shutter to see the different effects you can get. And note that to get those really long shutter speeds you’ll need to shoot in low light otherwise you’ll overexpose your image..

[ montage of different shutter speed images]

You may notice that as you adjust your shutter speed your camera is automatically adjusting your aperture at the same time to maintain exposure. Be sure to watch this video to understand why. You may also see some things in your photo go in and out of focus as your aperture changes. And exactly why *that* happens is the subject of our next video so be sure to subscribe.

You can also check out my website joshuacripps.com for landscape photography, workshops, and tutorials. Until next time, have fun and happy shooting!

Understand Exposure in 6 Seconds

Episode transcript:

Confused by how aperture and shutter speed affect your exposure? Stick around and be demystified!

[opening credits]

Hey all, welcome to Professional Photography Tips. I’m Josh Cripps and here’s everything you need to understand about shutter speed, aperture, and exposure.

Still confused? I don’t blame you, so let’s take a closer look. You can think about every photo you take as a cup being filled up with water. The cup is your image, and the water in this case is light.

Now there are a lot of different ways to fill this cup up. I can open the faucet all the way up; the water gushes in and the cup fills up quickly. Or I can just barely crack the tap; the water dribbles in and the cup takes a much longer time to fill up.

And this, my friends, describes *exactly* the relationship between shutter speed, aperture, and exposure. Open your aperture all the way wide, light streams into your camera and your image fills up quickly, giving you a short shutter. Scrunch your aperture down to a pinhole and it takes awhile for the light to fill up your photo, resulting in a long shutter speed.

Of course, that assumes you are filling your cup up with the exact right amount of water, because it’s also possible to overfill your cup. Open up the faucet too far for too long and sploosh: your cup runneth over. This is what happens when you over-expose an image: too much light let in for too long. Conversely, you can underfill your cup: a wee little stream for a short time means you just have a little puddle in the bottom. I mean, you can barely see if there’s even any water in there. That’s underexposure: too little light splashing around in the bottom of your image.

And that’s it: everything you need to understand about the relationship between shutter speed, aperture, and exposure. Pick a wide open aperture? You’ll need to choose a short shutter speed so that your cup doesn’t overflow. Want a very long shutter? Well then you better cinch that aperture down to get the right exposure.

At this point you’re probably thinking, well that’s great, but how do I know exactly which shutter speed and aperture to pick? I mean, if there are all these different, somehow equivalent ways of filling my cup up, why should I choose one shutter speed over another, or one aperture over another? You may also be wondering where ISO fits into this mess. Well we’ll be looking at all of that in our next few videos, so be sure to subscribe. And don’t forget to check out my website joshuacripps dot com for landscape photography, tutorials, workshops and more. Until next time, have fun and happy shooting!

7 Powerful Photography Tips for Amazing Photos

Episode Transcript:

Hi all, welcome to Professional Photography Tips. I’m Josh Cripps, and I’m going to show you how you can take amazing photos using any camera….all by understanding 7 simple principles of photography.

Now these principles are totally subjective, dramatically over-simplified, and the list is by no means exhaustive or comprehensive. Nevertheless, if you’re new to photography and wondering how to improve your images, this is a great place to start. So let’s dive in!

Principle #1 – Fill the frame with what you like

This is the most important rule of photography and the only rule you should never break. See this great picture of a flower? NO! This is much better. Zooming is ok, but the best zoom lens is your legs, so get closer!

Am I close enough? No. Am I close enough? No. Am I close enough?…….Maybe.

This goes for everything you want to shoot, landscapes, portraits, wildlife, sea monkeys. Get rid of all the extra space in the frame and fill it with what you like. Boring blue sky not exciting you? Get rid of it! Tree branches, lunchboxes, random people, and other clutter getting in the way of your subject, ditch it! Philosophically this is your task every time you take a photo: Figure out what the picture is really about, fill the frame with those things, and get rid of everything else.

Principle #2 – Simplify and exaggerate!

A good photo is like a caricature: it simplifies and exaggerates. Now that you’ve figured out what to put in your photo, think about how you can exaggerate its characteristics.

Use contrasting colors to make your subject stand out. Use other objects to create scale, big or small. Use a long shutter speed to emphasize movement. Zoom in on one particular feature.

Change your perspective, your focal length, or your white balance to emphasize certain characteristics. Simplify and exaggerate and you will create photos with focus and punch.

Principle #3 – Don’t center your subject.

Instead, use the rule of thirds: divide your photo up into an imaginary tic tac toe board and put the most important elements of your photo on the horizontal and vertical lines.

So instead of this (show middle framed tree), try this (offset to one side). Instead of this (horizon in the middle), do this (horizon at the top). Hot damn our photos are looking better already.

The major exception to the rule of thirds is anytime you want two parts of your photo to have equal weight. Reflections, abstracts, counterpoint, and juxtaposition are all great times to use the rule of halves, or quarters, or 1/pi or, or whatever feels right.

Principle #4 – Create Depth!

Use what’s called a near-far composition to create depth and pull people into your photo. By putting a foreground subject close to your camera and a background subject far away from your camera you give a sense of context to your image. You also create 3-dimensional depth and a sense of perspective.

If you have a wide angle lens you can use this technique to great effect by going all the way wide and getting super close to your foreground subject. This wide angle near far technique is absolutely awesome for drawing people into your images and making viewers feel like they’re standing in your photo.

Principle #5 – Connect The Dots and Create a Visual Pathway.

If you have multiple subjects in your photo (really common in landscape photography) then the story of your photo is about the connection between those subjects. Your viewer will intuit that connection 10 times better if you use lines to connect those subjects. We call these “leading lines” because they lead from element to another. Leading lines are also a great way to lead your viewers on a visual journey into your photo.

Anything can be a good leading or connecting line if you use the right perspective. Use a river to connect your foreground to your background. Use a sand dune’s ridge to draw the viewer’s eye through your frame. A crack in the ice or the lines in a piece of sandstone. No matter how you use them, leading lines are an awesome way to connect your main elements and create a visual journey for your viewers.

Principle #6 – Perspective is Everything

One of the best ways to make somebody say, Hey! That’s an interesting photo! is to show them something they’ve never seen before. We spend our whole lives walking around looking at the world from eye level, so why take a picture from eye level? It’s the same old, boring perspective. I mean hey, this field looks great from up here.

But what about from down here? It’s a whole new world, baby! So get low, get high, get upside down, and show the world your perspective.

Principle #7 – Lighting is Everything

Unfortunately the normal time to be out doing things (i.e. the middle of the day) is often the worst time for photography because of the harsh quality of light and shadow. So what can you do? The best solution photographically is to come back another time. Sunrises and sunsets generally offer the most interesting skies and the most even, flattering light.

Or you can move into the shade. Shady and cloudy conditions offer nice, soft light that’s very flattering for things like portraits or flower photography.

But sometimes coming back isn’t practical; you’re here now and never again. So what do you do? Simple! Use directional lighting to your advantage. While shooting toward the sun can create some dramatic effects it’s often problematic because it makes your subject go totally dark. Shoot with the sun, or put the sun at an angle and you’ll have a much easier time of getting a good exposure.

But if the best view is right at the sun, then expose for the brightest part of the scene. Digital cameras ahave almost zero capacity to retain detail in highlight areas, but an amazing capacity to retain detail in shadowy areas. You’ll be amazed by how much detail you can pull out of the shadows with a little post-processing, even with those iPhone shots. So expose for the highlights, recover the shadows, and you will have dynamic photos.

Principle #8 – Break all the Rules

Finally, Break all the rules except #1. Photography isn’t about following rules, it’s about showing people how you see the world. Don’t be afraid to experiment or go out on a limb. As long as there’s some method to your madness you are creating art. So get out there and shoot!

As always thanks for watching. Be sure to check out last week’s video and don’t forget to subscribe for weekly photography tips and techniques. For landscape photography, tutorials, workshops and more, visit my website, joshuacripps dot com. Until next time, have fun and happy shooting!

The Philosophy of a Photograph: Three Simple Questions

Episode transcript:

I’m Josh Cripps and I’m going to show you how asking yourself a few simple questions can dramatically improve the artistry your photos.

Hi all, welcome to Professional Photography Tips. One of the most common questions I get while teaching workshops is “My photos always turn out looking like snapshots. How can I take the vision that’s in my head and get it to come out in a photo?”

It turns out that the answer to that is already there inside you, and you can bring it out by asking three simple questions: what, how, and why.

1) What?

Whenever you approach a scene you should consciously ask yourself What do I like about this scene? There are a million things to look at in any landscape. Your job as the photographer is to identify just those few elements you find most striking. That’s how your photo begins to take shape.

For example I really love the oaks and the warm sunlight. Those are the two elements out of this whole landscape that most catch my eye. Also note that I didn’t say, I really love this grass, or the blue sky. And that gives me a sense of what I should exclude from the photo. The elements in a scene you’re not drawn to should be minimized or just straight up excluded from your shot. Simplify your images as much as possible in order to gain focus and clarity.

And once you’ve identified the elements you like, don’t stop there. The next step is to ask yourself What do I like about those elements? Maybe it’s the way they interact; the way the warm light shines through the leaves. Or maybe it’s that I like how the oak trees form a canopy above me. And the better you can answer what do I like about the elements I’ve chosen, the better off you’ll be when it comes time to ask yourself the next question.

2) How?

Now that you’ve identified the elements you want in your photo and the characteristics you like about them you need to ask yourself “How can I exaggerate those characteristics?” Your duty as an artistic photographer is not to represent a scene as faithfully as possible, it’s to exaggerate the things you notice and show people what you want them to see.

Sometimes the way to do that is compositionally: I like the light coming through the oaks, so I’m going to move around behind them where the effect is most pronounced.

Sometimes it’s a technical choice: I love the warmth of the sunlight; I’m going to exaggerate that by setting my white balance to cloudy to bring out more warm tones.

And sometimes it’s done through post processing: I love the green of the tree leaves so I’ll saturate the greens in Photoshop.

But the bottom line is once you start thinking about ways you can exaggerate the things you’re drawn to in a scene you’ll see your particular artistic vision begin to shine through in your photos.

3) Ask yourself Why?

The final question is here to help you tie everything together and to help you understand the choices you’re making in creating a photo.

You should ask yourself Why? about every single aspect of your images: why did I include this element and exclude this one? Because I like this one and don’t care about that one. Why did I place this element in this spot in my frame? Because I like the rule of thirds and I don’t want an important element too close to the edge or too centered. Why did I use a wide angle lens and not a telephoto? Because I like the depth and sense of “being there” that a wide angle provides.

This goes just as strongly for the technical choices: why did I choose this aperture? To get a deep DOF or a shallow one, to isolate one subject or let the viewer’s eye drift through the whole frame? Why did I choose this shutter speed, am I trying to show motion in the image, or freeze it, or does it not matter? Why did I choose this white balance, what color scheme am I trying to enhance? Why this ISO? For everything in your picture: why why why?

The more you ask yourself why the more your photos become a direct extension of your artistic vision and choices.

4) Make a caricature: simplify and exaggerate.

Basically you’re trying to make a caricature of whatever you’re shooting: simplify and exaggerate.

Simplify your photos by asking What, then exaggerate by asking How? Then you look at every aspect of your photo by asking Why. Because in the end it’s your conscious choices that turn those snapshots into true art.

Thanks for watching and be sure to check out last week’s video. Don’t forget to subscribe for weekly photography tips and techniques, and for landscape photography, tutorials, workshops and more, visit my website, joshuacripps dot com. Until next time, have fun and happy shooting!

4 things you can do RIGHT NOW to be a better photographer

Episode transcript:

Hi all, Josh Cripps here and I’m going to show you 4 things you can do RIGHT NOW to become a better photographer

1) Shoot jpeg only (for the next week)

Ok, before you shut off the video hear me out. There’s so much you can do to a raw file in post processing that it often creates lazy technique in the field. Oh, the photo’s underexposed? I’ll just fix it in post. Color, contrast, saturation screwed up? I’ll just fix it in post. But what if you can’t fix it in post? What if all your choices are more or less locked in when you press the shutter button?

Why then you’d really have to take the time to understand what metering is and how to use it. You’ll have to understand what a histogram is and how to use it. You’ll have to take a moment to consider your color scheme and choose your white balance appropriately. To think about noise levels and choose your ISO.

When your options are limited on the back end of post processing, it forces your in-field technique to become a lot better. And if you can take a poor photo and make it good in post, imagine what you could do with a good photo! So try shooting jpeg for the next week and watch your technique improve

2) Shoot vertical

Most landscape photos are done in the horizontal orientation. I mean, heck, it’s even called Landscape format. If horizontal horizontal horizontal describes your shooting style, force yourself to only shoot in the vertical orientation for the next few weeks.

It will feel really restrictive at first, but stick with it, because restrictions are what put the mind into creative overdrive and you will find yourself doing really unique things to fill the frame.

You will be forced to simplify your compositions and clear away any extraneous clutter or empty space on the left and right sides of your shot.

And on top of that it forces you to look at the world in a different way: up and down, as opposed to the normal side to side we live our daily lives in.

That rearranegment of space can bring a fascinating new perspective to your work. And for you wide angle shooters, going vertical with a wide angle lets you get down right on top of your foreground subjects, increasing visual punch and drawing your viewers into the frame.

3) Take 50 steps

From wherever you are right now, grab your camera and take exactly 50 steps. Stop and do not move from that spot until you have taken a photo that you find interesting. Then take exactly 50 more steps and repeat the process. Then again and again.

Pretty soon your usual ways of looking at the world will go right out the window and before you know it you will find yourself hunched over searching the ground, or staring straight up at the trees or buildings, or zooming in on some tiny detail.

Do this enough and you begin to realize there’s beauty and wonder all around us, it just takes a little eye training and the right perspective to see it. Which means that the next time you head out to shoot, you’ll start to notice things you never even realized were there.

4) Use a tripod

Yes, tripods can be clunky, cumbersome, and a barrier to flexibility and creativity. But that’s only at first, and it’s well worth pushing through the hassles of getting used to shooting with a tripod because a tripod offers some serious advantages to the landscape photographer.

First, they improve the technical quality of your shots. By eliminating hand or wind shake from your images you’ll see noticeably crisper details in your shots, which makes a huge difference when you go to print.

Secondly, tripods enable long exposure photos. From silky water motion to streaking clouds, you simply cannot take shots like these without a solid foundation for your camera to rest on.

Finally, the most underrated but incredibly valuable feature of tripods is that they allow consistency and subtle adjustments in your compositions. If you’re shooting handheld and reviewing each shot each time you can only get so close to where you want to be. A tripod lets you approach your killer shot methodically, isolating one variable at a time: exposure, filter placement, compositional tweaks, until you’ve absolutely nailed it.

Ok guys, that’s it. Hope you enjoyed those four simple things you can do to boost your photography to the next level. Don’t forget to subscribe for weekly photography tips and techniques, and for landscape photography, tutorials, workshops and more, visit my website, joshuacripps dot com. Until next time, have fun and happy shooting!