1. ISO, ISO, ISO. In real estate it’s location, location, location. With an SLR it’s ISO, ISO, ISO. I can’t begin to tell you how many new photographers I’ve met who have no idea what an ISO is. It’s perhaps the single most important technical thing to know about your new SLR. Technically ISO stands for the International Organization for Standardization and in the old days of film it had to do with film speed. But without getting very technical here, if you are shooting in the dark or a poorly lit room or at night, you can dramatically improve your photos by bumping up your ISO setting. Most digital cameras these days go to 1600.

When you see those blurry shaky photos that people take at night without a flash what is going on here is that the camera lens is being opened on an automatic setting too long to avoid the movement of your hand which produces the blur. By increasing your ISO setting you will be able to shorten the amount of time the lens is open and thus get a less blurry photo due to the ever so slight movement that naturally takes place in your hand when you shoot. I’m not going to go into the differences between ISO, noise at higher ISO settings etc. Experiment around with the speeds yourself but make *sure* you know how to change your ISO setting and make sure that you understand that it will make a world of difference to the photos you are shooting in low light situations by increasing it.

2. When dealing with low light situations that are still blurry at high ISO settings, find something to brace the camera on. You can set it on a table, chair, bar, etc. You can hold it tight against a light or telephone pole or wall. You can lay on the ground and set it there. Find something for stability. This will dramatically improve your ability to steady the camera in a low light situation.

3. Don’t cheap out on a tripod. Cheap tripods are like cheap umbrellas. They will inevitably break and you will be back buying another one. Further, they won’t work right, won’t get your camera at the right angle, will shake in the wind when it’s blowing, etc. Tripods are one of those areas where you truly do get what you pay for. Especially if you are going to be shooting at night budget for a quality tripod that can last you for years. Personally I use a Manfrotto. Manfrotto makes some of the finest tripods in the world. Spend the extra money and buy a good tripod or you will regret it. It should have a ball head and for everyday use be somewhat light and hopefully fit in your back pack. You may want a more sturdy industrious larger tripod for the car, but a basic smaller one for a backpack of good quality is money well spent.

4. It’s all about the glass. I’m continuously amazed at folks that will spend $3,000 on a digital SLR and then keep the low level stock lens that they bought with it and never do anything else from there. Personally I think you’d be better off buying a cheaper SLR but with a few good core lenses to use. The difference in shots using better lenses is dramatic. At a bare minimum find someplace that rents lenses and go rent one for a day, you’ll be surprised at the difference over the stock lens that came with your camera. With Canon their L Series lenses are amazing – you will not go wrong with any Canon L Series lens. Whether zoom telephoto, macro, wide angle, prime (fixed focal length), all will make dramatically different photos come out of your camera. Experiment with lenses and make sure that a fair portion of your camera budget is dedicated to at least one if not two quality lenses. My favorite lens for basic out and about shooting these days is the 135 prime L series, but most would prefer the flexibility of a range of distances over the fixed focal rate primes.

5. Join Flickr. Flickr is almost certainly the best online photo management and sharing application in the world. Something happens when you start sharing your artistic photographs with the rest of the world. It’s hard to say why or how it happens but it gives you a tremendous amount of emotional support and genuine satisfaction to see like minded camera geeks sharing their work and appreciating yours. Even with one or two close flickr friends you will find that flickr provides motivation for you to continue shooting. And best thing of all Flickr is free or very modestly priced at (a well worth) $25 a year if you want a Pro account with more bandwidth. You can join other photo sharing sites too if you want. I also have my photos at Webshots, Zooomr, Riya, Vizrea and a few other places, but it is the social network of Flickr that makes the most difference.

Flickr will also give you a lot of great ideas and ways to shoot that others are using today. For more on how to use Flickr you might want to check out this review I wrote yesterday on Richard Giles’ new book, How to Use Flickr, The Digital Photography Revolution. I’ve also published two other top 10 lists on Flickr, The Top 10 Ways to Get Attention on Flickr and the Top 10 Ways to find great photos on Flickr.

6. Know your rights. Nowhere are rights more misunderstood than with photographers today. Can you take photos of strangers on the street. Yes. Can you take photos of buildings from the street even after security guards tell you not to? Yes. Can you shoot into an open door from the street into a bar? Yes. Know your rights and stick up for them. This not only helps you but it helps other photographers. For a
great primer on your rights as a photographer check out Bert Krage’s excellent .pdf called “The Photographer’s Right

7. Shoot in RAW. Even if you shoot in JPG a lot too, shoot in RAW. I really only shoot in RAW for my art shots. RAW files are large, cumbersome and difficult to work with. They take up a lot of space on your hard drive. But being able to make modifications to the exposure, contrast and temperature (white balance, think are your whites whitish blue or whitish yellow) before really processing the photo makes a *huge* difference. Shoot in RAW and then learn how to do the production necessary with your photo processing app to do the minor modifications necessary to make your photo the best that it can be. I still shoot in JPG a lot of the time when I’m doing family snapshot stuff and don’t want to be bothered with the extra time it takes to process but for my art stuff it’s all RAW.

8. Photoshop, Photoshop, Photoshop. Whether buying the low end version of Photoshop Elements for $75 or the more professional CS2 version for $600, buy Photoshop and use it. Do *not* listen to the naysayer that will tell you that you are not a purist if you edit your photos. Almost every digital photo can be improved by editing it. Simple things like bumping contrast, altering saturation, sharpness, selective color, etc. all can make a world of difference. Buy Photoshop and use it to process every artistic type image you do. If you really, really can’t afford Photoshop or want something else for a laptop on the go or something, also take a look at Google’s Picasa. It’s pretty good for free software. Not as good as Photoshop, but you can’t argue with the price and it does do a lot of the basics nicely.

9. Take lots and lots and lots of photos when you shoot. Feel free to throw out the vast majority of the shots you shoot. When you see something you like to shoot, shoot 6 shots of the exact same thing. Some will be bad and you can pick the very best one and throw out the rest. I throw out most of the photos I take. I also have about 60,000 photos that I’ve yet to process that need more consideration on a hard drive I’ve named Scratch sorted by date. I shoot like crazy. On a typical outing I can easily fill two memory cards. And while I’m on the second card I’m transferring the photos off of the first card to my laptop to free up more space. Others disagree with me and a photographer I admire a lot Tim Gasperak was telling me recently about this discipline process thing of only being allowed to take a single photo a day in order to better focus and understand your composition and photography in a thoughtful way. There is probably something to that and as an expert it may have merit, but as an amateur shoot away.

You should never come back from a shooting outing with any room left on your card. Shoot, shoot, shoot and shoot. You’ll be surprised at the gems that you come back with.

10. Change your perspective. Whenever you think you have your shot framed and captured take your shot and consider different perspectives. Can you get down on the ground (or simply set your camera on the ground and shoot from there standing up) and get a better perspective. Look up. Is there someplace higher you can get. What about closer, further back. Turn around. What’s behind you? Are you missing something great? Look everywhere at once. Keep your eyes open for different ways to take the same shot. Tilt the camera, take a vertical, a horizontal, a diagonal. Crop out the sky. Crop out all of the land but a thin small strip at the bottom. Play with your perspective on a shot and take several different versions of the same thing.