10 tips to take your photography to the next level

When I picked up my first camera in 2010, I wished my future me could go back into time to tell these 10 pieces of advice. Perhaps me and my 550D would have progressed much faster? Who knows… 7 years later I am happy to share these with you.

1/ Understand Light

It took me some time to understand that, and I Kind of feel ashamed of not realizing earlier in my journey how important light is for a photographer. Light is the key element for a good photo. If you don’t understand light your pictures will look like crap even if you photoshop them. Take your time to understand, even on your own how light behaves. When does it look good, when is it too harsh and creates strong shadows.

Theoretically, how do you get good light? There are specific times of the day where the light is just awesome. The first 2 hours after sunrise (you can stretch to 3) are for me the best to take pictures. The light is soft and the direction and angle are the best, especially if you are shooting people.

Lavinia Scott at sunrise  (Milano / Italy)

If you are lazy (and that is not a good thing), go for the sunset.  By shooting 2 hours before the sun disappears ( “the golden hour” as they call it), you will get awesome colors in the sky, amazing tones, and warmth on your model’s skin

Virginia Danh and Edouard Doye (Strasbourg – France)

If you are like me and wish to have empty scenes for your pictures, you gotta get up early!

I often use strobes outdoors and although it can help you shoot at almost any time of the day (depending on the power of your flash), I still advise you to shoot during golden hour.

2/ Work on your Compositions

This is a widely discussed subject, I ‘ve said it before I even made a video for beginners about it last week. Don’t just go out there and shoot for the sake of shooting. Think before you press that button. Try different angles… Does it look good standing at model’s level, kneeling down or laying on the ground? Think about how these different perspectives affect your photo.

How does it make you feel? Knowing how each of your decisions can affect your photo will help you make creative decisions instead of just randomly capture a shot. Giving a dominant role to the viewer, or a powerful position to your subject depends on what you wish to tell. What is the purpose behind the shot, what is the story? So many questions only you can answer. This will come with time. Get out and question yourself every time you decide to capture something.

Photo of Eloize Rignon taken from above (Lyon / France)

Another one with Lavinia Scott taken from below (Milano / Italy)

3/ Locations

In some famous cities, you have these locations photographed by millions of people. I am not telling you not to shoot there! Just reminding you that the world has so much to offer. There are amazing places everywhere. Where ever you live, you just have to take that extra time to look for these locations. I made a video for starters on the subject a few weeks back, you should check it out: How to find locations.

What sets a lot of the photographers I follow apart is that they are willing to take that extra time to make those research. That’s how they end up with fresh locations, places that are rarely used for photo shoots.

If you are forced to shoot in front of a touristic monument then make sure you get that new perspective on it. Find an original angle… Remember tip number 2? Make it a challenge and go find that new perspective that will set you apart.

Early bird shoot in front of the famous Duomo di Milano (Milano / Italy)

4/ Pay attention to the background

This for me now sounds obvious, but I use to overlook this advice. When you are concentrated on your model, and all the technical stuff involved in the making of your picture, you tend to forget things… Things that can actually ruin your picture. This is one of them, and it took me a year to think about it before each shot. Avoid at all cost any objects sticking out of your subject’s head or from any parts of their body. I see this all over the web on Instagram and Facebook. Having these performers doing killer stuff and “boom” they have that building sticking out of their B… !!! Sometimes I ask myself “Damned, how could they not see that”. But I made the same mistakes too.

Putting your model in a place where their head is not cut off by the horizon, or not accidentally interacting in a weird way with the background is essential. I advise you also to avoid having a too busy background. The idea is to avoid any elements that can distract from the main subject, keep the horizon leveled unless tilting your photo is intentional. Your model can interact with the environment, but you have to be careful with that, make sure people understand what’s going on in your picture.

In this picture feat. Elena Francalanci and Axier Iriarte (Torino / Italy), I centered my subjects but used symmetry to make it more interesting. Their pose was influenced by the leading lines forming an “X”. This is an example of how the environment and background can merge with your models.

Oh, let me add this real quick, please stop doing that Bokeh thing to look “professional” or to hide a hideous background. Just Change location or find a better angle or composition. Bokeh as to remain a creative tool!

5/ Learn your Camera

This one may sound stupid but I am guilty of this! A Lot of you never read the manual, went out with your shiny new camera and started shooting because you were too excited. 6 months later you discover you are using less than 5 percent of your camera’s capabilities… I personally got better when I stopped being lazy about my photography.  I got out of the all automatic mode and I began to improve my shots and really use my camera as an artistic tool.

I am now reacting faster, and handling my camera is 2nd nature, I no longer have to think of which button push next. I have customized some of the buttons of my camera to make it my own, and i feel it is now an extension of me.With time you will also know roughly what ISO and shutter speed you will have to use in specific conditions or for specific effects.

To summarize this… Work!

6/ Learn your lenses

After the camera, the Lenses…Lenses tell stories, yes, they all have a different personality and feel.

85 mm and 135 mm lenses are often used for portraits and there is a reason. “Compression” with these lenses give a more pleasing look and respects body proportions which are not the case for wider lenses.

My head completely distorted by the 11mm !

Sabrina Alberelli shot at 160mm:

Plus, you can easily add that “Bokeh” to your shots without narrowing too much your depth of field to give that clean separation with your background.

It’s really a matter of taste, I used to have my 50 mm on me all the time and use it for any kind of pictures from portraits to landscape photography. It is a great cheap versatile prime lens I highly recommend to beginners.

I have been shooting wide a lot recently, loving the possibility of including a lot of the environment in my shots. Doing a mix of architecture and portraiture has become part of my style these days.

Down below free runner Robin Ohl inside l’Aubette (Strasbourg / France) at 24 mm

Uva Virginia and Cesar Agazzi captured at 16mm inside les Abattoirs (Toulouse / France) Art wort by Julie chaffort.

I am actually testing the 11 to 24 mm right now, hope to share this with you guys soon. To summarize, get out there, borrow lenses from a friend and experiment!

7/ Shoot RAW

Jpeg is useful when you do little to no edits to your shots. I personally shoot RAW because I edit, color grade, retouch my pictures. I need the best possible files out of my camera sensor to fully work on my images. I understand that for sports photography (for example), huge competitions and events, the use of jpegs is necessary. You are capturing thousands of photos in a very short amount of time, and you have to deliver them fast to your clients. Your camera has to keep up, and so does your memory card…

If this is not your case, and if you wish to be a little bit more creative, you have to shoot RAW. This will give you the option to stylize your photo and give that unique signature look to your pictures. To summarize this, the power of Raw helps you get that photo you love to the next level.

BEFORE / AFTER
Tatjana Van Onna Captured on the wet Deck of The W amsterdam Hôtel (Amsterdam / Netherlands)

8/ Don’t be afraid of photo editing software

This one was easy to guess… Don’t be afraid of photoshop, capture one, lightroom or whatever software that exists out there. These take time to master. I personally started with lightroom, before slowly migrating to photoshop.

Lightroom is a powerful a tool. You can use it as a catalog to organize your work, I still use it to edit large amounts of photos. Like everything in life, it’s frustrating at first. it’s again a new thing you have to learn, but trust me, lightroom is very intuitive and you will master it in no time.

You have a handful of photographers sharing free lessons on lightroom out there. Photographers like Serge Ramelli for example And if you want to dive into photoshop, I highly recommend the guys from Phlearn.

Don’t be afraid, jump into the fun of editing your pictures, you will thank me later.

9/ Work with talented people

When starting out, you don’t have that many options. You will have to shoot your friends, cousins and whoever has some time to waste with a starting photographer. Hopefully, your skills will improve, and depending on your career goals you will want to move on from shooting your neighbor’s son kicking the ball to work with a professional soccer player.

I’ve been there, and for long I thought my work wasn’t good enough to work with professional athletes, dancers and performers. You have to believe in your work and skills, and go out there reach out to these professionals that might need your eye and skills to make them look good.

To go a little bit further, lookout for emerging make up artists and hairstylists. Surround yourself with passionate, hard working people that share the same goals as you and who wish to multiply projects that involve team work that will create a bigger impact.

10/ Shoot on a tripod

This is the last tip and one that has helped me a lot on some of my most challenging pictures. Sometimes, you cannot shoot at the ideal time of day and this happens you have to find solutions to make the shots. I am not talking about the weather or the light here, but people ruining your shots in the background.

Choose your framing and composition, set your camera on a tripod and start shooting your model. Once you nailed the pose or movement, take a couple pictures with a few seconds interval or wait for people to move. These “clean” plates you captured will help you remove anyone from your shots easily by masking them out in photoshop in post.

BEFORE / AFTER
Shot feat. Pauline Peraut (Madrid / Spain)

I think this one definitely needs its own video and article…

So that’s it, I am sure you will have tons of questions after watching the video and reading this unusually long article., I believe each point mentioned could be developed in a separate post it already gives me ideas for future videos.

Ask me anything in the comments below, I might answer you if it’s photography related (ha, ha).

10 tips to take your photography to the next levelhazekware
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2 comments on "10 tips to take your photography to the next level"

  1. First of all…awesome pictures. I love your look. I am doing my first professional shoot, shooting athletes using gym equipment inside a unit. I have a Nikon d750 and only a 50mm lense. Can you tell me what other lense would be useful on the set?

    • Hi, Natalie, sorry for replying late… I would recommend an 85mm lens for portrait and 35mm or 24 for up close shot of the whole body to give the viewer the sense of being “in the action”! Going a bit wide gives you also the ability to include a bit more of the environment if your location is interesting. Hope this helps!

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