So you just got a camera and you want to become a photographer. Now what? I think there are many ways to go from here that work and even more ways that doesn't. So I will just tell you what I did.
- I went into manual mode early. First because I am an engineer by education so it was easy for me. Second, because I liked to shoot with tricky conditions and often the choice you will make between say boosting the ISO and lowering the shutter speed needs to be strategic and depend on your idea and post production techniques - so don't leave it to your camera.
- As a derivative from it I started to use .RAW because it allows you to err 2 steps on darker side and still "save" the pictures. Please remember: when you edit file in Lightroom, you don't edit .raw directly. If you sent me .raw edited in LR, I will get your initial .raw - data from camera's sensor. So do your work with adjustments and then open the file in Photoshop and save it in .tiff (not .jpeg). For every addition and re-edit use .tiff format, because it doesn't use compression (= loose info from you image). If you re-retouch and (worst you can do) re-sharp the image in .jpeg very soon you will see the artifacts in details. So do your magic with tiff, then sharp, then save .jpg for clients or collaborators or followers and save .tiff (un-sharped) for yourself if you will want to change something later. yes it's more space, but it is necessary.
- Next let's talk about post-production: retouch, color correction, special effects. Ok, maybe forget special effects at first... You have no idea how many reasons I hear from the beginner photographers to not retouch, not enhance their images. "It's more natural this way", "more realistic" (which is a valid concern if you do serious reportage), "more ethical". Upon longer conversation it usually comes to these 2 real reasons: 1. person doesn't know how to do it, or 2. person is not confident enough in their work to spend 2-3 hours perfecting the picture. Ok, let's say the underexposed pictures is beautiful by itself, mysterious! But it will be lost in any context (moodboard, fb page, even your website) because all the other elements next to it will be brighter, more catchy. As for skin problems: check our frequency separation technique, it will allow you to save as much of skin texture as you like, while making picture attractive for client or magazine.
- For composition, this is the part that you will improve for years. I think there are 2 ways to do that: people with more analytical mind will learn the rules to think of composition both in advance and on set. They would have a frame in their head before they start shooting. It's a very strong approach especially for commercial work. But my approach is different: learn as child would learn. Children don't learn the language by memorizing rules or learn to walk by following manual - they hear or see how it's done and then with try and error improve their own skill. I picture my brain as a black box - input: amazing photography, movies, stories, life; output: my work. What happens inside is a mystery, but I need to have enough of diverse input so its not imitation, it's inspiration.
- Finally I wanted to mention photographer's bias. After learning all the rules many photographers start to see mistakes in pictures that actually work. If being told that the client or followers did actually like the picture, such photographer will say that they disliked it "on subconscious level", knowing that the picture is wrong, but not knowing why. In my experience it isn't so. Clients, audience, magazine editors are looking for "wow moment" much more than for "correct picture". At the same time if you post in photographers' group, no-one will mind technically correct boring picture - it won't struck anyone's nerve, but if a photographer from the group sees that someone broke the rules he/she was told to follow and ended up with publication or new client of course it makes him/her feel cheated upon and will be prone to criticize such work.