As an avid photographer and film maker, I always look for new ways that I can improve the images I create. Personally I think this is the greatest and most enjoyable challenge a camera can present you, being able to look back at what I've made and think of new ways I can make it better.
Here's some of the things I've learned in my journey with cameras that I hope can help you in yours!
Okay, so this one is probably the most controversial item on the list so I'm going to get it over with first. I am most definitely a firm believer in the fact that the best camera is the one you have with you, but I also believe that certain equipment can really change how you create content. A camera, in essence, is just a tool that we use to create images and much like others in different professions, having and using the correct tools can allow you create the best product possible. So when we say the gear matters, it doesn't mean you should buy every new piece of kit from every manufacturer and have every tool for every situation; but you should look at the equipment you need for what you are passionate about capturing. This is why we chose Panasonic over say Nikon for our video production, the product is more suited to our needs. If it was stills that we were mainly producing then it would most likely be the other way around.
So in principle, you need to do your research about products and techniques and get as much professional advice on the matter as possible. If you do all of this in depth then I guarantee you'll be able to buy a camera that will suit your needs not only for the immediate future, but for many years to come.*
*If you need help choosing a lens, we've got a great blog about that ;)
I slowly built up my stills kit by making educated purchases according to my needs and budget and settled on the above for my professional shoots. (See our About Us page for examples using this equipment)
Use your Camera
After working in a camera shop for a few years, what I realized is that a lot of people expect to buy their first DSLR and take world class images right off the bat, but this just isn't the case. Watching all the videos, reading all the books and even reading this article cannot make you a better content creator. The only way to do this is to go out and shoot, shoot, shoot. Wherever I go I take a camera because I know that there's always something to capture and this in the long run will really help you in taking pictures.
No one has ever become a great photographer sitting at a desk.
Getting out with your camera, using it and seeing new things will open up so many new opportunities for amazing shots.
Research and Copy
If you're struggling for inspiration, there is no shame in copying other people and recreating their content. If you do this you can then look back and see how you would do it differently. You may see a fantastic image of a nearby landmark and think "what if I do it from this angle" and eventually you will find your own style and niche to your work and that is what will make you stand out from the rest.
While you're thinking of places to photograph, you can research exactly where and what you want to take images of. Chances are, you're probably reading this on your phone so why not use Google Maps (or the equivalent) and find awesome landscapes or hidden places for street photography. It's all at your finger tips and so easy to do, you can almost take the picture in your head before you even leave your house.
I recently wanted to find some new places for street photography and after some reading found that Grange Town in Cardiff is great for it!
The best way I learnt how to use my camera is by restricting what I take with me day to day. I often just take a body with one lens to capture the whole day and even then I restrict myself to using one setting/ mode on the camera. If the lens you take isn't wide enough, you have to make it appear wider. It's all about problem solving and that is the first rule of film making. This is how I learnt to take pictures in manual mode and I feel that it really pushed my knowledge of focal lengths and what my camera is and isn't capable of in certain situations. It also helps you work with the tools you have instead of making you just go out and buy a lens for the sake of it.
This is my day to day camera, Lumix GM5 with a basic 20mm f/1.7 prime lens. Simple and restricted yet very effective.
Always Review and Share
You should always go back and review your work from the past, whether that's from five weeks or five years ago.The best way I find is to make physical copies of your work so it never gets lost in files on your PC. It's always there for you to critique and cannot be changed from that print in front of you.
It's also really important to get other people's feedback, whether it's your friends or strangers, it doesn't matter. I've always liked showing my Dad what I make as I know he'll give an honest opinion on whether it's good or bad and having that extra opinion can really help you shape how you take images.
Posting pictures on social media can also be a great way of gauging what images you create are effective, as many other people interested in your hobby can look and analyse what you make. I always take inspiration from Facebook groups and often post images and videos I take there so I can share what I make and let people judge whether it's good or bad.
Step out of your Comfort Zone
If you always find yourself taking the same pictures, try something new. I always enjoyed landscapes and macro photography as I could generally work in my own time and space and was very comfortable doing so. Then I started trying street photography which really was a big step outside the box for me as it meant interacting in a very small, busy environment and working at a very quick pace to what I was used to. But by doing this I feel that my confidence with a camera has increased massively and really helped me learn about how subjects interact with you and generally how my camera handles.
When making films, the biggest step for me was my first job outside of university as a DoP. I had no friends and knew no one on set and was thrown into this bar with all of my kit and told by the director "go set up, we'll start in half an hour". It was terrifying as there was little to no crew on set, no story boards had been prepared and I'd never met anyone there so there was a huge weight on my shoulders. But once I started getting into the swing of it I used my limited on set knowledge and really pushed the shoot along and from my perspective, it came out great.
Street photography requires a lot of confidence and definitely requires a step outside most of our comfort zones.
Break the Rules
My number one rule when I use a camera is to break the rules (contradictory right?) You should take an image in the way you see fit, not how it says to do so in a text book. You'll find a lot of people online suggesting the best settings and ways to capture certain situations but if you find a way that works, that's all that matters at the end of the day. I rarely stick to the rule of thirds as I find you can obtain a much more dramatic or sometimes un-easy image for the audience this way and I find that on an emotional and aesthetic level can really work in your favor.
I enjoy placing subjects center frame for further emphasis and also placing more prominence on the context of the background to the subject.
We hope a few of our tips have helped you out and you can keep taking awesome pictures and videos!