“Where did you learn to shoot like that?”

“Where did you learn to shoot like that?”

Rob,
I have watched your video from singer-songwriter Kitty Macfarlane for her new single ‘Man Friendship’.  This is a beautifully shot video.  I have been working on the Somerset Levels for several years and made a couple of films myself. I also took the time to look at your
portrait gallery of various artists – 52 I think.  They are superb.  Where did you learn to shoot like that and do you offer any sort of
training/tuition on portrait photography?

Kind regards,
Paul


Hello Paul,

Thanks for the comments mate, really appreciated.  Unfortunately I don’t do any tuition…I wouldn’t have time!

I really feel like I’m still learning myself, even though I’ve been doing it a while.  I don’t know where you’re at with your own photography?  The first thing you need to get your head around are the mechanics of the camera so that you can turn up anywhere and irrespective of how light or dark it is, get a well exposed and in-focus shot.  You can practice on anything for that…wildlife, landscapes, sport, objects in your house…it doesn’t really matter – what you’re learning is how the the camera works and for that it’s good to shoot as much variety as possible.

Once you’re comfortable with how the camera works, the next thing to focus on is light (and shadow); how to see it when you’re shooting and how to manipulate it.  To be honest that’s the main thing that will move you from being a ‘snapper’ to a photographer.

Then you have to learn how to interact with the people you’re shooting, which is definitely an art and not a science!

Finally you need to learn about post-processing i.e. what you do on the computer afterwards.  People argue about this all the time, but for my own work I’d say 70% of the image is to do with what I got on camera (exposure, focus, framing, what the subjects were doing) and the other 30% is what I did in post-processing afterwards.  For my own stuff at least, post-processing heavily influences the ‘feel’ of the image.

Everything you need to know is on youtube somewhere, but it’s painful to find quality material; you have to watch a lot of rubbish in order to find the useful stuff.  The ‘Creative Live’ site is a good resource with courses covering every aspect of photography.

For post processing, check out ‘Phlearn’ – amazing site with loads of fantastic free tutorials.

You can learn a lot by looking at other people’s portrait photos, trying to think about a) where the lights were positioned to get that shot and b) what the photographer said to the subject to get them to react in that way.

In the main though I just learned just from doing it.  You just have to take a lot of photographs and figure out for yourself what works and what doesn’t.  I’ve been doing photography for about ten years and I’ve taken hundreds of thousands of images during that time (lots of them really bad!), so it’s a learning process.  The more you do, the more you learn.  I’ve done very little photography this year because I’ve mainly been doing videos and I can tell that my photography skills are rusting up as a result.

Hope that’s useful Paul. Give me a shout if I can help with anything.  Good luck!

Rob.


Dear Rob,

I can’t tell you how much I appreciate your detailed and truly inspiring response. Wonderful tips throughout. How did you get to grips with the video camera/video shooting? Did that come naturally given your still camera experience or did you take a tutorial? What camera do you use? There is much talk about full-frame and a photographer friend of mine who does a lot of portrait shots swears by it. He recommends the Nikon D750 or 610, or the Canon equivalent but some people have recommended Fuji new camera system. I can’t afford a Leica! Do you prefer fixed lens? Lastly, you talk eloquently about post-processing. What system do you use?

Kind regards,

Paul


Hello mate,

Re: filming, I found about 30% of it transferred straight across from photography; exposure, composition etc.  The rest I learned from youtube and from just doing a lot.  I find that filming requires a completely different mindset.  Whereas with photography you’re trying to create one image that will ‘say something’ in isolation, with filming you’re shooting a bunch of clips that are going to be joined together later to make some kind of story, so there’s a lot more pre-planning required.  Then you have to contend with audio, which is a whole subject in itself.  There’s obviously movement to think about as well…both the subject moving and the camera.

In regards to gear, I’m probably not the best person to talk to!  I’m really not interested in the whole ‘gear’ side of photography…the only time I look at what’s on the market is when I need a specific piece of gear for a shoot, or I need to replace something.  So I only look every eighteen months or so.

Full-frame…yes I suppose noticed a slight difference in image quality when I bought a full-frame camera…mainly when shooting in low-light.  Having said that, you can create perfectly fine portrait images with a crop-sensor.  The stuff on my site is a mix; some of it was shot on full-frame, some on a crop-sensor…I couldn’t even tell you which was which.  I just used whatever camera I had in my hand at the time.  I think it really depends on what you’re shooting for, but in general my advice would be not to stress too much over choosing a camera body.  Just get the best one you can afford (it’s more important to budget for lenses).  I’ve never had a client ask me about image quality, sensor size or what make of camera I use!  I rarely think about it to be honest…I’m more focused on the process and how we get to an end result.

Lenses make more of a difference to your photography than the camera body.  Yes I much prefer fixed (prime) lenses, although I own a couple of zooms as well.

Regarding makes of camera, again you can get lost for hours reading forums with people talking about the technical differences between cameras and still never reach a conclusion.  It would be a better use of your time just to buy a camera and start shooting!  The fact is, they all take great images.  Canon vs Nikon is a religious discussion, there’s little difference.  I shoot with Canon just because that’s what I happened to start with.  Lots of photographers would challenge me on this and no doubt want to go into lots of details on what the differences are. I’ll happily let them get on with it to be honest…while they’re arguing about it, I’ll be out booking clients!!!!

Some people like researching the technicalities of it all.  If you’re into that, dpreview is a good site for really detailed reviews of gear.

But honestly, my advice would be just buy one and start.  It’s a better use of your time than obsessing over which one’s the best…

Cheers!

Rob.

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