Last week I wrote an article outlining 5 Things I Wish I Knew When I First Got Into Photography. While this list was in no way a comprehensive collection of all I didn't (and don't) know about the field of photography, I feel like it was a good summary of some of the most important pieces of knowledge that, without which, inhibited my growth as a photographer in the early stages of my career.
Today I want to outline some more common traps that beginner photographers fall prey to, but that I was able to correct early on. Hopefully, if you're struggling with some of the questions and obstacles outlined below, this article can provide some insight.
1. RAW vs Jpeg
One of the most common questions asked by newcomers to serious photography is, “Does it matter whether I shoot in RAW or JPEG?” Others may not even be aware of the RAW format that their new camera offers after upgrading to a DSLR, so this seems like a good place to start in our list of common photography traps.
There's a lot that can be written on this topic, but for the sake of space, I'm going to give an overview of the topic in this article, and go into the debate deeper in a separate post.
To briefly outline the two formats, RAW files are uncompressed, minimally processed files that record contextual information about your image such as white balance, sharpening, contrast, and color settings alongside the image. They are generally 12 or 14-bit files which take up a good deal more disk space when compared to 8-bit JPEGs, but allow much more editing flexibility.
JPEGs are compressed files which write the contextual information onto the image, committing it more or less permanently. These files are much smaller than RAW, but lack the editing flexibility, with the pixels quality breaking down more quickly when pushed by editing.
The most important question to ask yourself is whether you have any plans of editing your images, either now, or would like to be prepared for the possibility in the future.
If your answer is no, you are probably better off shooting in JPEG. Not only will you save space on your hard drive, but your images will look better out of the camera, due to your creative settings being committed to the images. You'll also be able to share your photos immediately and not have to worry about converting your RAW files.
If you do plan on editing your images, you should almost certainly shoot in RAW. Hard drives have become so cheap these days, you can easily afford to buy an extra drive specifically for your photography, and allow yourself the maximum amount of editing flexibility.
If you decide to shoot RAW, keep in mind that you will need RAW conversion software to view, edit, and share your images. Common software includes Adobe Lightroom, and Adobe Camera Raw (ACR) among others.
It's also good to be aware that often new RAW users are underwhelmed by their images once they transfer their files onto their computer and open them up. While RAW images open up options for editing, they almost require editing straight out of the camera, as they are know to posses a “flat” look straight out of camera, that often doesn't match what you saw on your camera's LCD screen after capture.
Like I mentioned above, there's a lot more to be said on the subject, but I'll leave that for another article as it's beyond the scope of this guide.
2. File Management
This is another topic that warrants it's own article, but the basics can be discussed here, as some poor (or lack of) planning here can really make things difficult in the future, as your photo library expands.
File management isn't sexy, but it's something you absolutely need to be on top of. As a sound engineer and record producer, I had already had plenty of experience dealing with thousands of files on a daily basis when I got started in photography. For a lot of new photographers however, keeping their digital library organized and safe is not something that gets a second thought until disaster strikes.
The Golden Rule Of Digital File Management
The number one most important thing you need to know about digital file management is the following law:
“DATA DOES NOT EXIST UNLESS IT IS STORED IN TWO DISTINCT LOCATIONS”
The more paranoid among us will take this a step (or more) further, adding a third backup, stored in a separate physical location, ie. Your studio and your house, maybe a friend or partners house, the cloud, etc.
The essence of this rule is that if you value your data, you must have it backed up at least once, preferably more. While digital storage is generally pretty stable, accidents and malfunctions do happen, and the last thing you want is your entire photo library erased and lost forever.
After you've taken care of priority number one – backing up and protecting your data – the next challenge is in organizing your library so that you can efficiently sort, categorize, and find specific images within it.
When it comes to photography there are a number of software solutions you can use to aid you in this task, the most popular, and my favourite being Adobe Lightroom. Aside from being a fantastic tool for editing, Lightroom has great, often overlooked value as file management software.
Within Lightroom you have the ability to sort photos into cascading folder structures, collections and smart collections, apply star ratings, colour labels, tags and more, all of which are searchable within the program. This makes finding specific individual photos as well as larger groupings or themes a breeze.
Whether or not you use Lightroom, you should be adept in organizing your folder directory into something straightforward and manageable. The most common methods used by photographers are date, location, or subject based folder structures.
For example, you might choose to set up a date based directory as follows:
In this folder structure, you would proceed to place all the photos taken in February 2016 in the [February] folder within the root  folder. The same goes for photos taken in other months.
If you take a lot of photos per month, you might want to adopt a hybrid system, adding sub folders to the [February] folder, including locations such as:
----> [Stanley Park]
----> [Mt. Seymour]
Whichever system you ultimately decide upon, it's good to have a defined strategy in place, as it can be a time consuming task to reorganize your library into a new folder structure after your library has grown to include thousands of images.
3. The Rule Of Thirds
When it comes to composition, nothing gets as much play as the oft-quoted “Rule of Thirds”.
While it's true, applying the rule of thirds to your compositions can add interest and engagement to those struggling to find order and structure in their compositions, it is not a hard and fast rule.
Most of the trouble seems to come from photographers who have come to the conclusion that every photo must incorporate the rule of thirds, and that any image that does not conform, cannot be a great image. The rule (or should we say “guideline”) of thirds can be a useful compositional tool to consider when framing your photographs, but it's not the only one.
Concepts such as leading lines, symmetry, shape, depth, and space are all important tools that can add interest to your images while ignoring (or also incorporating) the rule of thirds.
There's a great e-book on composition, Visual Flow by Ian Plant that goes into great depth on the art of composition that I recommend to anyone looking to up their composition game.
4. Undervaluing Your Talents
While not technically a photographic trap, knowing how to accurately price your work is a challenge painfully common to photographers beginning to charge for their services.
A hurdle not confined to photographers, almost all creative entrepreneurs make the mistake of not valuing our work highly enough, especially when we are just starting out. We look at the great work of our competitors and come to the conclusion that our work is no where near as good as others, and we feel ashamed to charge too much for our services.
The problem with this mode of thinking is that we are always the harshest judges of our own output. We can receive all the praise in the world for our images, but will still be able to pick out flaws, things we would have liked to have done differently, or some other photographer who's images are better. Simply put, we are not reliable to gauge our work objectively, which results in us under pricing ourselves so as not to offend anyone, or to avoid the confrontation that might occur if someone calls us out on what they think are overpriced services.
It can be a hard obstacle to overcome. You can read articles, books, compare prices with competitors, but ultimately the step that needs to be taken is an internal acknowledgment and acceptance of your abilities and skill. It is not something that can be learned, rather, an acceptance of yourself as good enough to charge the same amount (or even more!) as others in your field.
Many of us are scared that no one will want to work with us if we charge too much, but the paradox is that consumers have been shown time and time again that they place a higher value on a good or service that they pay more for. You may also find that by raising your prices you attract better clients. Clients who are easier to work with, ask for fewer accommodations, who are more satisfied with your work, and who want to work with you repeatedly.
It does no one any good to price your services at the equivalent of working for minimum wage. Truly great clients will expect you to value yourself, charge accordingly, and in return, they will value your work as well.
5. Fixing It In Post
With todays editing software, it seems almost limitless, the results we can achieve after the image has been captured. While I'm a huge fan of the options we now have, and the creative possibilities that software has opened up to us, I remain adamant that we should do everything we possibly can to capture the image as best we can inside the camera.
While it's possible to correct or adjust many issues our images might posses after the fact, there are some things that should definitely be addressed while viewing your subject through the lens.
While you can crop and alter perspective in post processing to some extent, your options at this stage are limited in terms of adjusting the composition of your image. This is something that you must get right in camera to maximize the final impact of your photo. The same can be said for getting the lighting right at the time of shooting. Dodging and burning can help make up for slight imperfections in the lighting, and can enhance or diminish what the lighting is already providing to your image, but it has it's limitations.
Exposure is perhaps the most important aspect of photography to get right in camera. If shooting RAW, you have some wiggle room to be sure, but pushing your exposure too far in either direction in post will introduce noise if overused. Given todays camera technology, there's really no excuse for not getting a usable exposure in camera, so take some test shots, make adjustments, and give yourself the best foundation to work with once you upload your images to your computer.
Lastly, while I think that Photoshop, Lightroom and the dozens of other software options and effects give us some great tools to advance our art, there is an undeniable fun that the challenge of attempting to create complete, compelling images without them provides. Personally I love the challenge of figuring out creative, guerrilla tactics of eliminating distractions through creative compositions rather than cloning, or balancing differing light conditions through reflectors, diffusers and fill light rather than blending exposures or dodging and burning.
Set a challenge for yourself, take a walk around your neighborhood or a favourite shooting location with the goal of capturing your envisioned shots entirely in camera. Try taking some double exposures in a single frame, messing around with long exposure “ghost” effects, light painting over some night shots, or playing with off-camera lighting and modifiers to liven up your scenes.
What are some traps that you've fallen prey to at some point in your photography journey? Are there things that you're struggling to move past currently? I'd love to hear where you're at, what you've overcome, and where you're hoping to get with your photography.
Feel free to comment, or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.