#1 “Do or do not... there is no try.”
A lot of people shoot daily as they are lucky enough to have a career in photography. Others embark on a 365 project while others just take photos all the time. I decided after I started ShootTokyo that I wanted to shoot daily as a way rapidly improve my photography. Shooting daily isn't hard. It does require dedication, creatively and planning. It actually gets easier with time as well. When I first started I would rack my brain for something interesting to photography but now you can put me just about anywhere for 10 minutes and I can find lots of ways to photograph it. Daily shooting changed all of this for me...
#2 Bring your camera everywhere
To capture great images you need to have your camera with you. People always ask me where I find the time to shoot. Honestly I shoot whatever is in front of me where ever I am going. Having a camera with me allowed me to capture the events of the March 11th Earthquake in Japan. Most of the great shots you take aren't planned or set up. Events or situations unfold and you capture them. This principle goes for the rest of the photos you will see below.
Having a camera allowed me to capture this woman checking the news about the earthquakes while on a break.
#3 Take pictures of people
One of the most interesting pictures you can take is of people. I'll let you in on a secret. Most people love having their photograph taken. Many photographers are very shy about asking people if they can take their photo so they end up trying to sneak a shot. This is just something you have to get over. While most people like having their photo taken, they also like to know it is happening. I have found that 9 out of 10 people will say sure and give you a big smile or pose of whatever you are looking for when asked. The approach I have taken that seems to work is being genuine and I simple ask 'Do you mind if I take your photo?'. I also carry these business cards that I call 'photography cards' that I give people and let them know they can email me and I will happily send them a high resolution photo for their troubles. Probably 10% actually email me but giving them a card makes the interaction more 'legitimate' and puts people at ease. Note: That's an old phone number on the card.
I have learnt to not be shy about asking if I can take someone's photo and I am so pleased with the results I can get now....Check out this hip chick at Shibuya's Hachiko...
This beautiful girl passing through Shibuya Station...
This young boy playing in the fountains at Clarke Key in Singapore.
and this young girl on Kandahar Street in Singapore.
#4 The less gear you carry the more photos you take
This is a lesson I learnt the hard way after dragging excessive amounts of camera gear across Tokyo and when I was traveling. Typically I would leave the house with my Canon 5DMKII. I wanted to ensure I would catch any shot so I will make sure to bring a good assortment of lenses; 16-35mm, 24-70mm, 50mm, 135mm and maybe my 70-200mm. I would also have an assortment of filters, a flash or two and other odds and ends. At the end of the day, I spend all of my energy lugging gear around that I didn't spend nearly as much time shooting. The reality is you can make great photographs with whatever gear you have granted you know how to use it.
Now more often than not, I leave the house with a single prime (fixed focal length) lens. This allows me to focus on taking pictures and bringing out my creativity to capture the shot I need with the only focal length I have. I carry the most minimal of accessories; extra card, extra battery, an ND filter and a cloth to wipe the lens. That's it.
Do I miss some shots due to my limited gear? Sure, but what I missed is easily made up by all of the other shots I get. My average blog post has increased from 5-10 pictures on average back in January to what is now running on average about 30 shots per day. I think the quality of the photos have also improved.
#5 Force yourself to shoot one lens for a week
A big part of making the last one work is knowing how to use your gear. I realized I would often carry multiple lenses as I didn't know how to get a shot or the shot I wanted with the tools I had. I would feel like I was limited with a 50mm so I would want to make sure I had a 70-200mm if it was far away, and a 24-70mm in case I needed to zoom to capture what I needed, or maybe a 16-35mm in case I needed to capture it wide. I now shoot almost exclusively prime lenses. With my Leica I shoot a 21mm f/1.4 Summilux, a 35mm f/1.4 Summilux and a 50mm f/0.95 Noctilux.
The reality is you can capture a great shot with probably any lens you have with you provided you understand how to use the gear you have. What I mean by this is what shots work for a given lens. What angle or distance do you need to be at for this particular focal length to give you the perspective you want. I was great at shooting my 50mm lens but I really struggle with my 35mm and had just purchased a 21mm and did not really understand how to get the most out of it. I forced myself into a lens rotation where I shot a single lens for a week. I'll be honest, it was incredibly frustrating for me. At times I wanted to just switch to a different lens as it was impossible to get the shot I wanted or needed but after a few days it became much easier to get the shots I was looking for and soon I was able to pre-visualize the shots before I even lifted the camera to my eye. Now I can walk the streets at ease with any of my prime lens and come home with a card full of shots that I am happy with.
A week with my 21mm prime lens:
After a week of shooting at a single focal length I was pretty comfortable with it and proud of the results I could get with it. I took this shot of Shinjuku without neon that was accepted into the Leica Fotografie International M9 Masters Shot Gallery on Leica.com.
After posting this picture, the editor of a Russian Newspaper contacted me and asked for permission to reprint this photo.
Shinjuku's LOVE art...
As you can see you can capture a broad range of images with just a single prime lens. After my 21mm I shifted to my 35mm for 6 days of shooting. For those keeping score, I cut it short one day as I was leaving on a trip and wanted to change out lenses.
Here are a few of the shots I have captured with my 35mm. The point of these examples is I probably won't have had time to stop and change a lens and needed to take the shot with what was on my camera. This loyal black lab couldn't be bothered with me as he faithfully waited for his owner who was coming out of the store.
These good people just finished packing up a shipment for Tohoku at Second Harvest Japan.
This woman waits at Shibuya's Hachiko with only the light of her mobile phone lighting her up as Tower reduces power consumption in the week's after the earthquake.
This man cooks outside a restaurant in Ebisu.
#6 Develop a personal style
There is no right or wrong with photography. Some people love flashes. Others just shooting with their iPhones. Some love to photoshop their pictures for hours. Do what you love doing. One thing shooting daily has helped me to do is develop a personal style of shooting. When I first started I was always watching people and trying to see if I could shoot like 'them'. This was helpful to get me to learn to use my gear but once you know how to use your camera, you need to develop a style that is yours. I don't have a name for my style but I like a lot of selective focus and clean, natural pictures. I do next to no post processing on the photos. The most I will do is clean up any dust spots, crop a little, or adjust exposure but photoshop on my Mac is to correct little imperfections but not for making pictures.
I like to use very narrow depth of fields to tell my stories. There are no hard and fast rules to what you can and can't do, should or shouldn't do. Learn the basics and then decide how you choose to apply them.
I love to use a narrow depth of field and throw primary colors out of focus.
I've learnt to love photographing people once I got over the initial fear of asking people if I can take their photo.
I love combining shallow depth of field with lots of contrast like in this picture of 'Dark Shibuya'...
or at Narita Airport...
#7 Shoot out of airplane windows
I have never been one of those people who shoot out of airplane windows. I have flown probably close to 1,000,000 miles in my career and can't believe all of the subjects I have missed; Alaska, Mt Fuji, the slums of Mumbai, Chicago skyline, arrivals in Boston. This is something that I started doing this year and I have been so pleased with the results.
Panning is a great way to bring motion and movement to your photos to make them come alive. If you don't know how, read this.
#9 Shoot at night
I do the majority of my shooting at night. I am surprised how many people stop shooting when the sun goes down. What you need is a tripod, a low ISO and some practice. There is so much to photograph when the sun goes down.
Like light trails...
Evening construction sites...
Food vendors....to name a few.
#10 Backup Everything
I can't stress this point enough. I had a serious run of bad luck with Macs last winter and this spring. I actually had 5 complete hard drives failures on my Mac(s). Each time I was able to get Apple to do a complete replacement of my machine but it kept happening. They were never able to root cause the problem but I am running safe and sound on a Mac outfitted with Solid State Flash Drives. I am very paranoid by nature so I was fortunate enough not to lose a single photograph throughout these issues. This experience just reinforced what I already know; backup everything, often and to multiple locations. I have friends and know fellow photographers that have lost their hard drives without backup. I can't imagine the feeling of losing all of my photos but I am do my best to ensure this never happens to me.
Currently I backup using Apple's Time Machine to Western Digital drives connected with FireWire. I do this as I travel often and the backup drive comes with me. A lot of people stop backups while traveling is when you can run into an issue such as losing a drive, downloading a virus, or having a laptop stolen. When I pull the data off cards and onto my Mac it is backed up before I delete the data off of the cards. I also have several additional drives that I rotate copying my entire 'pictures' folder to once a month as an additional backup.
If you are one of those people who find joy in others misery, please feel free to read about my hard drive challenges.
If you are one of those people that enjoy happiness; check out MPB goes SSD.
I have many more lessons learnt and will try to make this a regular posting if this is received well. Leave me a comment and let me know what you think. If you have lessons you have learnt as well, please feel free to share.