2. Experiment with perspective
Straight and eye-level is how the majority of us shoot every day, so unless you’re 4ft or 8ft tall you’re generally shooting a scene how most people see it and, well, that can be boring. Show them something different by changing your view: get on the ground, get up high or turn your camera to the sky. You may be amazed at what opportunities you’re missing by looking in the same direction everyday. Even if you shoot straight, try shooting through something else to introduce some foreground bokeh and depth, such as foliage or a window for reflections, or skew the camera to make it more dynamic – anything that alters you and your viewer's perspective of a scene. For fun, you could try forced perspective to create optical illusions by tilting the world, and your subjects, on their side.
3. Master monochrome
It might only be two tones, but mastering black & white photography can be a lifelong endeavour that you might want to start now. You’ll be mistaken in believing it’s easier than working with colour. You need to train yourself to see the world in black, white & grey. While differences in colour play a part in creating a strong monochrome picture, learning the effect of luminosity is much more important. You could have a vibrant multi-coloured scene that, when converted, looks flat, grey and lifeless; it’s the colour’s luminosity that’s key and to know that is a skill learned by doing. Even though modern masters have the luxury and flexibility of converting in post-production, there’s so much choice it’s easy to overcook it and it has arguably become as much of an art form as the darkroom used to be. Photoshop and Lightroom have plenty of functions for converting, but programs such as the free Nik Software’s Silver Efex Pro offer darkroom-inspired controls and effects, even film types, which can dramatically change the look of a scene. There’s plenty to learn and plenty to master, so if your black & whites are left wanting consider immersing yourself in a monochrome world.
4. Try Urbex
Short for ‘Urban Exploration’, urbex is a form of photography that involves finding abandoned buildings and exploring them for photo potential. You might think that an empty old building has little to offer photographically, but you couldn’t be farther from the truth. Wandering around these dark, isolated and rundown locations is like having a peek into a world allowed to fall into decay and provide incredibly atmospheric images. Hotels, factories, hospitals and schools take on an apocalyptic appeal that look like something out of a horror movie and are unlike any other type of urban location. Their very nature means you need to take care visiting them – avoid dangerous locations and always visit with one or two companions. You should also avoid trespassing on private grounds – not only is this illegal but it's also very risky, as derelict buildings could be close to collapse or have very unstable
and unsafe floors – so be sure to seek permission first.
5. Spend a day with a pro
How do they do that?! A question we’ve all pondered as we muse over the social media of our favoured photographers, enamoured by their creations inspiring us to shoot better. Give yourself a jump-start by tackling a training course or two. Check out the classified ads of photography magazines and you’ll find dozens of providers led by professional photographers waiting to give you a hand, whether you’re wanting to get to grips with the basics, master lighting techniques or advance into new areas of photography. If you’re in the UK, there is no shortage of one-to-one and group courses led by many of our contributing professionals, such as Ross Hoddinott, Mark Bauer, Brett Harkness and Adam Burton. So if you want to grow, it’s well worth learning from a pro!
6. Reflections & puddles
Following a rain shower, it’s well worth wandering around the streets and looking down at the ground for puddles that can be used for creative urban photography. Head for locations that have the most chance of providing interesting reflections in the puddles – streets with unusual architecture or buildings with neon or other distinctive lighting should be the first places you visit. City centres are therefore ideal choices, although you’ll have to contend with more pedestrians and traffic complicating matters, so it’s best visiting when there are less people around. You’ll want to compose the image to include some of the pavement around the puddle to provide context. A standard zoom, such as a 16-80mm, offers the moderate wide-angle/short telephoto focal lengths that you need. Use a mid-aperture setting like f/8 for sharpness, raising the ISO rating as needed to ensure handholdable shutter speeds and focus carefully to ensure the reflection is in focus. When reviewing your images, try rotating some 180° for an additional abstract element to the result.
7. The city never sleeps
Come the arrival of night, city centres (in particular business districts) are transformed, so be sure to spend several evenings wandering the streets in search of great images. As daylight disappears, street lamps and interior lights illuminate scenes to give them a totally different look. Using a wide-angle lens, like a prime 24mm or 16-35mm zoom, you can create highly photogenic urban nightscapes where windows, neon and streetlights illuminate the scene. If you shoot at dusk you can include colour in the sky too, while for the foreground, include roads for traffic trails or water for attractive reflections. If you're able to find a high viewpoint, such as an upper level of a building, you'll be able to capture stunning night cityscapes. Be sure to use a stable tripod and a remote release to trigger the shutter.
8. Plan for family moments
As the years swing by we’re left wondering where the time goes, amazed by how quickly our family grow and the moments we lose to the past. In our fast-paced lives, it’s all too easy to snap a quick shot on a smartphone or to set the camera to Auto during a special occasion, but this year will be different. Make it a new tradition to create portraits each Mother’s and Father’s Day, to capture a picture with your partner on Valentine's Day or candids at Christmas. Birthdays are an obvious choice, but rather than grabbing the obligatory candle blow, you could plan a shoot to reflect their age and stage of life. You’re only limited by your creativity. Of course, it doesn’t have to be a ritual: you could plan a picnic in the right location for the right time of day or simply set some time aside with your family capturing their interactions; don’t forget to include yourself in some of the shots too, though. Be more proactive, and less reactive, with your photography and you’ll capture some stunning memories.
9. Shoot environmental portraits
Look around your locality and we’ll bet there are all kinds of interesting characters that you come into contact with on a daily basis. Capture a portrait of your local area by shooting a series of environmental portraits of the people that live, work and play there. Environmental portraits are those that, you guessed it, depict the person as part of their setting. For example you might photograph the local butcher standing behind the counter in his or her shop, or a farmer in their field or a farmyard. Look for interesting characters and environments that have a story or aesthetic to them – you’ll often find they’ve got interesting stories to tell that make for great captions. Environmental portraits can be posed or natural, but remember to consider what you include, and exclude from the composition – the background should tell the story of the person, but not distract. In terms of focal lengths, a 35mm lens (approx. 23mm APS-C equivalent) is the go-to option for environmental portraits.
10. Rise before the sun
It’s tough dragging yourself from the warm clutches of your bed when it’s cold and dark out, but by retreating beneath the sheets you’re missing the most magical time of the day. Now’s the time of year for it, as the light is better for longer and sunrise is at a reasonable hour! Aim to arrive an hour before the sun to capture the colour in the sky before the sun's orb appears – this is a great time to shoot silhouettes! Want to make it a challenge? Aim for 100 sunrises in the next year. Some might be dull or damp, but others will be majestic and awe-inspiring. Either way ,we guarantee you’ll come away with more than a handful of incredible images just from being in a good location and capturing the world as the first light of day arrives.
When it comes to noise, colour, lights, movement and spectacle, few urban locations can match that of a funfair. Wherever you are in the UK, you can expect fairs to visit local cities and larger towns at least two or three times a year. It’s an opportunity to capture all manner of images, from candids of fairgoers to close-ups of decorations to views of the rides in use. We’d recommend you arrive at the fair an hour or so before dusk and wander around looking for the best rides to capture. Dusk is the ideal time to shoot as you can add a colourful sky as a backdrop, rather than a jet-black sky. Set up your camera on a tripod, select shutter-priority (S/Tv) and for the best image quality, use a low ISO rating (ISO 100-200). To capture the moving rides as blurry streaks, so try out different shutter speeds to see which gives the best results – try one to eight seconds then review results and make further adjustments based on the results. Be sure to set up where you aren’t causing a nuisance and if possible, use a remote release and mirror lock-up to minimise the risk of blurry images from shake.
12. Build a home studio
It’s every portrait photographer's dream isn’t it? Your own dedicated studio facility kitted out with all the lighting equipment and props you’ll ever need, and more. For most of us it’ll have to remain a dream, however you don’t actually need all of that to create compelling portraits in your own home. All you need is enough space to set up a paper backdrop, lights (flashguns like Nikon's Speedlight SB-910 will do), a couple of light stands, and modifiers. There are endless choices when it comes to background colour, but a mid-grey seamless is a wise choice. It can be underexposed to black, or lit up to white, as well as turned any colour you wish with flash gels. Light modifiers such as softboxes are cheap and versatile, and work with flashguns or studioflash. Add some tasteful props such as an old wooden chair, crates or a ladder. Whether you’re using a spare room, the kitchen or the garage, your home can make for a great studio.