Nearly four years ago, I went to Walmart and purchased an entry level DSLR on nothing more than a whim. I was 20 years old, feeling particularly melodramatic that day, and envisioned I would easily create masterpieces that spoke to my soul.
Needless to say, things didn't turn out quite how I planned, and the trade proved much trickier than I could have anticipated. Quickly, it became apparent this wasn't going to be an overnight journey. Now, things are about to get real vulnerable here, because, let's face it, these early pictures were not-so-fabulous. But, all too often, a fellow photographer will compliment my work, and their words will be tinged with defeat. I can't tell you how many times I've heard variations of I wish I could take images like yours. And while I so appreciate the love and support of my photographic community, I can't tell you how much it saddens me when I feel like my work is making someone else feel bad about theirs.
So now I'll share with you my beginnings and my roots. I don't regret even one of these images, because every one has played a role in where I am today. If you are feeling like more of a failure than a photographer today, please listen to me when I say, this can be a tedious craft to learn and perfect, but persist. Aside from my children, this has been the most rewarding passion of my life. Trust in your own vision, and stay true to your own creative spirit. Follow your sight. Learn from others. Take criticism. Give criticism. Grow together, and be kind.
I'll end with a quote from Ira Glass that sums up the creative struggle in a few sentences:
“Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.”
Keep fighting, darlings.
Tip One: Make nice with the light. The first image is filled with harsh shadows and lines that compete with the subject. The second image is well exposed, evenly lit, and the lighting compliments the subject.
Tip Two: Don't use your built-in-on-camera flash. Enough said.
Tip Three: Find a flattering angle. The first image has a great connection with the subject, but was poorly executed and angled wrong for her face. Now, I will move around my subjects and see which angles are going to be the most flattering for their facial features or body types.
Tip Four: Use leading lines to amplify simple portraits. The lines in the first image compete with my subject. The lines in the second image lead the viewer right to my subject.
Tip Five: Seriously, make nice with the light. It's your friend.
Tip Six: Know your camera. Understand the Exposure Triangle. Learn to shoot in manual. The first image was shot on a bright and sunny day, but I still managed to have a slow shutter speed that left me with a blurred image. Had I understood how my camera really worked and how aperture, ISO, and shutter speed all work together to create an exposure, I might have had a better portrait for this mother and son.
Tip Seven: Choose your locations wisely.
Tip Eight: Do something different; do something fun.
Tip Nine: Learn studio lighting. If you have to pay someone to teach you, do. I don't often shoot in a studio, but when I do, it's nice to know what I'm doing.
Tip Ten: Tell your couples to focus on each other, to think about each other. This is a go-to pose of mine at every couples' session. I want this image to be about them and not the light, so I will generally place them in open shade or soft light for this pose.
Tip Eleven: Get the moment before the kiss. It's so much more intimate and exciting.
Tip Twelve: Photograph moments too, not only portraits.
Tip Thirteen: Stop comparing yourself to whomever you've decided is better than you; go out and make you better than you.
View more cheat sheets from Jesse Blake! Find what she uses to edit her images.
My name is Jesse Blake and I am a photographer based out of Billings, Montana. I believe life as a photographer is about finding and celebrating the good in the world, in ourselves, and in others. Find me on Facebook or visit my website. Let's be friends. Follow me on Facebook and visit my website.