• Christian Fagerlin

Photography Advice For Beginners

Updated: May 23, 2021

To an inexperienced, beginner photographer, capturing an excellent photo may seem simple:

Point, shoot and hope for the best.

While photography is an art that many can enjoy, it is something that takes a lot of practice to master. It takes hard work, dedication, and continued learning to take professional photos.

Our team was lucky enough to sit down with Michael Vanderaa, a Chicago-based professional photographer. Vanderaa has been experimenting with photography for 35 years and has been a professional photographer for the last decade.

During Leslie’s conversation with Vanderaa, he was able to share some photography advice for beginners out there that are wanting to take their skills to the next level. We touched on lighting, composition, modeling and practical advice for beginners. But first, it’s crucial to talk about the importance of finding inspiration to help you improve your work.

Find Inspiration

While all photographers know that spark of a feeling that first lured them into photography, going through a creative funk and finding trouble to stay inspired is inevitable. Every artist needs some sort of outlet to be inspired. Staying motivated and excited is essential to developing your craft.

Inspiration drives creativity, which in turn drives execution. The sole way to perfect a craft is through consistency, or continued execution! So clearly inspiration is important.

Using the same subjects, lighting methods, and composition style over and over can develop a mundane process that leads to burnout. Because of this, photographers should make an effort to be students of the industry. Reading books, attending exhibitions, setting goals and following photographers you aspire to are substantial ways to continue to stay inspired.

Vanderaa gets his photography inspiration from the most recent trends in fashion photography. Since he specializes in portrait photography, following photographers within the industry is a great way for him to stay inspired. He credits a lot of his inspiration to the work of Peter Lindbergh, a German fashion photographer and film director who was known for inaugurating the supermodel era with his work.

Photography Lighting

When someone is just getting started in photography, the first thing to address is lighting. The word “photography” has greek roots that literally mean “drawing with light.” Understanding light is often the easiest way to improve your photography.

One of Vanderaa’s biggest tips is to always be aware of how the light is falling on your subject. Be aware of the light at all times and remember that it conveys emotion. A small change can create a completely different emotion in the photograph.

Don’t be afraid to try new things. While it’s essential to find some consistent lighting styles that you enjoy, experimenting with new techniques can really take your photography to the next level.

Natural Light or Studio Light?

As a beginner, you may be wondering what the best lighting for photography really is, natural light or studio light? The answer is yes. Both natural light photography and studio lighting photography provide unique benefits and drawbacks. Experiment with both, and discover what you enjoy creating with each.

Natural light photography is convenient because it’s free, available anywhere, and constant. But because the light is constantly changing throughout the day, shooting with natural light means learning to adjust the exposure with the light as you go.

Studio light is convenient because the light can be controlled which allows for a more focused, detailed shot. Studio lighting photography provides plenty of unique ways to experiment. Vanderaa enjoys mixing color temperatures in the studio such as using both a studio strobe and a tungsten light to get some really unique looks.

What About Shadows?

More often than not, people’s initial instinct is to avoid having shadows in their frame. Vanderaa says that in his early days of photography he was afraid of shadows. Now he goes out of his way to create unique shadows on his subjects. Shadows are a great way to add drama to a photograph and easily manipulate the emotion.

Being aware of the light and learning to experiment with light will help you grow as a photographer. As Vanderaa puts it, “photography is all about drawing with light, so if we’re not paying attention to the light we’re going to have a bad drawing.”

What is Composition in Photography?

Composition is essentially how the different parts of a photo are arranged. Using elements such as lines, shapes, values, spaces, and colors help the photographer recognize key focal points to photograph. When photographers think of composition techniques, a lot of them utilize buildings, roads, or fences. However with portrait photography in particular, getting better composition can be difficult.

Portrait Composition in Photography

Vanderaa explains that the best way to create a good composition in a portrait is to see people as lines and shapes. Our entire bodies can create interesting lines and shapes that create cool compositions.

Vanderaa talked a lot about the significance of getting close to your subject. He explained that if you don't like your portrait photographs, getting closer will usually improve them. Practice getting closer to the model when taking a portrait. An easy way to come up with a cool composition in a portrait is to not include the entire face in the image frame. Getting close allows you to cut off certain parts of the face to create a unique composition. So when it comes to composition, don’t be afraid to see your people as lines and shapes, and don’t be afraid to get close!

Posing Your Models

Finding lines and shapes on your model depends a lot on the poses that they create, which is an underrated difficulty that comes with portrait photography. When working with professional models, this isn't as much of an issue. They know which poses photographers like, and they transition smoothly through them. Vanderaa said that working with professional models is a “dream come true for a photographer.”

But when it comes to taking portraits of everyone else, helping them become comfortable with model poses may be more difficult.. As a photographer, it’s crucial to find effective ways to teach people how to pose. This will allow you to get the most out of your photographs and help your models feel as confident as possible.

When Vanderaa is working with inexperienced models, he encourages them to “break their limbs.” By bending a wrist or an elbow, this promotes aesthetically pleasing lines and shapes for the photographer to capture.

Creating interesting shapes is uncomfortable for people, but Vanderaa says “oftentimes what is uncomfortable for the model looks great on camera.” Instructing inexperienced models to think of breaking their joints to create angles will help them develop better poses.

Final Advice To Beginner Photographers

Don't doubt yourself. Keep shooting. Keep experimenting.

Today’s visual culture continues to grow with social media, creating greater room for comparison and discouragement. It will always be easy for photographers to constantly compare themselves to “better photographers” on social media.

Learning to follow your favorite photographers for inspiration instead of comparison will be critical to your success and happiness as a photographer.

It is crucial to remember that the only way to improve is through consistent practice. Be more confident in yourself and don’t feel the need to constantly compare. Developing your own look and style is important, and it only comes through shooting more and more photos. The more you put your work out there, the more you will succeed. You’re going to be vulnerable no matter what, so don’t be afraid to keep trying new things! Fail early and fail often.

James Clear says, “You can either be judged because you created something or ignored because you left your greatness inside of you. Your call.”

When asked how he would advise his younger self, Michael said, “I wouldn’t have doubted myself as much, and would have tried different styles without fear of failure or trying to copy someone. Keep shooting. Keep experimenting, and don’t be so self-conscious about your own work. You’re going to create a million bad photographs before you start creating good photographs, so you might as well get those million photographs behind you.”

A huge thank you to Michael Vanderaa from our entire team at Grand Launch Media for sharing his time and words of wisdom with us. Check out our video of Leslie’s conversation with Vanderaa anytime to hear more of what he had to say. Also, look through Vanderaa’s portfolio to see how he puts his tips into practice!

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