7 Lessons For the New Photographer

7 Lessons For the New Photographer

7 Things for the Beginner Photographer

There are a million videos on YouTube and courses out there promoting to neophyte photographers.  Wading through various websites, YouTube videos, books and magazines can be daunting.  Here are some basic directions that should help at least a little bit:

  1. Learn One thing at a time

I watch others teach almost anything and shake my head.  The ‘teacher’ often is trying to correct 5 or 6 faults making it very difficult for the person to make any improvement. I’m a pretty competent swimmer and get asked often for pointers.  I also watch others overwhelming the ‘student’ swimmer with correction.  I always try and correct only one thing.   If I can, I’ll try and evaluate the biggest difficulty the person is having with a particular stroke and correct that.  Head too high, stroke to short, or something as simple as get some googles. Not always that easy so keeping it simple I’ll just start with one issue.  It often doesn’t matter which ‘one’ you start with but it gives the person something to concentrate on to get a win with some improvement.  It seems as though many instructors have a compulsion to try and teach too many things at once. **

Studio Portrait

Studio Portrait

When I was learning photography, I wanted to take a course using studio lighting equipment.  I found one at Ryerson Polytechnical Institute, an evening six week course taught by a successful photographer.  I decided what I wanted to learn, two or three basic things and concentrated on those.  Many of the students were trying to get seriously fancy and do all these huge dramatic photos.  At the end of the course the instructor said to the class that she felt that I had made the most progress of any student on the course.  

Pick one thing, learn it, then build from there. 

For example:

  1. Hold your camera correctly.  

Cameras are built for right handed people so pretty much everyone is going to use their right hand to push the shutter button.  Place your other hand UNDER the base of the camera.  Put the heel of your hand under the base of the camera.  Your fingers are then forward so that you can use the focus ring or adjust the zoom.  Using the support hand under instead of over the lens helps stabilize the camera to keep it steady.  This will help keep your images sharp.


  1. Don’t cut off their feet!

This is a really simple thing but so many touristy photos do this.  Cutting off the feet makes it look like the people are going to fall over.  Weird.  It is an unnatural spot to crop the photo.  Often people are trying to get the individual with the background of their travel destination.  Niagara Falls, Disney World.  Just pay attention when you are doing a full length photo of someone and make sure to include their feet.  Or zoom in a little closer and crop their legs above the knee.  Do just this one thing and it will improve these types of photos.  

  1. Get an ‘Intro’ magazine.

Growing up as a teen I was once asked by an adult what magazines I read. I think this person was trying to find out my interests and where I was going in life.  I told him about 2-3 magazines that were mainly spectacular photos from around the world.  His somewhat condescending acknowledgement was “Well, I guess they are nice picture magazines.”  Not very nice. 

Popular Photography:

- this magazine was in print for 80 years, from 1937 to 2017


- always thought they had great photos as well as a good coverage of the things I needed to know.

W Magazine:

- this is/was a fashion magazine.  Back in the day is was a larger format magazine.  Whether you are into fashion or not, it is worth a viewing as the photographers shooting for this magazine are incredible.  

These were some of my favourites.  Remember, I was reading these magazines before digital.  Only film existed.  Photoshop was around but you had to scan your photos.  Popular Photography and another one that I liked, can’t remember the name of it were great. Many of these magazines morphed into other things with the digital age. At least some did.

Young horses

Young horses

The thing I liked most about these two were that they covered basics.  I had subscriptions and they would come once a month.  I seem to recall that they ran on a cycle of about 18 months.  There were about 18 basics about photography that they would cover in those months and then they would start over.  They might vary the sequence a bit and certainly there were different authors for the particular articles.   But the beauty of them was they very thoroughly covered the basics.  Remember Rule #1.

Most of these are online now but if you can get and read the hard copy, it will be worthwhile. Personally, I think they try too hard with the online magazines.  Meaning they try and pack too much in.   

     5. Study Art

Do this to help you ‘see’ different ways.  Study the masters (painters), they were masters for a reason.  They had their technique down cold.  Look at successful photographers.  Not only those that are critically acclaimed but also those that make money.  

     6.  Shoot Volumes

Ball's Falls Fall Colour 2Take lots of photos.  Lots and lots.  The beauty of digital.  I went to India in 1988 for almost a month.  I had 8-10 rolls of film with me.  I had to make each click of the shutter count.  I had a blast.  The photos turned out great.  The children were the best.  If I was on a walk about with my camera they would chorus: “Photo, photo!”  It got to the point where I had to pretend to click the shutter as I knew that there was no way I would have enough film otherwise.  

This is the blessing and curse of digital.  You can click away to your hearts content.  But you are now your own editor.  You have to go through them all.  You will soon learn to take an extra moment when shooting to get the shot right.  Maybe take three or four different versions instead of twenty!

     7.  Learn Your Camera

Your camera is a tool. The better you know it, the more confident you are with it, the better your photos will be.  Don’t make it arduous.  Again, go back to rule #1, pick something in the manual that you think you need to know and study and practice until you have it.  

I don’t consider myself a technical guy.  I like to take pictures, create art.  I don’t sit down and study every aspect of my camera or other equipment (including things like Lightroom and Photoshop), but I try and learn what I need for a photoshoot.  Whether it be nature photography or portraits or weddings or whatever.  The key is to look at your results and go to the manual after and see what you could have done or could do in the future to improve that photo or type of photo.  Then go do it again.  No such thing as a mistake.  It is all education.  

Have fun whatever you do!

** if you are interested in a wonderful site for learning technique of swimming check out
Swim Smooth

And please check out my Greeting cards: Cards for all Occasions! 

And subscribe to the Newsletter!  You'll find out when the 2020 Calendar will be ready!

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Photography Styles

Photography Styles

Different Photography Styles

There is photography.  And there is Art.  Sometimes they are the same thing and sometimes not.

Sometimes a simple recording of an event is enough.  But even then one could better how much that recording interests the viewer and elicits whatever the desired emotion may be.

Sometimes all you want to do is fine art photography.  Either way, if you want to sell or market your photos, you have to know who would buy your work.

When taking photos, you need to figure out your public.  Who is the photo for?  Who is going to be looking at these headshotphotos?  Are you just taking some photos of family in front of Niagara Falls to show the folks back home?  Are you doing fine art portrait photography on the coast of Oregon?  Or are you shooting seniors photo for the yearbook or the parents? If so, who is hiring you to do that?  Mom? … then, what does she like?  Are you shooting product for a magazine?  Do the people that are hiring you for this want want something mundane, boring and simple or are they looking for something new, different and completely off the wall.  

I see neophyte and not so new photographers on Facebook and other forums, asking for critiques on their work.  I generally think this is a bad idea.  If there is some technical issue, like the person’s photos are consistently out of focus when they don’t need to be or that result is not intended, then, maybe, OK.  But generally one should be his or her own critic.  One should constantly be reviewing his own work to see if it is up to scratch.  Compare your photos to successful photographers.

The person wanting to shoot product for magazines should compare his photos to those in the magazine or magazines he or she is aiming for.  Or show some of your photos to the editor and ask for his critique. Establish what exactly that editor want or needs.  For an editor or someone similar there can be other things needed in addition to the ‘look’ of the photo.  Size of the raw image and what format, etc.  Start by giving them exactly what they want.  Once you establish a good relationship, with some people, you can then propose new or different ideas and maybe do more artistic photos.

If your goal is to shoot family portraits, again, compare to successful photographers.  But on top of that, show your photos to moms.  They are the ones that are going to be paying you.  Watch them, look for their reactions.  Does their face brighten up when they look at your photos or is their smile a bit strained?  One could do a lot worse than surveying a couple of dozen moms (potential clients).  Show them a variety of photos (they can be yours or someone else’s - just looking for style at this point) and find out what is the general consensus.  What do they like?

If 80% of those mom’s want boring and you don’t want to do boring, then find something else to shoot.  Or survey a different demographic.   Make sure you are surveying the demographic  that you want to shoot for.  

One of the biggest dangers in surveying other photographers or artists, is that they will want to put their own creativity into the piece.  I remember some years ago a photographer posting this beautiful photograph on a forum for critique.  It was a black and white Autumn photo of trees and a cast iron and wood bench along a path.  He caught a dry moment in a rainy evening.  It was stunning.  One of the comments from another photographer was that there should have been someone sitting on the bench.  This would have been a completely different communication - a totally different picture.  

Surveying Photography Styles

If you are shooting wedding photography, or intend to, ask prospective brides, not other wedding photographers.  If you are doing family portraiture, search out what people are buying from successful portrait photographers.  There is no end to places to find inspiration and ideas for posing a wedding party or a family for a portrait.  You may be happy doing straight forward lower end weddings.  Or your goal may be higher end fine art wedding photography.  Choose one and then survey and market there.  (You can always change later if you like.)

One could say to him or herself that they are an artist and want to do it their way but having that attitude will likely get you very little work.  The smartest thing is to figure out what a bride or mother would want and do that.  As one goes along, watch the faces of your customers when you show them the finished product.  Look.  What photos light up their faces? What brings a smile?

As you shoot, you will develop your own photographic style, your own way of looking at the world.  You can either find people that like that or create your own audience.  

Peter Hurley, renowned headshot photographer, changed the accepted vertical headshot format.  He thought the horizontal was much better and was his style.  He is a seriously competent and confident photographer as well and that doesn’t hurt. Artistically, this horizontal format does work better as one can more easily play with the placement of the subject and apply techniques such as the golden rectangle/ratio.  It also works much better for displaying online as computers are ‘horizontal’.  


As a photographer, you are constantly observing your surroundings.  Looking for angles for the best shot, the best lighting.  Take it one step further:

Observe your audience  

I’ve been a salesman for many, many years.  In sales one has to observe!  You have to watch people as you are talking.  If you don’t notice when you are starting to lose them, your sales will suck.  This can go for selling a car or dating or for any ‘sales’ situation in life.  In sales one has to be able to figure out what you are saying or not saying that is losing the person.  There are basics in sales as well that one can learn and practice but without observing yourself and what you need to do to change your actions, you will likely continue to fail. 

You could practice this in other areas of life.  I know some people that talk endlessly about some passion of theirs but don’t know when to stop.  They don’t see that glazed look in the eyes of the person in front of them or the fidgeting or the fact that the person they are trying to engage is halfway out the door!  

Comedians and actors use this technique all the time by testing their material.  Where do they get the laugh?  Where do they get the tears?  What falls flat?  What works and what doesn’t work with a live audience.   

As you increase your skill and knowledge of photography, constantly watch how your ‘public’ reacts to your work.  You don’t have to be perfect to sell your work.  

Photographers are always creating new ways of looking at things.  Some will like, some won’t.  

There are millions of different publics out there.  And millions of different photography styles.  There is an endless supply of customers.  So you either have to figure out who likes your style of shooting or photograph your subject in a manner that a certain demographic or public like and want.

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5 Basics For the New Photographer

5 Basics For the New Photographer


1.  Watch your background

Keep this simple at first.  Watch for things sticking out of the top of someone’s head.  Ideally, you don’t want distractions. For example, if you are taking a portrait, usually you will not want other people waving in the background or some similar photo bombing.  Ask yourself the focus of the photo.  If you are trying to communicate something about the background, you want to show off Niagara Falls, then fine make sure that is there.  But even then, I’ve seen too many pictures of someone there or some other travel location where you can hardly tell who the subject is.  If you move in a little closer and get a shot of the person with the background showing but just a little less of it, you will make a better photo.  Try two or three distances to your subject from the camera and see which you like best.

One often sees a photographer building some elaborate background for a portrait or a model.  Usually, the subject(person) stands out in the photo with the background not being a distraction but a complement to the subject of the photo.  I’ve seen photographers starting out by trying the fancy backgrounds which become distracting and take away from the individual they are trying to shoot.  So, my advice to someone starting out it to start with the simple and build once you have mastered lighting and framing for your subject.

This can change as you become more skilled.  You may want to use the set or background to set a tone or to create a ‘period’ piece or a much more comprehensive and communicative portrait.

2.  Put some colour in an otherwise monochrome photo.

This can make an otherwise boring photo really pop.  If you are shooting children at a beach for example; if you can plan ahead, take a red or yellow beach ball with you.  The beach is nice but not generally very colourful.  Place some colourful sand toys or a beach ball or solid red Muskoka chair near or with the children and try some different angles that also show the beach.

There is a very good article here on using red with some good examples.  Don’t limit yourself to red though. Try a couple of the other primary colours as well.

The colour red

3.  Don’t cut off their feet.

This one drives me crazy.  It seems the people are too much of a hurry or just don’t care.  It could be that they are undecided whether they are taking a close up photo or one that takes in the person who is the subject and the background as well.  I do understand how it happens but the final photo always looks distracting and unbalanced.  Often people are trying for a full body shot with whatever background and do not notice that they are not including the feet in the finished photo.  Either move in a bit and cut them off at the waist or move out or lower the camera a bit to include the feet.  I personally prefer the ‘move in closer’ photo.  This can also be done afterwards by cropping the photo.  But you are likely to get a better photo overall if you either move in and get the upper body or just head and shoulders with the vista you are trying to capture still in the photo.  If you are using a fairly wide angle lens just move closer.  You can also zoom in but in this case more backwards a ways to incorporate both. 

4.  Make them uncomfortable.

Simple really.  I had a family early on that wanted a nice outdoor shot.  Winter.  The all stood in a row.  Mom and dad on the outside and the two boys between.  All looked very stiff and posed.  I asked them to all crouch down.  I took several shots while they were getting their balance.  And even after they started to get a bit more comfortable with the pose they all had quite a bit of attention on maintaining their positions instead of their facial expressions.  As a result all appeared relaxed and smiling. Do something to get their attention off posing.  I wouldn’t tell the person not to pose or anything that puts his or her attention on the way their face or body is. You can do this with a pro to some extent but not with someone who is not used to getting their photo taken.  You want their attention out not in.

5.  Change the angle or view.

This can be with a portrait or scenic or anything really.  In the studio several times I’ve walked to the side to adjust a light and looked at the model or subject of the portrait and saw the perfect shot from that angle – where the light was completely different.  Try different things.  Shoot a portrait high and shoot low.  See what the different angles do to the shape of the body.  Shooting a sunset at the beach, crouch or lie down and get really close to the water or sand or whatever.  Walk over and shoot partially behind a tree.  If you are shooting a waterfall, try from closer and farther away.  See if you can get above it and try that shot.

Here is a good article with some samples: Camera Angle – Portraits

In all of the above types of shots, try and compare.  Experiment and  you try different things.  Some will work for you and others may not.  Find ways of shooting that appeal to you.  If you take a couple of extra minutes to shoot the same photo a couple of different ways, you may find you learn a lot.  Once you get home and can compare the two photos from the same shot, close up and far away for example, you will get a better idea as to what works and what you like or don’t like.  Learn some rules and then break them and see of the photo is better or worse.  You be the judge!

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Model Portfolios Shot

Niagara Falls, Buffalo, Toronto – model portfolios

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Niagara Falls Boudior

Contact for Boudoir photos for the Niagara Falls area:


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Comic Con Calgary 2017

I’ve put most of the photos from Comic Con Calgary 2017 onto my Marty’s Road Trip blog.  You can find them here: www.photo-photo.net

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Smoke…Portrait, headshot, boudoir…email me at martin@photo-photo.com  I’m in Calgary for a couple more months then Ontario.  Toronto/Niagara…

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Dynamic Posing Guide By Craig Stidham, Jean Harris

Came across this excellent text on posing models.  The go into a lot of the ‘why’ behind various ideas about posing.  Some great artistic ideas and technical stuff.  Great read for a model as well as photographer.  Download from the library to check out if you want to keep a copy.  If you are buying, a digital copy is about half the price of an actual book.  Get your models to read this to very easily increase their knowledge of posing.

Go here to Amazon.com:



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Boudoir with K.

Winter boudoir photo shoot in Calgary with Karissa:

Soft lit boudoir

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Portrait of Alana

From a recent shoot with Alana. I’m moving to Ontario in Sept ’17.  Will be available to Toronto, Buffalo and surrounds for portraits: 

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