Use Lockdown Time To Sharpen Your Photo Skills
By Arthur H. Bleich—
“These are times that try men’s souls. That’s what Thomas Paine wrote in 1776, after our country severed its ties with England. Now, 244 years later, we’re facing a similar challenge with most of the country in mandatory lockdown.
Although confinement to quarters can be frustrating and time seems to creep along slower than a snail in mud, it may be a blessing in disguise, allowing you to do things you’ve always meant to do, but never seemed to get around to doing. Now’s the time and, if you make good use of it, you can become a much better photographer. So start a to-do list and begin to knock these items off, one by one.
Calibrate your monitor. In order to get prints with accurate colors you need to view the same colors on your monitor that are in your image files. Your printer prints from the file, not from what’s on the monitor. So if your monitor doesn’t faithfully mirror the colors in your files, any color adjustments you make to the image on your monitor will be worthless. Example: Your file has a red lighthouse, but your monitor shows it as pink. You change the pink to red on the monitor so it looks right. But unseen by you, the red in the file goes to a dark purple. So when you hit “print” you get a purple lighthouse. That’s why you must have the monitor displaying the exact colors in the file. Calibration will let you make color changes on your monitor so that what you see on it, is what will print out. No surprises.
- Print on different papers. Order one of the many sample packages of Red River Paper and output the same image on them. You’ll be surprised at how different they’ll look under various viewing conditions and you may then want to select papers in the future based on how they’ll be displayed
- Read your camera manual. In some cases this might be as daunting as tackling Tolstoy’s ‘War and Peace’ but persevere. There’s gold in them thar pages, podner. Things you never knew your camera could do; others you’ve always meant to look up but chickened out and reverted to “P.” Granted, some manuals used to be really badly written, but not so many anymore. I’ve written manuals for almost every major camera brand and they are paradigms of clarity. Other writers have done the same. Take advantage of our efforts and learn a lot of new stuff.
Sort and digitize that humongous batch of old slides and prints you’ve always meant to do. Along with that, begin organizing the images scattered and hidden in folders on your computer. It’s easy to find them all– just search by suffixes; jpg. png, tif and so on.
- Learn about resolution…finally! It’s one of the most misunderstood topics in the digital world. Terms like pixels, pixels-per-inch, dots-per-inch and more all have different meanings but are frequently (and wrongly) used interchangeably. This is the time to get it straight. Then print out images that will actually illustrate their differences so you can see, firsthand, what they do.
- You’ve probably heard about using color profiles for different papers and how it can improve the quality of your prints. But it sounds so complicated. Not so! Red River has free profiles for almost every paper they sell and they’re really easy to install on both Mac and Windows computers. Then, with a calibrated monitor and the right paper profile you’ll produce amazing prints. I guarantee it!
- View some online tutorials. Aside from a plethora of them on YouTube, you can access hundreds of dollars worth of online tutorials from Nikon, ON1 and others with the costs waived, courtesy of the companies. It’s their contribution to photographers and artists stuck at home during these unusual times.
- This is great time to shoot some still lifes. All it requires is a table and any kind of window light and you’re set to go. You’ll learn more about lighting and composition than you’d ever thought possible and once you try variations of the same objects, the time will fly.
- Take advantage of having more time to spend with kids and pets. Some of the most gorgeous images of children can be done by available light, posing your subjects next to windows that do not admit direct sunlight. Dogs are natural posers, cats, not so much. Here’s a cat trick I’ve used for many years: Ask a family member to wear a dark top of some kind–sweatshirt or pullover. Then have them hold puss against their chest while you shoot away. The background will be black and the cat will stand out beautifully unless, of course it’s a black cat, in which
case use another color. Your kitty will be immobilized and you won’t have to chase it around the house.
- Create some abstracts. In most cases, these are best done by moving in close and looking for strong design elements. Everything is fair game and parts and pieces of things can usually turn out to be quite striking. The curve of a lampshade, a staircase in half-light/half-shadow, rumpled bed sheets, sofa cushions and more. Open your eyes and your mind to new possibilities for photography. You’ll be surprised at how good some of your images will be– maybe even good enough to frame and hang.
- Shoot out the window or visit your back yard. Famous photographer W. Eugene Smith shot photos of city streets beneath his studio window that were published in Life magazine. Red River Pro Al Francekevich did the same. Edward Steichen photographed a whole book of images about one tree in his backyard. Now that spring is here,
there’s also an explosion of wildlife and flora you can capture outside your window as did Birget Bienek in our featured image. You’re not going to be traveling any time soon, so focus your eyes (and camera) on things around you.
- Your scanner is really a camera and some outstanding images have been made with flatbeds. Red River Blog contributor Suzanne D. Williams along with many artists have used them for decades to produce fine art images. In fact, you may remember putting you palm on a Xerox machine when you were a kid and giggling at the result. Nothing could
be easier or more fun…in fact this is one activity you can share with kids of all ages, having them assemble objects to make their own cameraless art.
- Photograph your belongings for insurance purposes. It’s the kind of project you’d probably never get around to ordinarily, but these are not ordinary times. Just shoot room by room in stills or video. No need to shoot close-ups of each object (unless it’s particularly valuable). What you want to do is have a memory-jogger when you put in a claim in case of a catastrophic loss. You’d be surprised at how many people can’t remember what furniture or appliances they owned after a disaster.
- “My Photography Game” is a nifty, new, card game for kids (7 and older) about the secrets of taking photos. It can be played in many different ways and, in its most advanced iteration, it’s just as much fun for adults.
- Read “A World History Of Photography”. While the writing is sometimes a bit pedantic, this huge resource has been around for ages and is one of the best historical and contemporary round-ups about photographic history and processes, covering the field like no other. It’s loaded with photographs, many of which, I’ll bet, you’ve never seen before– and that’s what makes it such a worthwhile reference.
- Now’s the time to back up your important image files and apps to an external hard drive or to the cloud (or both). It will save you more stress, someday, than you can ever imagine.
If you have anything to add that can help fellow photographers and artists make the time pass more quickly (and productively), feel free to share it in the comments section below.
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