Photography is one of many disciplines that requires endless practice, and there are some skills that have been a common thing among experienced and advanced photographers. That is exactly the things that we want to share with you, and we hope that we’ll skip a couple of years of time in your evolution by mentioning the most important skills for you.
1. RAW Development
RAW image development is one of those things that you’ll hear a lot in a lot of photography websites and magazines. A RAW file is pretty basic, is the most powerful and rich file your camera’s sensor can create. The quickest way for to learn about the generous possibilities of a RAW file is to shoot some pictures in JPEG+RAW format and post-process them in Lightroom. You’ll see how developing a RAW file is way more precise than tweaking out a JPEG file in the same workflow Lightroom has to offer. Everybody will tell you that you need to shoot in RAW, but if you don’t get to experience for real the power of the format, you’ll just be wandering and dwelling about which one to choose.
2. Reading Histograms
The ability of reading a histogram may be more fluent in some photographers than others, but is something that every digital photographer needs to develop at some point. The histogram is a graphic representation of the distribution of brightness within a capture. The histogram can be displayed on the camera, in the RAW developing software you prefer to use and even in image post-processing engines like Adobe Photoshop.
How to read it? Very simple, the lowest presence of light (absolute lack, 0) appears at the left of the histogram, and the brightest level of light (pure white, 255) appears at the right side of the histogram. If a high amount of information is clinging towards one of those sides, you’ll have an underexposed image or an overexposed image depending on the side. A correct exposure will be seen as an evenly (kind off) spread histogram without touching neither of the borders. A correct exposure doesn’t means a good composition.
3. Maneuvering around Harsh Lighting Conditions
We all love lighting conditions in which light is soft and even malleable, but, you’ll encounter yourself a lot of times in very harsh lighting conditions, and you’ll need to know how to work things out with available light. Being able to maneuver around complex lighting conditions is perhaps one of the best skill a photographer could develop, and this is only achieved with practice, practice and more practice. Get outside and push your gear to the limits several times.
By learning more and more about light, you’ll become a great master of it. By understanding the limits that available lighting conditions, you can step into the vast world of strobe and flash lighting setups. The best light is the available one, but when you have a clear idea of what you really want, artificial lighting will be a great solution for your creative expression.
4. Digital Zone System
The original Zone System was born with Ansel Adams, and it was highly complex because it was intended for a very specific purpose in photography. Nevertheless, serious photographers always end up studying it at least for academic purposes.
If we translate the Zone System to a digital context, we have that the Digital Zone System will it allow you to plan and predict the final result of an image by exposing to the different tones of the scene. From solid maximum black to absolute whiteness, the Zone System will allow you to work within the limits of your camera. If you have some troubles to actually fit the tones into the 10 or 11 popular tone categories (like me) you can use the open source software from LightZone to work it out.
The Digital Zone system will let you know your camera like never before, and you won’t be exceeding its limits anymore thanks to it.
5. Developing a Consistent Workflow
It doesn’t matter what niche or style of photography draws your passion and attention the most, building a consistent workflow will make you extremely efficient, therefore you’ll be able to make more money out of your time if you wish to become a professional photographer. But, what exactly is a photographer’s workflow? This is a very odd topic because there is little information out there about what exactly is the photographer’s workflow (this is a very good book if you want to invest in some knowledge).
The Photographer’s workflow, is the recipe of how you do things in a more or less replicable way, from the moment you charge the batteries of your camera, to the final deployment of your images in a print or in a website. With this web based software you can make your mind visible, so it’s a pretty good solution for drawing mind maps and flowcharts.
The ultimate trick for developing a consistent workflow is of course, practice. All you need is to practice a lot your own rules and parameter for you to truly embed your own workflow in order to make things almost unconsciously. So again, practice.
6. Learning to use ND Filters
There are various ND filters for various needs, exposing correctly with them is not something you learn in five minutes, and a lot of practice is needed. When used properly, ND filters are the ultimate trick for mind blowing images that will make people stop and stare. Here you can find of the most complete reference charts I’ve ever seen about ND filters. By the way, this is why math is so important in life.
This article wasn’t intended to be an extensive walkthrough for all the skills, but at least our list will work as a map for you to know in what things you need to focus besides the latest and greatest cameras available in the market every couple of months.