This morning I found this delightful email in my inbox from 14 year old Emma. She says,
“hi Brooke Snow my name is Emma. i am 14 years old and i am a freshman [in] high school. i am in photography and my final assignment is to research a photographer and get some tips from them about their style of photography. how they take their pictures- and i LOVE your work i hope you could find time to help me make my photos look as amazing as yours!! thank you so much, all i need to know is just what you do to make your photos look so beautiful both on your camera and in photoshop/lightroom. THANKS“
Instead of getting completely overwhelmed at how large of a question that is, I decided to see if I could really boil things down into a simple email response. Here it goes:
Thank you for your email! You ask a pretty big question!
To sum things up as best as I can I would say that the following things are the most important for me (and I think everyone else) in photography:
1. Knowledge. Absolutely foundational is understanding how the camera works. When you understand the basic principles of photography it allows you to have a choice about what you want to create rather than the camera making the decision for you (which is what happens when you shoot in Auto mode). I shoot my photography in Manual mode, meaning I choose all the settings. This means that I can tell the camera I want the background blurry, or I can tell the camera that I want more or less light in the picture, or only one subject in focus etc. This has made a HUGE difference in my photos. In addition, I have studied light and how to make it most flattering.
2. Practice. LOTS OF IT! There is a gap between knowing something and doing something. Getting out and practicing over and over and over again is the only way to truly understand what we’re doing and how to execute our artistic vision.
3. Learning about who I am and what my style is. I wrote an article about this a few weeks ago that you can see HERE
4. Knowing how to pose people. Most people are not comfortable in front of the camera, and it is the job of the photographer to help them relax and to look good. I studied poses from magazines and often brought those poses along as a guide to help me pose people.
5. Knowing how to interact with people. Again, people are not usually comfortable in front of the camera, and give stiff smiles. It is the job of the photographer to help them have a great time so that they can relax and I can capture those pictures of them laughing and being their authentic beautiful selves. This has taken me a long time to learn how to do. Today, I use games and questions to help people be themselves. I do this with both adults as well as kids.
6. As for photoshop/lightroom, I strongly believe that we need to take the best possible picture inside the camera first. Editing tools should not be used to fix photos, but enhance them. My photos look good out of the camera, but I use lightroom to add some nice finishing touches. This saves me tons of time since I already had a good photo to begin with.
Hope that helps! Good luck on your assignment!
So my friends, anything else you would add? I’ll forward your comments on to Emma 🙂
Brooke Snow is a Lifestyle photographer in Cache Valley, Utah. She loves winter because she loves coats. She collects them. Almost obsessively. Thankfully she has gleaned a true talent for thrift store finds to support her habit and quest for unique bundled up fashion.
Brooke teaches inspiring online photography classes that bring you confidence in your skills and creativity.
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I love how you boiled it down to the bare minimum of basic photography.
A lot of people will first reply with what makes their signature style (shooting wide open, always using natural/available light, a specific editing technique… etc.) but really that becomes distracting when you are just trying to find out where to begin. Very good response!
That picture of you at the top is gorgeous! I just used your idea of playing telephone in a family shoot and it turned out so cute. Thanks for sharing all your talent and wisdom so graciously with all of us!
Oh hooray! I love the telephone game for the family! if you post an image online I’d love to see it!!!
I did post it online, here is a link to it. Thanks again!
Oh my word! Thank you for sharing! The images are so delightful and full of sincere love! Great work Lindsay, this is what its all about 🙂
Perfect response! I wish I’d had that kind of guidance when I was 14! 🙂
sidenote: Thank you for #6. HUGE pet peeve of mine… learn how to get it right in camera!! I’m so thankful to have learned the basics shooting film, but get so frustrated with “photographers” depending on photoshop for everything.
thanks for your continued awesome-ness! 🙂
I really liked your comment about photoshop/lightroom. I totally agree! I think that a lot of photographers are actually “image makers” and rely too much on post-process work. I admit sometimes I get caught up in the game of trying to over-do-it in software and the image ends up looking fake. Study the masters – all they had to work with after a picture was taken was cropping, dodge & burn for exposure and slight touch ups to negatives.
Thanks for sharing your great response to Emma!
Great reply, thank you!
Such a warm hearted, terrific response! I bet that Emma was just thrilled to receive such wonderful advice. I really like to challenge myself by getting the scene I see before me as close to literal as I can, tweaking the sharpness and exposure just a smidge in Aperture. To me, all the “fancy” photos that are out there. . . well, that isn’t really all that true to Life to me. I think the challenge is the challenge of getting it as real right from the get go as you can.
I only discovered you last month, but read you faithfully. Thank you for your wonderful tips and enthusiasm. I also really like your love of music and that you were a music major—my mom almost got her degree in music, but couldn’t handle the juries, switching to English and history instead. : ) But she did pass down her love of music to her children, so music is very dear to my heart.
Oh Katie! What a great response!!! I love your comment about keeping it as real as possible! It is such a temptation to stage and make things “appear” a certain way. In some ways its much harder to capture reality 😉 !! But it means so much more in the end and is truly worth the effort! Thanks for a great tip! (and always wonderful to meet a fellow music lover! )
If only I had the same advice when I started out – actually the only advice I had when I was starting out was to go back to nursing school and give photography up :o) You’re so honest and I really enjoy that. I totally agree with Practice. Practice is what will get you more comfortable behind the camera and that comfort will also make the people you are photographing more comfortable. If your fiddling with something or having to retake the same thing over because you just can’t seem to get it right they will begin to wonder and worry if you really know what you’re doing. Practice is so important. It helps you really get to know your camera inside and out so that you can start changing settings without it leaving your eye.
Amen Shannon! practice is key! and here’s a little nudge towards photography instead of nursing school 😉 😉 he he!
Hi Brooke! Thank you so much for sharing this email! I have LOVED your site. I found it about a month ago. The way you view photography and capturing the REAL moments of life matches how I feel about photography. It’s a struggle sometimes to figure out how to achieve that, but I’m constantly working on it and your information so helps!!! Thank you again for sharing!!!!
You’re so welcome! I’m so glad that you resonate with the message of being REAL 🙂 It’s practically my favorite topic 🙂 Welcome aboard!
Brooke–you always have the best way with words. Seriously, everything I have ever read on your blog has been AMAZING! Thanks for always sharing your knowledge and insights with us.