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After two years of shooting, I’ve come up with a list of some things that have helped me progress in photography. If there is anything you would like to add to the list, feel free to comment :)

Behind the Scenes hold all the secrets

Sometimes Photographers won’t flat out say what lenses, lights or equipment they use. That’s fine! Now is your chance to play detective. If you look through my computer you will find photos of tons of behind the scenes photos from various photographers I admire.

Why do I keep these photos? Because it shows what equipment they’re using. I have photos of photographers posing with their lenses (I’m not a creep I swear, I just wanna know what you’re using…damnit) in which I zoom in and figure out what it is.

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Photo (c) Edgar Berg of Edgar Berg Photography

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I save behind the scenes from studio shoots where the photographer takes photos of the entire setup to show their followers what’s going on. These photos are a key to learning setups. I can then tell the brand of lights, how many are being used, what type of lights they are, and more importantly how the lights are positioned. Softboxes, colored lights, reflectors, don’t know?! WELL NOW YOU DO~ You can tell just by looking at the photo! I then look up the lights and research.

Another thing I pay attention to, is the photographer using any external light in their behind the scenes photos? Just look at a photo or even a video of them shooting, is someone simply holding a reflector, or nothing at all? This will give you an idea of how they shoot. Some are natural light photographers, others use reflectors or external equipment. Behind the scenes can reveal some of their techniques and shooting processes.

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Photo (c) Lina Tesch of Lina Tesch Photography

Because I’m extremely curious, I love to know what lenses my favorite photographers are using. Some of them don’t answer to messages or emails, so I had to turn into James Bond. I looked through facebook comments, website/blog comments seeing if they would answer someone else’s question, or just post what type of lens randomly hidden in a post. About 90% of the time, I was successful. Along with showing the lens the photographer is using, behind the scenes can also show you what type of settings they use, what shutter speed, apertures, etc.

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Some Behind The Scenes photos I’ve collected. Photo top-left (c) Cat Lane of Cat Lane Photography

Where do you find these behind the scenes? It’s really a combination of their personal blog site, facebook, twitter, instagram, etc. you just have to be connected and up to date with their posts. I was even able to successfully figure out what lenses all my favorite photographers use (I really have a word document with all this information) just by looking at behind the scenes! It’s a treasure trove of information, really.

Watch tutorials with the sound off

Sometimes people ask me why I post tutorials sped up, with no sound and no steps or direction. They will complain that the video is going too fast for them to keep up and figure out what I’m doing. Perfect.

Visual learning is one of the basic learning styles. I believe it is one of the most powerful. The dependence on auditory learning to hold our hands and guide the way needs to end.

Think about it: Have you ever wanted something way out of reach, but didn’t have the connections or funds to get it? You would probably try your hardest on your own to get it, right? And when you finally got it, you would be very proud of yourself and have learned some things along the way! The learning process works the same way. To me, trying to figure out what was happening on my own seemed more effective for learning. Sometimes we use directions and detailed steps as a crutch. The answers and solutions are handed to us, so we stop there. When we don’t have that, we depend on ourselves for the answer. Because of this, we work harder to know the answer.

Challenge yourself a little! The times I was able to retain the most information was when I looked at a case study with nothing but photos showing the process. I will never forget when I asked one of my favorite designers if he would be making detailed tutorials describing his process. He replied saying I shouldn’t depend solely on tutorials…and to learn by looking. I haven’t forgotten what he’s said since.

The best learning process is SEEING. When you SEE instead of HEAR, you have the task of filling in the blanks to go with the images. You fill in these blanks by researching, experimenting and essentially teaching yourself.

So whenever you see a sped up or silent tutorial, pay attention to what’s happening in front of you. Accept the challenge and apply yourself. You will learn more than what you learned with an audio tutorial, I promise you that.

Pay attention to the sun

In my opinion: natural lighting is the best lighting. It’s essentially a free light source and it won’t go out on you! Unless the clouds want some attention…

Even when you aren’t shooting: pay attention to light.
Pay attention to shadows. PAY ATTENTION. LOOK AROUND. SEE THINGS.

How does light affect a subject when it’s behind it? In front of it? Close? Far? These are all things you will use while shooting outside. Shooting side light, backlit, etc. all come into play. I urge you to look around and experiment. Find ways to manipulate light. Before you begin shooting anywhere, simply look up into the sky. Where is the sun? Use the answer to the question to place your model, depending on the type of photo you want. If the sun is behind the model, you’re going to get washed out, backlit, white/grey sky photos. If you are standing right in front of the sun, your photos will come out harsh with deeper tones, and have a nice blue sky.

When you learn to use the sun to your full ability, you will be able to take any kind of photo you envision. Adding external lighting onto your knowledge of natural lighting will enhance your photos that much more.

Look at art everyday

Seeing work by other artists can help with ideation and growth. You develop your artistic eye as well as motivate yourself to create better work when you see a photo you really admire. I don’t limit myself to fashion photography. I watch weird movies, look at patterns and paintings – every bit helps and shapes my style.
I find that even looking at landscape photography helps me and gives me ideas for photos.

I keep a folder filled with images I like – from flowers to animals – simply for photo inspiration, which I tend to look at when I’m trying to plan upcoming shoots. Following upcoming and aspiring artists can inspire you as well, as they are more free with their work and haven’t constrained themselves to anything.

Getting a creative team together

This is one of the hardest aspects to photography. Even now I still struggle with it.
How do you get a creative team together? What do you do?

I was lucky enough to have a friend who did makeup, but finding hair and styling was tough. Personally I would start out shooting with no creative team whatsoever. Starting out too fast can be difficult and stressful. Depend solely on yourself. Before you work with an entire team of people, work with the basic elements of photography. Model and photographer. Someone in front of the camera, and someone behind it. Learn with no stress and absolute freedom. Starting out in photography and then diving right into a full creative team and professional model can deter your growth and stunt your process.

Why? How can having a professional setup be bad for you? When you learn how to swim, you don’t just dive into the deep end (I hope not). You learn the basics of swimming first, and then you apply these to the deep end when you’re ready. Otherwise what happens? You jump in too soon, and then you nearly drown. The fear of the water will keep you from going into the deep end for a little longer.

Don’t make this mistake. Master your skill and create your own style. Be comfortable shooting on your own, and create a vision that is completely yours and not reliant on another’s work or skill. Many beautiful photographs take little to no creative team to accomplish, and are natural and simple. Be your own creative team! Have the model bring her own clothes, or use some from your own closet and create your own outfits. Buy vintage pieces on sites like ebay, etsy and use them in your shoots.

First starting out, you may be under the impression that having a big team of people will make a good photo. Many of my best shoots were just the model and I, when I was first starting out. No hair, makeup, etc. None of that. We picked out our own outfits which were normally clothes the model brought, had the model do her own makeup, and just shot wherever we wanted. Everything was spontaneous.

If you do want to begin working with a creative team, start off with a small one! I met creative people through networking, but if you do not have this connection I would start at a salon. Many makeup artists and hair stylists there are formally trained and will be able to do creative work as they have proper experience. I always ask to see work, and then pick collaborators based on their skill and style, making sure its close to my aesthetic. Simply ask if they’d like to do a trade shoot, show them some sample photos you’ve done in the past and extend an offer for them to receive free photos for their portfolio in exchange for hair/makeup. Once you have a good portfolio of images, you have a valuable asset. Most artists, whether hair or makeup, will appreciate the gesture and want to be apart of it. Offering free photos for their own portfolio is something many people won’t turn down.

9 comments

  1. May 9, 2014 at 7:22 pm chilli

    This was wonderful, very helpful! Thank you.

  2. August 28, 2014 at 4:59 pm ashley dellinger

    I do the same thing all the time lol…Ill watch vogue behind the scenes shoots in slow mo 30x & dissect it all. Theres a google chrome plugin that will show you Exif data for images but it sounds like you might already use that…that helps me a ton

  3. October 8, 2014 at 11:14 am Lonny

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  4. November 3, 2014 at 6:40 am S-Mount lens

    Thanks for sharing this nice article.I read it completely and get some interesting knowledge from this.I again thankful to you for sharing such a nice blog.

  5. January 28, 2015 at 4:10 am Aatish

    amazing article! love love loved it! keep up the great work jess!

  6. December 25, 2015 at 11:17 pm camera lens

    Great writing it is such a cool and nice idea thanks for sharing your post. I like your post very much. Thanks for your post.

  7. April 20, 2016 at 12:46 am krissy

    Thanks for all your tutorials and blogs! I’ve recently started picking up photography and I’ve been struggling to catch on as quickly as I’ve wanted, but your videos inspire me to keep going. Your work is amazing and I hope to become half as good in the future. Good luck in your career and don’t stop posting videos cause I love watching them! P.S. Can we be friends?

  8. July 11, 2016 at 4:47 am board camera lens

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    Thanks a lot.

  9. August 3, 2016 at 2:52 am board camera lens

    I read your article you shared really good knowledge with is very useful foe me.Thanks for sharing this nice post.

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