18 Feb Tips for Photographers on a Budget
While some artists are privileged to have started their freelancing careers with the right contacts or with enough financial support to acquire the tools they need for their craft, others don’t share that same privilege. Many artists make the mistake of spending too much on unnecessary equipment that ends up collecting dust over the years, others need to save up for years before they could get their hands on that one piece of equipment that they really need.
I strongly believe that expensive tools don’t make great art; great artists do. Whether you have the best gear or not, I believe that you could always make do with what you have. You don’t always have to decline a job offer just because you think that you don’t have the tools for it, though you might have to learn different methods to compensate for that extra bit of quality that a better lens or light could produce.
Last year we were commissioned to shoot a few photos for an online educational platform based out of Dammam, Saudi Arabia. Our client required photos to be displayed on their website’s homepage. Their guidelines were simple: they wanted photos that reflected education and knowledge in the modern Saudi and Muslim culture.
Sounds good, except that the references they provided us with looked very generic; stock photo-like. I had to give them a reason for why they’re paying us a premium price when they could purchase stock images for a fraction of what we’re charging them. I had to come up with something more; something personalized and captivating. Here’s what I did – and I hope this will give you some ideas too:
Tell a Story
Since the objective of our client’s organization was mainly promoting personal growth and spiritual/Islamic enlightenment through online publications, I decided to go for a more intimate approach in which my subjects were placed in cozy and personal environments. I wanted my subjects to have some character, and I wanted the sets they were in to show that. I also alternated between male and female subjects to appeal to both genders and different demographics.
When taking conceptual photos, you can place yourself in your subject’s POV, as well as the viewer’s.
Give your photos a backstory; a deeper meaning than just cool visuals or a nice composition.
Now this can be a little tricky sometimes with different photoshoots, especially when you’re shooting architecture or still life. But it’s not impossible. There’s always a story to tell. Think of details that make up the situation you want to describe through your pictures. Think of the building’s history, its significance to the people or neighborhood surrounding it; the feelings you want to give the viewer when they see the photo; the characteristics of that food you’re photographing that makes it so appealing, what do people associate it with and where it’s commonly consumed.
This gives the viewer the chance to engage with the subject matter on an emotional level.
Create a Scene
In art school we were taught about “mise-en-scène”. This is a French term that means the placement on the stage or scene. In cinema, this is used to describe everything that goes into making the shot from lights, set and props to actors, costumes, and framing. A great amount of detail can be retrieved from what you place in your scene and how you place it.
Remember the backstory we just talked about? Creating a set that complements your subject will tremendously affect your story. You don’t need to spend much to make a scene work. Look for scrap around your house, buy items from the thrift store, or borrow stuff from friends or family and use them as props. You could even print some material or use posters and whatnot as backdrops to emulate different environments.
For example, all the photos in this post were shot in my apartment. I just turned the house upside down to get the sets that I wanted.
A very important piece of the puzzle not to be dismissed is composition.
Spend some time on creating interesting compositions that will drive the focus to your story, whilst placing the other elements still within arm’s reach. Give the rest of the elements just enough attention so they’re noticed, but not too much that they’re distracting from the main subject.
There’s a lot of study that goes into composition. Do some research, but remember that you don’t always have to go by the book. Instead, learn the rules and then break them if you have to. I believe that experimenting and deviating from the norm is always a good practice. Nevertheless, learn the rules first.
Let There Be Light
Some of the greatest artists like Monet were known for their studies on light.
Light is one of the most interesting, intricate, and enchanting elements in art. I can’t stress enough the importance of light in creating emotion and giving your shots the right feel. I enjoy experimenting with light and I admire artists who get it right.
Instead of thinking of the basic setups to light up your scene, think of how lighting can contribute to your storytelling. Set up your scene with the appropriate lights as needed, then experiment with different light setups that could affect the scene. Pay attention to your shadows too, their harshness or softness, how they fall on the different elements in your scene and so on. These play a big role in how your photos appear to the viewer.
That said, you may not have the best lights for your shoot. As a matter of fact, when on a tight budget, you may not have any lights at all. But don’t give up yet, because nature has your back.
Artists are blessed with a nature that not only provides us with beautiful subjects and perfect references, but also with a sun that radiates a light like no other. Take advantage of that light. Natural light is one of the best ways to light up your scene.
And those extra lights that you might need? Well, you could use literally any other source of light (floor lamps, phones, computer screens, reflectors, DIY lights). Make anything work to achieve the kind of light that you want.
Photoshop Is Your Friend
Now I know that many photographers will hate me for this. Some might even argue the authenticity of a photographer who relies on post-processing to achieve the final outcome, but if a technology that helps you achieve greater heights is available, then why not give it a shot?
I’m not saying that you should edit every picture you take and replace all the elements in it with cheap replicas. But if used as and when needed, learning some editing skills can take your photos a long way.
For instance, our client requested that all photos -if contained any text or books- should be in Arabic. The problem was that I only had a handful of Arabic books in my library. Also, living in Malaysia, Arabic books are very hard to find. So I ended up editing all the images to replace the book titles and the text in them with Arabic text. So, books about Metallica and Led Zeppelin were now disguised as religious Arabic books.
Is it cheating? No, I don’t think so. The client was very well aware of this and the photos were never advertised as straight-from-camera shots. I think it’s fair game as long as you’re not trying to pass it as strictly raw photography. If the results are worth it, then go ahead and edit it.
Finally, I understand that these tips aren’t very technical. There’s definitely a lot more that goes into taking great photos, but these are some ideas that I wanted to touch on that we sometimes tend to forget or overlook, especially at the start of our careers.
The photos we’ve taken might not be up to everyone’s standards and they might not be artistically satisfying to the seasoned photographers out there, but we were happy with them and so was our client. In fact, they were very happy with the work that they inquired for another set of photos and commissioned us for a series of short videos.
Bottom line is – be creative. You’re an artist, not a technician. Your job is to create something out of nothing, to see the beauty in the mundane.
Remember that practice makes perfect. So go out and capture some stories!
Keep these tips in mind and let me know how they worked for you. Did they help improve your photos or artwork? Do you already apply these techniques or do you have other techniques that you think I should try?