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Observe and Report: A beginner’s guide to making a photo

By #TheRealStoke Ambassador, Bruno Long

“To me, photography is an art of observation. It’s about finding something interesting in an ordinary place….I’ve found it has little to do with the things you see and everything to do with the way you see them.”

Elliott Erwitt
Location: Revelstoke Mountain Resort backcountry, Revelstoke, BC, Canada

Photography was ‘gifted’ to the world in 1839 by Louis Daguerre, after he created a process for imprinting light onto silver plates- making photography less than 180 years old. As part of this ‘gift’, Daguerre included all the details about how to create your own Daguerrotypes in a booklet that was made public by the French Government and was shared all over the world so that people could create their own images. Little known to Daguerre, not only would he become one of the first photographers in the world, he also created the first How-To article on photography basics. Fast forward 180 years and you have hundreds of photography blogs online showing you how to ‘Get the Most Out of Your Camera’, ‘Shoot Just like the Pros’, and of course, everyone’s favourite, ‘How to Improve Your Selfie Skills’.

RIder: Mike Hopkins Location: Monashee Mountains, BC

Ok, so maybe I’m not being entirely serious here. Yet the internet is a fascinating place, where you can learn just about anything you want in 5 minutes; though there’s no promise you will be good at what you’re trying to learn in those 5 minutes. The amounts of information you can gather on the web through blogs, online schooling and YouTube is incredible- making the learning curve for just about anything (welding, open heart surgery, taking over the world) just a little less steep. And the same goes for photography. As a self-taught photographer, I have spent countless hours in front of my computer screen trouble-shooting camera problems, studying techniques and learning shortcuts. I’ve researched many other photographers, trying to decipher their work and break it down into pieces that I can use in my own photography. There is an endless amount of photographic information out there, so why not add my own thoughts into the deep pool of knowledge, right? Here are 5 tips for aspiring photographers that I try to remember whenever I am out shooting on my own, at work or just in the moment.

1. The best camera you have is the one in your hand. 

180 years ago, there is no way that Daguerre could have envisioned a world where almost every person on the planet had the ability to capture an image instantly, whenever they want. And yet, in a world where almost 5 billion people own a mobile device, that possibility may not be that far off. The advances  in camera and phone technology have created a world where it is simply easier, faster, and more convenient that ever to create an image. Only one problem: you need to have your camera with you to actually create said image. So whether it is a top of the line $5000 camera or your iPhone, make sure to carry your camera with you as much as possible if you want to be ready during one of those magic moments. The only picture you can take without your actual camera is a mental picture, which are really hard to share on Instagram, trust me.

2. Learn how to use that camera.

This might be the toughest thing you ever do with your camera: read the instruction manual! I know exactly what you are thinking…boooooooring! Yet knowing the subtle intricacies of whatever device you have in your hands will save you time when that sunset light is really firing, or the storm clouds break apart and what was a bleak scene becomes the magical moment you’ve been waiting for. Fumbling with settings and buttons when you should be capturing the moment can be alleviated by learning all there is to know about your camera. Spend time trying out all the features, changing the settings constantly and learning the limits of your device. And seriously, read the instruction manual.

Rider: Stu Dickson Location: Revelstoke, BC

3. Patience is a virtue…and it will disappoint you.

I’ve already mentioned the ‘magic light’ a few times in this post. And yes, it does happen. But not as often as you might think. Sure, every professional photographer’s Instagram feed might make it seem as though the magic light just follows them around, turning every shoot into a surefire ‘banger’ session. This is a lie. And not just a little white lie. A bold-faced, flat-out, heart-breaking lie. You have to be patient when searching out the best light. Go out early. Stay out late. Shoot on the sunny days. And the stormy ones. Try to anticipate what the weather is doing and how it might change. Trust your instincts and be ready for whatever light nature throws your way. The reality of the situation is that you will invariably be disappointed more times than not. If shooting incredible photos was that easy, then everyone and their dog would be calling themselves a professional photographer. Just another reason to be more patient than the next person.

Location: Blanket Glacier Chalet, Monashee Mountains, BC, Canada

4. Think about your entire frame. Take. Your. Time.

When you see something that interests you, take the time to observe the scene, soak in your surroundings, and frame up the environment properly. Give it the respect it deserves. Think about how you want to compose the image. What is it that interested you enough to make you stop and pull out your camera? Focus on that and start simple. Check the background for elements that you might want to add or remove from the frame. Where do you want to place your subject? What do you want to portray in this image? Ask yourself all these questions (and more) when you find something that strikes your interest. And take your time.

Rider: Stu Dickson Trail: Iron Lotus Location: Revelstoke, BC

5. Shoot what interests you.

If you are going to spend time learning how to shoot photos, at least it should be fun and interesting to you. One of the hardest things about learning a new skill is the practicing part. It takes up a lot of time and you might feel frustrated at the fact that, initially, you might not be good at it. This rings true for learning anything new. My advice on this: shoot what you like. Take pictures of objects in your life that capture your attention. Do you like beautiful flowers? Shoot them. Enjoy the wild weather of an incoming storm? Shoot that. Love people watching in the city? Click click click. Whatever it is that draws your artistic eye and inspires you, stick with that to begin with. As you progress, it’s obviously a great exercise to get bit of variety in your photographic life, but don’t forget about what drew you into photography in the first place.

Now that you’ve learned everything there is to know about photography (just kidding) get out there with your camera, search around for inspiring moments, observe the scene and create something that you are happy with and then report back to myself and @SeeRevelstoke to share your images.

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