100 Photo Tips for 100 Photos

Welcome to my 100th post! Thank you for reading past that exclamation point, and a hearty thank you to all of the blog readers and Facebook fans who have been encouraging throughout the past six months. Your words and support have really helped me keep this journal alive.

So if you haven’t joined us on the Assignment Chicago Facebook Page, please do. It’s a handy way to keep updated on things and to comment on photos.

If you are already a Fan, can I ask that you suggest this page to your friends? It just takes a moment. You can do so from the Facebook page, in the column at left. Chicagophiles, photophiles, cityphiles – all are welcome!

To commemorate this moment, and to keep it interesting, I’ve compiled a list of  unfiltered observations, lessons, tips, secrets, etc.  from each of the 100 pictures posted here on this site. It’s for all those who are aspiring photographers, or are interested in the process of photography and photojournalism. They’re also reminders to myself. They’re listed in the same sequence as the images from which they are inspired, which is why it reads like a stream of consciousness. So…for what it’s worth…let’s get going…..

100 Tips for 100 Photos

1)    Some of the best moments I’ve seen as a photographer happen on the way to other moments.

2)    Don’t let the frustration of bad light keep from transforming a moment with your own.

3)    Low angle + underexposed sky + off-camera light = dramatic portrait

4)    A good percentage of my best photos were taken holding the camera with an outstretched arm.

5)    Color balancing every scene takes the color and interest out of ambient light.

6)    Pictures are like paintings. It start with the background canvas.

7)    Creative collages – a la David Hockney – can tell the story better.

8)    There is such a thing as boring photos taken from a helicopter. I have a ton.

9)    Interesting celebrity portraits often depend on the willing interest of the celebrity.

10) Ambient light = content.

11) Even in a rapidly moving event with crowds of people, small details can tell the full story.

12) When the reality of a scene will be obvious to a viewer from any angle, go for surreality.

13) If someone doesn’t ask why you’re taking photos, you generally don’t need to give them a because.

14) To give people a sense of being there, it’s best to be knee deep in it.

15) Photographs can lie. It’s too true.

16) The decisive moment can’t always be tack sharp. But don’t expect an editor to agree.

17) Sometimes all you get is a few minutes. And you might know that going in.

18) Access, access, access…and mission. An essential part of  what makes for a great photograph.

19) It’s hard to get to a news event in a big city before emergency personnel do. Good thing.

20) Don’t avoid low-percentage shooting situations. They yield the question “How’d you get that?”

21) The Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle is true with photos – it’s uncertain whether your camera altered the equation.

22) Don’t stop once you get a cool looking photo. Sometimes your cup will runneth over.

23) Some of the most interesting portraits are when you can’t see anyone’s face.

24) Always keep ear plugs in your photo bag. Keep an additional new set for the friend you will make with them.

25) An underwater housing has many interesting above-water applications.

26) Carry a compass. I would have saved Door County the cost of several rescue personnel had one been in my bag.

27) I hate to admit but the early bird often gets the worm. I’m typically a night owl.

28) Avoid complacency like the plague.

29) Whether it be manipulated electrons of a flash, or sunlit particles of the sun, God powers the batteries.

30) The secret of getting photos others don’t is knowing the exact place and time when it all comes together.

31) A bicycle amplifies one’s seeing by reducing the inertia you have to keep going.

32) Helicopter vibrations demand a very high shutter speed, although it may not seem like it at the time.

33) Keep a camera in the front seat, ready to go.

34) Chances are if you’re curious about something,  your pictures will have the power to make others curious.

35) “Backlit” is seen as a shortcoming in camera manuals, but that’s just boring conventional thought.

36) Staying with a situation to make a better photo often involves swallowing one’s pride and impatience.

37) Don’t hesitate to pull off to the side of the road for a photo. Just don’t get hit, ok?

38) When a celebrity gives you a lot of time, you don’t have much of an excuse.

39) You’ll probably look foolish at some point while taking pictures. If that bothers you, it’s not the career for you.

40) Let your subjects not leave you unchanged.

41) Being a professional photographer means knowing when and what audibles to call at the 5 yard line in overtime.

42) If you are tense during a photo shoot, your subjects will become tense. Mostly, you’re a thermostat.

43) In any group, a few faces will captivate. It’s not level of attractiveness. Take time to find those people in a crowd.

44) Blur, color, light, repeat.

45) I think it’s human nature to shrug off things you don’t understand. That’s a blown opportunity for pictures.

46) Being a photographer will help you meet famous people, but you risk being seen as the annoying person in the room.

47) I miss police ride-a-longs. They  yield some of the most compelling images.

48) Sometimes it’s not the size of something but the diversity within it that makes for a compelling image.

49) Be nice to cops. Firefighters are always the heroes, but cops have to deal with far worse stuff.

50) Arriving early to events can help give you the necessary big perspective to adapt quickly to changes.

51) Yes, morning light before 8ish and afternoon light after 3ish are warm and beautiful. But high noon is also virtuous.

52) If you can be paid to make pictures, you are increasingly fortunate.

53) Don’t  get caught up with the mechanics of your tools and the dynamics of an event. You’ll miss the heart of a shoot.

54) Kids’ pictures are a legacy to leave for a family.

55) Shoot jpg and RAW at the same time. RAW can save you technically and artistically, even if it’s only 1% of time.

56) In this age of wide exposure latitude in RAW, I shoot shutter priority more often, since camera shake is a killer.

57) The Communication Arts Photography Annual is a great tool for visual inspiration.

58) The best war photographers I admire are also able to capture the exquisite nature of peace.

59) I’ve had pictures that seize my imagination and not let go until I try to adapt their vision to my own reality.

60) Shoot as much for as long as you need. Sometimes it’s your 1st photo. Sometimes it’s your 2587th.

61) When you’re shooting a group in a short time, shoot a ton. You might get one where someone is not staring at you.

62) Observe your biases while shooting.

63) The world needs more uplifting photos. My industry tends towards grief.

64) Keep an organized archive. Someone you once photographed may become president (or his mistress…).

65) Social skills and salesmanship are more important than talent as a photographer.  I know, I know…

66) It’s beneficial to keep a physical list of places you want to return to when the weather or season changes.

67) It’s best to avoid saying “Oh, I’ll come back here to shoot more”, because the unchangeable changes.

68) Negative self-talk in your creative life masquerades as your conscience or “practical thinking”.

69) Save up money to take creative pictures from a helicopter when the sun is low. Just for the creative boost.

70) Making the mundane intensely interesting is a valuable skill that people recognize.

71) Portraits often reflect the photographer more than the subject being photographed.

72) If you ask many questions upfront, you can save yourself a lot of wasted shooting time.

73) Some photographers shoot in manual. I’m usually shooting in automatic mode toggling the exposure compensation.

74) I ran into David Alan Harvey using a crappy old flash in Cuba. Quite a lesson there.

75) Always be ready.

76) Watch how the sun falls in different places at different times of the year . Take a longer, more patient view.

77) I wouldn’t advise photographing kids on the street without getting parental approval.  Even if they’re being cute.

78) Individual achievements in photography are determined by talent and drive… politics and timing.

79) Getting inspired by the mood of  your surroundings will make time flow as you wait for your moment.

80) It is hard to know when to cut bait. When in doubt, wait.

81) If you’re out photo hunting, iPod earbuds are blindfolds to your ears.

82) If you’re looking for a public restroom, don’t ignore construction site portable toilets. (sorry, it’s just that important)

83) When shooting a crowd of people, imagine yourself a casting scout looking for a mesmerizing face.

84) Photographers who are not self-conscious may get photos others don’t, but they leave a wake of ill will.

85) Photographers that blast away, even in tight situations, miss the subtleties.

86) Readers of newspapers are more visually astute than newspapers realize.

87) Free wifi, an outlet, cheap parking, cellphone signal, restroom, and maybe a cup of Joe. Is that asking too much?

88) Keep in flight. Thank you John White.

89) Understaying your welcome as a photog is generally worse than overstaying, for them and for you…

90) Develop a philosophy about when not to take a picture, so you’re not caught in the moment.

91) Shadows deepen when exposing for highlights, accentuating the graphic nature of an image.

92) Photography is hard on your lower back and shoulders. Some digital cameras are too heavy.

93) Not to sound like a kook, but feeling moments will yield to seeing them.

94) It is easier than people think to photograph strangers.

95) The option of jeans everyday. And I don’t have to pay at the office.

96) I thought I would tire of sharing in the happiness when a child gets a photo in the paper. Still there.

97) Another approach: seize on a detail within a scene, and follow it through until it’s gone.

98) Real, intimate, telling, documentary moments are not that easy to come by.

99) 10 years later, the Chicago skyline is still not old. It changes by the minute in the mornings.

100) Rules in photography are often broken to great achievement.

Alex Garcia

22 Comments

  1. This is a really fun list Alex, all of it pertinent and useful. Some of it is technical but most of it, my favorite items, are inclinations to see and feel the moments that we’re always after. Nice work.

  2. This is great! I love the technical details as well as your stories behind the photos.
    It would be great to add a touch of technical info to each photo also! Not all out, but maybe one or two interesting tech details to help us aspiring photographers!
    You are one of my top blogs to go to since reading it the 1st one! I appreciate all your work and sharing!

  3. Also, by technical, I don’t mean just settings, but maybe why you picked the angle, lighting, detail.. what is working in the photo like the “red tie” comment in the Senior Moment photo posted today. That is the stuff I like learning about. Thanks!!

    • Thanks Derek, I almost hesitated to put that on there, but I’ve seen this many times not to say it… In some situations, I think sheer aggression or daring is all you need. I”m thinking war situations where people you’re around don’t speak your language. In those places, I almost think your access depends on whether you’re a petite non-threatening female, a small quiet and unassuming type, or a burly, bearded male who generally scowls…y’know…?

  4. Hi Alex,

    Been following your blog back here in Boston and have enjoyed your photo’s. Your tips will help me in my own quest to get published one day….keep up the good work and I will continue to follow you, Your insights have already help me in my own blog.

  5. Hey, I just hopped over to your site via StumbleUpon. Not somthing I would normally read, but I liked your thoughts none the less. Thanks for making something worth reading.

  6. Really enjoyed the list! Made me even more excited to get back into news photography. I interned with the Daily Herald for about 8 months and have now had two months off and I’m getting boooored. :-)

    • thanks for your comments! I think it’s a tough market with long plateaus of waiting. finding an opportunity in photojournalism is like a stakeout where you can’t leave because the door will open and close if you turn away just to get something to drink…

  7. That’s what is especially rough for me because I have to replace “turn away to get something to drink” with “already working 60hrs a week”. But I’m doin my best to keep my ears to the ground :-)

    • Yikes, I understand that. You have to be independently wealthy or willing to be poor nowadays…

  8. This was excellent. I feel compelled to leave a comment. I really, really like this list. There are some amazing tips in here that I never heard anywhere else. Thank you very much. :) :) :) :) “34) Chances are if you’re curious about something, your pictures will have the power to make others curious.” This one was great. I really enjoyed it. I will keep this in mind.

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