Jan 8

30 years and still learning


Experience is the best teacher. 
And 30 years is enough time for a lot of lessons.
When I dip into my camera bag for tips I’ve learned in my rewarding career as a photojournalist, here are a few of my favorites. 

The camera is a tool – brand doesn’t matter
I’ve worked with Nikon cameras my whole career. I’ve lost count of the times that other photographers have jokingly shamed my choice of camera brand, thinking theirs was better. I’ve always responded, ‘whatever’ complete with an obvious eye roll. Each brand has its advantages and disadvantages. Choose one — and realize it and its’ competitors will constantly try to outdo each other as technology improves.

You only need a new piece of camera gear when your current gear limits you
Digital cameras usually become obsolete tech-wise after about 5 years. Lenses are a little more forgiving. I own a couple manual focus lenses that are more than 30 years old. They’ve been in storage, but recently have returned to my lens rotation for use in video. They are still sharp as a tack.

Dream the shoot
Think ahead what gear you might need. Extra lighting, light modifiers, tripods, backup camera, lenses, pro gaffers tape, (not duct tape-leaves residue), extension cords, etc. Keep everything organized and protect gear with bags.

Keep gear ready – charged, clean and in good working order
There’s nothing more annoying than starting to shoot and realizing your batteries are dead, or there are problems with gear. The day ahead, charge everything and check your gear. If possible bring backup gear you can swap out if a problem arises.

Dress for the assignment 
Plan for the weather if you’re out in it, or dress appropriately if you’re photographing a CEO, or a factory worker on their turf. It’s a good way to find common ground and give respect to the subject.

Chat with your subject
Most people don’t like getting their photo taken. They’re nervous, uncomfortable. You can make it a positive, more relaxing experience for them by engaging them in conversation. Find some common ground. Be lighthearted. Your photo will be better for it and your subject will be grateful. 

If possible, use every lens in the bag
Venture beyond your usual lens, choosing a different one will improve the variety of your focal lengths.

Lifting – good posture matters
You’re not getting any younger.

Be in the moment
Sometimes I’ll stop shooting, and look around. Put the camera down once in a while and pay attention to what is going on around you. You might notice something you didn’t observe through the lens.

High and low angles – shoot different from standing view 
Be curious. It will spice up your composition, keeping your photos interesting.

Don’t depend on zooming your lens – move the camera
It’s easy to stand in one spot and zoom, but limiting. I always treat my zoom lenses like prime lenses. I usually decide on a zoom lens focal length and move my camera for framing.

Backup/Archive everything you shoot
Double or triple backup your files first thing following a shoot. First to the computer, then copy untouched files to an external hard drive or server. Then you can edit. Years ago shortly after transitioning from film to digital, my computer died. I lost everything, and couldn’t reshoot what was on the computer.

Quality matters
In shooting stills, shoot both JPEG and RAW at highest resolution; for video, shoot at the highest resolution you can. JPEG results in speedy editing if exposed correctly. Shoot in RAW when quality is needed; think of RAW as a film negative. Shooting in RAW will save you at some point. You can always downgrade the file resolution for projects later if the file is too high. Storage is cheap.

Analyze your mistakes
Learn from them. If something didn’t turn out like you hoped, figure out why.

Be thankful
Following the shoot, appreciate the opportunity to meet someone new and share the experience to chronicle them in a photo or video. I’m fortunate to have met such a variety of people and enjoyed rewarding experiences, all on the other side of a lens.


2 thoughts on “30 years and still learning”

  1. vincent selasky says:

    Great Tips TJ …thank you for sharing

    1. T.J. Hamilton says:

      You betcha Vincent! Happy to help anyone who might benefit from my history in the biz 🙂

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