Art is subjective and everyone has an opinion. Photographers who have learned to trust their guts and find their voices have made names for themselves in the fine photography space. Here are five tips for those who want to create memorable photographs that may even hang in a museum someday.
#1 Pack Your Bag the Night Before
The night before a shoot, I make sure all of my equipment is cleaned and fully charged. Once everything is ready to go, I like to make sure everything is set at the door so that I’m not looking for necessary gear last minute – you only forget your extra memory cards once for it to be engrained in your mind forever!
For shoots, I always take my trusty Nikon Z 9, Z 7II and D850, and pair them with a set of lenses that are versatile for the job. Currently, I’m mostly using my Nikkor Z MC 105mm f/2.8 VR S, Nikkor AF-S 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR and Nikkor AF-S 200-500mm f/5.6 ED VR lenses. In part of my preparation, I try to take a moment and think about what I want to accomplish during the shoot and make sure I have everything I need in my bag to help capture every little detail that inspires me.
#2 Wake Up Early
When I was mentored by David Allen Harvey, he taught me that the best light is found in the early mornings or late afternoons. For the novice photographer, I recommend waking up early to shoot during the “Magic Hour” or “Golden hour,” about 30 minutes before the sun fully sets and an hour after sunrise. New photographers should also learn how to capture subjects during the late “Blue Hour,” about 20-30 minutes just after the sun has set. Shooting at these times can help pictures appear more dramatic, making it worth the extra effort.
The most challenging days can be the ones that are sunny or have an overcast. For these, I prefer to keep my ISO as low as possible, between 200-800. If you go too high on your ISO, you can get noise in your image, which you want to avoid. I recommend having a baseline for your ISO and setting it to the lowest you can. I’ve explored many different styles of photography, from celebrity portraits, nature landscapes to even photojournalism, and I’ve learned that these settings can serve as a good ballpark to start with. Everything is dependent on your environment and the best way to improve your images is to play with your camera and test out what settings work best for you and what you’re capturing.
#3 Step Out of Your Comfort Zone & Move!
People always ask me if there are any specific angles I prefer or practice, and my response is always, “There’s not a specific angle, it’s about moving.” Bending, squatting down, getting a low angle – all of these variations can bring forward a new and interesting perspective. I think some photographers take the easy route, and just stand in place and press the shutter button instead of stepping out of their comfort zone and moving their body to find different angles for capturing. Everyone is victim to this mindset once in a while – even I have to remind myself to move around.
During my shoots, I start with something I call my “Insurance Shot,” which is just a clean image of the subject or scenery I want to capture. I use this shot to ask myself, “how can I make this better?” I always enjoy challenging myself to find that angle and seeing the difference putting in that extra effort makes. Moving around and framing your shot exactly how you want it is one of the best ways to improve your image without having to use cropping tools in post-production, which can ultimately result in losing resolution.
#4 Shoot with Your Heart
Throughout my career, I have shot a lot of impressionistic images, so my portfolio can include everything from crisp sharp portraits to abstract pictures of animals that emphasize the energy of the moment.
I don’t have a specific formula for my impressionistic work, I just shoot with my heart. And that is the best advice I can give for photographers looking to learn more about impressionistic photography. Don’t overthink, just play with your camera, and see what feels good. The best way I can describe this feeling is that it is similar to when you know you know you’re in love. Knowing when an image wants to be shot impressionistically or literally is just a feeling you get in your gut when your intuition kicks in.
#5 Be True to Yourself
Once you’ve mastered the basics, you can explore finding your own unique style. I see a lot of photographers try to mimic their peers, but the best are the ones that have found a style individual and true to themselves. Try to go out and shoot often – this is the only way you’ll learn what you like and improve your technique.
On the journey to learning how to trust your gut and feeling out the situation, be patient and honest with yourself. Figure out if you want photography to be a career or hobby and ask yourself if you are willing to put the effort in to perfect the shot. Photography takes a lot of drive, perseverance and even some negative criticism along the way. If you can be the one person to say yes to yourself and have that perseverance, go for it.
All photos © Robin Layton
About Robin Layton
During her 25 years as a photojournalist, Robin Layton has produced countless notable photographs and earned a place among the world’s top photographers. By age 24, she was honored by LIFE magazine as one of the eight most talented photographers in America. After an award-winning career in newspapers, including key positions with The Virginian-Pilot, Cleveland Plain Dealer, and the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Robin embarked on a freelance career that has taken her on documentary assignments around the world. Along the way, she has photographed prom queens to actual kings, people on the street to presidents, and personalities from Jennifer Aniston to Oprah Winfrey. She has also expanded the boundaries of traditional photography, combining her images with vintage found objects to create critically acclaimed and highly sought art pieces.
In 1991, her image of a young departing soldier, embracing his daughter on the USS John F. Kennedy, was chosen to be part of the Smithsonian exhibits. Her photo story on runaway teens in downtown Seattle was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize, and sports enthusiasts will remember her iconic photograph of Ken Griffey Jr. from the 1995 American League playoffs (“The Smile at the Bottom of the Pile”).
What pictures do best is capture a moment in time. Robin’s work illuminates the life within that moment. She compels you to take a second look, a new view of the world around us. Her work has earned her industry accolades and legions of fans.
Robin’s book “The Lake” is available for purchase, and she will be releasing a new book titled Rain next summer. To learn more about Robin’s work visit her website, or follow her on Instagram and Twitter.