What We Can Learn from Scott Kelby

Helpful Photography Tips from a Pro

The simplest of ways one can grow as a photographer is by watching what the pros like Scott Kelby do and try to understand their methods and how they approach a situation and create an image. One should try and imbibe those in their own photography.

The internet has made it really easy to access the work created by the masters of photography. Sitting at the convenience of one’s living room one can sift through pages and pages of some of the best photography work and hopefully learn from them.

Scott Kelby CEO of KelbyOne
Scott Kelby is the President and CEO of KelbyOne (the online educational community for creative people); the editor and publisher of Photoshop User Magazine.

Speaking of online resources and courses, I was watching an interesting webcast by Scott Kelby speaking at a photographer’s conference on Google+. He kept on repeating a phrase ‘work the scene’ for the better part of the first half of the webcast.

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Scott Kelby explained that just because you have some of the essential pro gear that money can buy does not guarantee that you would always get the best of shots.

Scott cited one of his experiences in India. The idea of someone like him struggling to make a single good shot at one of the most beautiful locations in the world, the Taj Mahal, is unthinkable. However, as he explained, this is the rule and not the exception.
It happens to the best of photographers and there is no such thing as, just because you have the most expensive camera in the world, you can just make one exposure and walk away.

There is simply no such photographer who just takes one shot and gets it perfect.

The Ultimate “PhotoWorkout”

Pro Photography Tips we can Learn from Scott Kelby

  1. Work the Scene: Getting the Composition Right Before Shooting
  2. Portrait Photography Tips
  3. Sports Photography Tips
  4. The Importance of Focusing
  5. Earn Money with Photography: See what’s Already Selling Well
  6. Tips on Arranging Your Portfolio

1. You have to Work the Scene

But it’s not Kelby alone if you speak with 10 professional photographers they would all insist that at most times than not finding the right shot warrant a lot of hard work. During the conference, Kelby kept talking about working the scene.

It is an interesting thought and very relevant in today’s digital world. In fact, it is more relevant in today’s digital world than it was like 15 – 25 years ago when the film was the dominant shooting medium.

In those days, photographers had to be more precise with their measurement of exposure, about their composition before clicking the picture. You would think twice before clicking the shutter button:

  • Is the lighting correct?
  • Is the composition perfect?
  • What about the background, is that free from clutter?

You would take a few moments to answer all of them mentally and then click the shutter. These days, digital technology has made photographers a lazy lot.

Additionally, Photoshop does tend to take away a bulk of the errors and omissions. You look at an image on the rear LCD screen of your camera and you say, “Oh I can fix that in Photoshop.”

Related Post: How to Edit Your Photos Like a Pro in Adobe LR

Sure, you can, but what’s keeping you from getting the composition correct in the camera itself? If you grow this into a habit you would spend less and less time as a photographer and more time actually doing post-processing work. Film photographers never had this kind of luxury and that meant they were more serious about their work. Every exposure that the made were well thought about.

2. Portrait Photography Tips

Using Natural Light & Shooting at Same Height

Natural light photographers swear by the quality of the light and their ability to modify it in order to shoot stunning portraits. Amateurs often find it the exact reverse as they struggle to shoot in natural light. Portrait photography is one genre where simple natural light coming through a large window is enough to shoot beautiful images. These are some of the tips that one can learn from Kelby on natural light portrait photography.

Kelby prefers to shoot natural light portraits beside a large window facing north. The favorite spot where Kelby suggests a model be seated is about 6’ from the window and just behind it. If there is a wall where the window ends place the subject as far back to the wall as possible.

Related Post: Outdoor Portrait Photography Tips

The distance of 6’ is also likely to reduce the intensity of the light. A diffuser is an ideal tool for such shots as it further reduces the intensity of the light and makes it much softer.

Now, shooting a portrait image of a subject in a seated position would require you to shoot from a low angle. This is obviously from the same height as that of the subject and that means setting your tripod lower than you would normally shoot from.

Kelby prefers to shoot using a longer lens. You could try to experiment here but a longer lens allows you to shoot from a distance thereby getting the right facial proportions (a wider lens will distort the facial features).

Another thing that he suggests budding portrait photographers can do is to try and separate the subject from the background; especially if the background is too busy. For that, you would need a lens that can shoot at very wide apertures. Anything with a f/4 or lesser f-number is really ideal for that. Medium telelenses are perfect for this reason because they go above f/4.

Lenses such as the Nikkor 70-200mm has a maximum aperture across its focal length of f/2.8. It is a great lens for portraits.

3. Sports Photography Tips

Your Gear Matters: Aperture & Shutter Speed

Kelby has extensive experience shooting sports photography. Some of the most vital tips that he shares about how to shoot professional quality sports photography are all related to the gear that one uses and the camera techniques that they use to back those gear. It is all about these four things really:

  1. Isolating the subject
  2. Bringing the subject closer
  3. Using subtle camera techniques that help them to overcome the challenges brought forward by different lighting conditions
  4. Owning the gear that helps them to accomplish all the previous three things.

Sports photography is heavily into quality gear. You need a camera body that shoots at insanely high frame rates and a lens that can shoot wide open at longer distances.

Whatever we have just read about lens quality, focal length, and maximum aperture, notwithstanding, there is something about the camera settings that you ought to use to be able to get the kind of the shots that you want.

If you are a sports photographer and you are shooting in broad daylight then the ideal shutter speed setting is 1/1000th of a second. Kelby suggests that the aperture value should always be set to wide open. If you are shooting with a f/2.8 lens then set it at f/2.8. If it’s an f/4 lens than f/4.

These are the basic or bare minimum requirements. What’s going to change, and that depends on the kind of environment and lighting conditions you are shooting in, is the ISO. If it’s indoors, then you should be shooting at ISO 4000, or the highest ISO that your camera can permit without bringing in too much noise.

Speaking of noise: the ability of your lens to shoot really wide open is going to decide how much noise you are going to get in the final shot.

And this does not just apply to sports photography. It’s equally applicable when you are shooting wildlife, landscape, and indoor portraits.

When you ate indoors, even if it is well-lit (such as when you are shooting in a stadium), contrary to what you may believe the lighting is not exactly that great for freezing movements.

This means you will have to increase the aperture. But you are already at the highest possible aperture. So the only other option is to increase the ISO number. In other words, find a balance between the highest ISO that you can use vs the amount of noise.

4. Tips on Focusing

In order to shoot acceptable sports photos, you ought to be able to keep the subject in sharp focus.

If it’s anything less your photos would not be acceptable. It is imperative that you have some of the best pieces of glass that money can buy. Speaking of fancy lenses, Scott, who owns everything between a 200mm to a 400mm, advises that the 400mm is the lens to have if you are serious about shooting sports. He reckons that lens can give you great shots for every type of sports, except basketball.

Related Post: Using Long Lenses for Landscape Photography

Really long lenses, however, come with a warning, and that is they can be very hard to focus with. If you have a really long lens, such as the 500mm or longer, you will find it that much more problematic when trying to focus on something that is running around. They are definitely not suitable for sports but have can be used in wildlife and bird photography.

5. Learning From What’s Already Selling

An interesting tip shared by Scott Kelby is about learning from what’s already being sold and is generally considered to be acceptable. If you are looking to be an established travel photographer, e.g.; and want to find out how to take better travel photos, one place that you should begin your research is by looking at photos that are published in the travel magazines.

You don’t always have to spend hundreds of dollars on buying travel magazine issues, you can do this for a few bucks and a few hours’ worths of your time on the internet. Find out the kind of shots that make their way on the pages of these magazines. You will understand what sells.

Related Post: How to Become a Travel Photographer (6 Career Boosting Tips)

The same way if you want to be an established sports photographer pick up a few issues of the best-selling sports magazines and check out the shots that are published. Incidentally, Kelby suggests that the best sports shots that actually make it are the ones that showcase action where the subject is doing something, celebrations, and emotions of defeat.

6. Arranging Your Portfolio

A lot of good photographers are guilty of making a fundamental mistake: they arrange their portfolio in a way which showcases the best shots first up. The remaining pages of their portfolio have the not so great images, followed by the ok images and lastly by the not good images (compared to the wow images).

When clients see their portfolio they are immediately impressed when they see the great images. But when they move on to the not so great images they feel, “ok he had some bad day.”

Related Post: Examples Best Selling Stock Photos

But as they move from the ok and then finally to the not good images they have a feeling, “maybe he has a lot of bad days!” Professionals, as Kelby suggests, are masters at how they arrange their portfolio. They will never ever show their worst works on their portfolio.

Let’s say you have decided on 60 photos to be showcased on your portfolio and like the photographer above, you want to categorize your images into four different segments.

Kelby suggests that you don’t even put up your worst images on your portfolio. If you know which are your best images, isolate them and only show them. Leave the rest of the images behind. Why give your clients a chance to tell that you are an average photographer, who sometimes take good images? Imagine the kind of effect that your prospective clients will have if they only get to see your best images.

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