Times Square 2015.Chris Vultaggio Photo

A pair of 11-thousand-pound balls (ok it was just one but I’m guessing there had to be a backup) descended upon Gotham, the harbinger of 2016 and the imminent spike in health club memberships. When the haze of regret lifted, countless Americans were left treading in their disillusions that this year would somehow be different and their well-intentioned New Year’s Resolutions would have more stick than Richard Augustus Wagstaff Clark Junior’s nickname. Dick.

Spreading from east to west, resolutioners rode a wave of cheap-champagne hangovers, the horrid choices of 2015 flashing by in painful slo-mo, as they began their righteous crawl into 2016.

This year I’ll be better they say. This year I’ll be thinner they say. This year it’ll be less sugar/less fat/less booze/less stress/less late night Taco Bell binges/less time googling ex-lovers/less stealing from work/less-time-staring-at-internet-porn (at least the freaky stuff) and more discipline/more exercise/more vegetables/more phonecalls home to mom/more charity and more time sanitizing cooking surfaces (Chipotle I’m looking at you).

Well I’m going out on a limb for all of those who had a kick-ass 2015 and managed to quit smoking, return to their high-school wrestling weight, get promoted, learn Cantonese, regrow hair, and sock away full tuition for their future ivy-leaguers. For those of you who ran out of resolution ideas because you’re awesome and nailed 2015 so hard it’ll never walk straight again, I can suggest getting a bit more from your resolution. Camera resolution. See what I did there?

OK enough with the resolution talk (mine was to be less wordy, but cut me some slack, it’s still January).

Below are five easy (and new) tips to get you shooting better in 2016, no matter if you’re shooting with cell phones or high-end DSLRs.

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Do a Job for Free

Ever wonder why lawyers do pro bono cases? Me too – I mean they are lawyers for god’s sake and can bill for thousands of dollars per hour, why the hell would they work for free? Mind-boggling. Us shutter-whipped camera jockeys are tied to paychecks, but that doesn’t mean we can’t hook a brother up once in a while with our mad photo skills.

Think back to when word first got around that you had a camera with interchangeable lens thingies – along with aperture you mastered the art of gracefully dodging requests to shoot everything from Sweet 16s for your friends to Uncle Mort’s headshots for his new coin-collecting biz website. Next time someone asks for a photo freebie, say yes. Say yes and work like there was a 60k budget on the line. Be a perfectionist and forget the cash. Sure you may end up wearing baby puke or sunburned from shooting preschool soccer, but I guarantee there’ll be a lesson in there somewhere. If not, well you probably earned a free 12-pack or something – here’s hoping your friends have good taste.

Fix your Focal

Inspired by one of the ten-thousand podcasts I fall asleep to while flying/driving/hiking on assignment in the last 365, I decided to adapt a year of practice approach. Mine wasn’t photography, but rather an often overly-moist attempt at the Southeast Asian delicacy sticky rice. My first go’s were are predicted – total sopping disasters. But after some building on repeated attempts throughout the year, I had made some pretty solid progress towards total mango bliss.

Next time you go out shooting for fun, pick one lens and leave the rest at home. Try and make this a habit and it’ll be your Year of the 17mm. Before you know it, you’ll be able to see in that focal length, without even picking up the camera.

Shot with my trusty 17mm, a lens I use so frequently I can mentally switch to that focal length before even picking up the camera.
Shot with my trusty 17mm, a lens I use so frequently I can mentally switch to that focal length before even picking up the camera.

Cross Platform your Photography

Along with good Englishing, it’s never not a bad idea to not push your limits in shooting to become a better overall photographer. And one of the best ways to break free of the plateau is to shoot something completely new. A fan of shooting sports? Go out spend some time with a portraitist; learn how they see light and the human form, and apply that to your action photos. Street photography your thing? Go shoot some wildlife/nature to learn how to better stalk subjects and track down pockets of sweet sweet light. You get the idea – go score some unconventional learning, and be sure to return the favor.

Shoot Straight

Just about every camera (and phone) features a built-in grid function. Use it to keep your pics from looking like slack-jawed hackjobs. I’ve seen countless careless images that could have been something more if the photog used a tripod or at minimum took the time to look through the viewfinder. Want to look even more pro? Try not to sink every subject dead center in the frame. Straight and composed – now we’re cooking with gas!

 Stop Being Lazy

Maybe next time you go out hiking with your girlfriend, man up and carry more than her bottle of Poland Spring and your iPhone. There have been exponentially more times that I’ve said “I wish I had brought my camera” then “Why did I haul this thing up here.” Personally I live by the Bigfoot Clause, which has its roots in the bygone era of the negative. The rule was simple, never shoot your roll to the last frame: always keep a loaded frame in case Bigfoot stumbled out of the woods in search of more Kokanee and lady bigfeet. Translated to modern terms, keep your gear nearby.

Secondly, chase the good light, brah. Waking up late wrapped in an eggroll of blankets sounds sweet, but while you’re slammin’ the snooze button some ambitious photogs are out capturing the sweet spoils of daybreak light. Get up, get out, and get on it.

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It takes time and effort to be automatic about anything, and photography is certainly no exception. These above steps should get you on your way to thinking (and training) more like a pro – now shake off that hangover and get out and up your photo game…

 

Chris Vultaggio is a Mountainsmith Ambassador and a regular contributor to the Mountainsmith Blog. Also, follow his work through Vultaggio Studios

One comment

  1. Awesome article! I am headed out on a camping trip this weekend with my sister. I think I will take just my 50mm lens and try to challenge myself to some new perspectives. It is always hard to tell if it is enough gear for the trip. Thanks!

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