1. read your camera manual. i know everybody says this, but really, read it! until you actually get it. it can help you know your way around your camera and empower you to try new things.. like making the switch to manual. this is how it all began for me. it's what made me pick up my camera, realize its potential, and motivated me to learn how to do (hopefully) pretty things with it.
2. read other photography literature. if you love something, you'll find you're willing to spend time on it. do some research, even! i read photography 101 by nicole hill gerulat and would happily recommend it to anyone and everyone. such a clearly-written, handy little book. i loved it.
3. switch to manual. yes, it takes guts to give up the auto setting, but it's sooooo worth it. once you do it, a whole new world opens up. start playing around with the aperture and shutter speed. if you've done any reading on these subjects, and please do look them up at least a little bit, that will help you feel more comfortable and in the know. focus on familiarizing yourself with how your photo changes as you spin dials on your camera.
4. look at other photography. keep your eyes open for inspiration on how to compose and style a photo. for example, you don't have to center the subject of your photo! try something new. always look from a couple different angles. find a background or table that you love to photograph on. find some new find a few photography blogs that you love and make sure you pay attention while you flip through magazines. eye-catching photos are everywhere! try to figure out what makes them that way and what types of photos you love most. (happily for me, i love food photography.. and i love to make food! it works out pretty nice.)
5. natural light!! from my experience, this is probably the biggest and best thing you can do for your photos. i strongly recommend not using your flash. as much as possible! i would also recommend not depending on photoshop to make your photos presentable. try very hard to make them as lovely as possible straight through your lens, with the best light you can find. i love using window light for my food photos. in fact, it is pretty much all i use. if you can find a good window or two in your house (mine are south-facing), that is a perfect place to set up shop for a good photo shoot.
i don't have a super professional camera (i use a canon rebel xsi), but i've learned how to make it work for me by doing a little reading and fieldwork, using the manual setting, learning good times of day to shoot, and playing around with different angles and props. over time, you'll find your comfort zone and find yourself coming back to the same photo characteristics.. and then, hooray! you've found your own style.
now for a little shop talk. i've also been asked about giving a little photoshop lesson, to show how my photos go from upload to finished. so here it is.. my super simple photoshop tutorial. let's take my photo from yesterday as our model.
1. open up photo in photoshop and size accordingly.
2. sharpen it up a tad. (under the filter tab, find "sharpen")
3. then, because i don't want anything to look too made up, i always fade my sharpening. (under the edit tab, go to "fade sharpen" and adjust to your liking.
4. next, if your photo has any spots that you don't like... like stray crumbs or a distracting chip in the paint.. use the spot healing brush tool (on the far left tool bar) to fix tiny imperfections. i try to avoid these things before i even take the picture, but sometimes they can add to the character of the photo, so don't feel pressured to erase them. we don't want an air-brushed look!
5. next, we go to the image tab and find "adjustments." this is where i mess around with a curves layer, or the saturation, or whatever the photo might need just a little touch of. occasionally i will play with the contrast or gradient map, or even a photo filter once in awhile, but i mostly keep it very very simple. curves is my favorite tool, and i usually stick to that.
6. for this photo, all i'm going to do is a bit of curves. i shot this one in the morning, so it looked a bit dark. the curves layer will help brighten it, and the white background will look closer to white than gray. then you're ready to upload to flickr!
7. basically, i just keep it basic! size + a bit of sharpening + a bit of brightness. i like things very light, crisp, and natural. keep your adjusting minimal and you'll avoid anything fakey. the best thing you can do is start with a good photo, so focus on getting everything right (as much as you can) while you're looking through the lens.
hmmm... anything else? i hope this has helped in some small way. please leave me questions in the comment section! i'm sure i missed things and could be more clear on others. i'd be so happy to help!
ps. i can't believe it.. last year on this very day i was revealing my big secret. a whole year! how?!