I wrote these 10 suggestions to improve your pretty girl shooting almost two years ago. Thought I'd re-post them since, IMO, they haven't lost any of their potential usefulness. Most of them apply to all genres of photography.
1. Learn the Front-End of Photography. By the front-end, I mean learn everything you can about the art and science of photography. Don't expect computer processing to make you a great photographer. Great photography begins with great photography. Computer manipulation is merely a tool and adjunct to what you've already captured. To hear this said better than I could ever say it, watch and listen to what the late, great, Dean Collins had to say about it.
2. Quit Over-Processing Images! Women have skin covering their bodies, real skin, not some artificial, poly vinyl, coating. Just like a Real Doll won't ever replace a real woman--except, perhaps, in truly desperate times--Barbie skin is neither sexy nor enticing. Sure, fix things in post. Enhance them. (Within the bounds of believability.) But quit processing women into something akin to a computer-generated character in a James Cameron movie.
3. Don't Play the Art Card. I wrote about the Art Card a few updates ago so I won't rehash it in this post other than to add: Accept criticism of your work with the same humility you accept compliments. If you don't accept compliments with humility, here's one added suggestion: Get over yourself!
4. Gear Doesn't Trump Knowledge, Skill, or Creativity. Yeah, we all want better gear. I know I do. But don't expect that new camera body or that faster lens or the latest version of Photoshop to automatically improve your photography. There is no replacement for taking the time to learn how to do things right, how to do them better. Each piece of gear is simply a tool. And tools, themselves, do not make exceptional craftsmen. Just because you own a hammer and saw, perhaps the best hammer and saw money can buy, doesn't mean you know how to build a beautiful home.
5. Improve Your Communication Skills. Models want direction. Models need positive reinforcement. Models want to hear that they're not alone out there in the lights. Dead air is not conducive to great photography. You don't have to become Mr. Personality. You simply have to communicate.
6. Learn to Use One Light Before Trying to Use Two or Three or More. Besides the fact that a single light source can be very effective, learn how to manipulate, modify, control, and exploit a single light before moving on to multiple light source setups.
7. Resist the Urge to Use Cliché Props. Yes, I'm talking about items as diverse as angel wings, "caution" tape, and guitars. It's not that those things and others (you know what they are) are inherently bad, it's just that we've seen them used so often and in so many ways that their use fails, on a grand scale, to impress viewers. I can't remember the last time I saw a pic where cliché props were used in a truly unique and evocative way. If you're going to use props, use less-seen props in less-seen ways. If the urge to use cliche props is overwhelming, get it over with-- Use them once then move on.
8. Experiment! Try doing things differently. But do so on your own dime. If someone hires you to shoot, deliver what they expect. When shooting for yourself, develop other ways or approaches to your photography. When you've worked the bugs out of these new ways of doing things, share them with others for feedback. If people like what they see and once your comfortable with your new techniques, work them into your normal work flow.
9. Develop a Personal Style. But not at the expense of good and effective photography. Sure, you can break the rules in developing your style. In fact, you'll probably need to do so. Developing an obvious, unique, personal style, by the way, is not an absolute requirement for being a successful photographer. While there are plenty of successful photographers whose work is unique and identifiable, there are also many whose personal style is quite subtle and difficult to define or put a finger on.
10. Practice, Practice, Practice! It would be nice if we all could shoot like masters the first time we picked up a camera but that's not how it works for most people. Yeah, some people seem to be born to do certain things. They have an innate ability to grasp and perform in exceptional ways right from the start. But those people are the exceptions, not the rule. For most of us, there's no replacement for practicing and honing our craft: Practice and repetition, like one foot in front of another, again and again, moves us ever forward on the path to Photo-Nirvana. It doesn't happen overnight. The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step and continues with many steps. Most importantly: Enjoy the journey. Have fun! Love your craft. It will love you back... long, long time.
The pretty girl at the top is Selena. Sometimes, I have this weird effect on models. Please visit my Zen and the Art of Portrait Photography web page. Purchasing and reading the book might not have a weird effect on you, but it might have a positive one.