Documentary legend Maggie Steber’s 11 photo tips.


Maggie is a Phonar Nation Master Storyteller  and if you missed her interview then you need to stop the world right now and go back in time to listen to it and that’s the #PhonarLaw.

We asked her for ten top-tips and she said “Here’s eleven so you can cut one out” – how could we do that? So here’s what we’re doing – we’re going to give you the eleventh one for free. Boom – that’s #PhonarValue right there.

1)You don’t have to go to school for photography. You can learn it all on your own and many people who became great photographers never studied it, they just picked up a camera or even today, using their phones, and started taking pictures.

2)Be curious about the world, no matter where or how big or small.
If you are interested in photographing people, be interested in their stories.  It’s their stories that will help you make a better photograph and you will learn something.  Even if the person says no at the end, you will have had the experience and next time is easier.

3)Start by looking in your own backyard:  is there an old lady living alone down the street?  Is your church lively on Sundays?  Is there a dance at school coming up and people are shopping for new dresses? Photograph your sister or brother and his friends or teenage girls’ rooms?  Or a fashion shoot of your friends? Start with whatever is going on around you.  You have access to that.  Think about shooting a day in the life of a place, person.

4)Explore with the camera:  walk about something, look at it front and back, where the light is coming from, start out a bit away and then move in, shooting all the while to see what
things look like. Compose the photo carefully so there is nothing in it you do not desire. Even if you aren’t sure, take the picture. Sometimes it’s better than you think. Photography gives us a new way to see the world, to re-see it and imagine it differently.

5)Research!!!!  Do your homework.  Google your idea to see if you can find information and the work by other photographers on the same subject to see what they shot and how they were thinking. Research might show you that you can’t do what you want to do but might give you a new idea.  Always have a Plan B.

6)Think about starting with a big idea—example: love, friendship, food, teen age girls or boys—and then think small.  By telling the story of one, we often tell the story of many.

7)Be kind and generous with people. Talk to people first and then ask to take a picture. Keep your ego in your back pocket! You don’t know it all and part of being a photographer is to learn about the world, not just take pictures.

8)Don’t get discouraged. Not everyone will understand your work or appreciate it but keep taking pictures, lots of pictures, not the same picture over and over but move around and try different things. Whether enthusiast or professional, we can all be better photographers and we have to constantly grow so take lots of pictures.

9)Look at the work of other photographers online by Googling subject and the word photographer and see what comes up. Look at these websites, as well as blogs for magazines, newspapers, tv, and radio.

10)Captions!!!!!  For any series or even one photo, information is important to have:  who, what, why, when and where.  Some photographs NEED explaining and that is what a caption does. And if your photographs are ever published or exhibited, this information will be desired.  A photographer who writes good captions is highly valued in the magazine and newspaper world so you might as well practice.  It’s part of photography.

11)Edit (Select) your photographs:  after you shoot some pictures, look at them and try to choose the best ones and put them in a special folder or group them together. After a while, you will start to see your photographic style, what is good and what is not, and you might see the start of an idea or story or series.

Thank you Maggie.



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