Improving the quality of your photographs is relatively easier done than said. I’m going to give you a few tips and pointers that will definitely improve your photographs in two ways; both from a composition and technical stand point.
First of all, what kinds of photographs have caught your eye before? Was it a blast of color? Was it taken from a unique perspective? Could it have been a really simple composition? The answer was that it was probably a combination of two or more of these things. Let’s start with color
Are world is filled with color and yet most of it, including myself, don’t always see it. You know that grass is green, the sky is blue and that stop sign ahead is red. But it doesn’t always register with us as we take in these things as we’re driving along thinking about the guy who cut us off, or just lost in a train of thought about endless sorts of things. But, when we slow down a bit and REALLY look, we are amazed at what we see.
As a little experiment, I urge you to try the following. I can be done the next time you’re out of a walk or even at home. PLEASE do not attempt this while driving as it involves closing your eyes for several seconds. What I’d like you to do is stand still and close your eyes. Listen to all the sounds around you. Take a deep breath and exhale. Keep your eyes closed for about 15 seconds and then open them for a few seconds, and take a mental snapshot of what you saw, and then close them again. What did you see? Was it a big splash of color? Was it something really bright compared to other things in the scene? What you have just done is seeing without labeling. Again, we know the grass is green, so we don’t bother to really look at it. And that’s the point of the exercise; finding new ways to see the world. Continue this exercise turning 90 degrees each time. You’ll continue to find new things you probably looked at, but never saw before. That is called perceptive seeing and it’s the first step in improving your photographs.
Next, we’ll move from perception to perspective. If you want more interesting photographs, you have to change your perspective. What do I mean by that? It’s comprised of two elements really; viewpoint and distance. Your viewpoint is always what you see at eye level from where you’re currently located. Be it standing up, sitting down or even flat on your back. So what you want to do is look at a scene from a different viewpoint than what is “normal” and typically that’s standing up. The next time you are out with your camera or even your camera phone, and you happen upon a scene you want to photograph, try “working the scene”. That simply means walking around the subject, getting low, going high, move in close, move in closer and rotate the camera vertically. There are no rights or wrongs to this other than to say if it doesn’t seem right, it might make an interesting picture. The old photographers axiom of “if you think you’re close enough, get closer”, really applies here. Take a bunch of pictures because digital imaging doesn’t cost anything. See what you like and don’t like. One of the things that would seem to grab people’s attention in my own work is when I get really close with a wide angle lens. It’s a perspective we’re not used to seeing, so it intrigues us.
Another aspect of improving your composition is in what to put in and what to leave out. Believe me, it’s way harder than it sounds. All of us tend to want to include more in the picture than we should or is necessary, especially when taking in a grand view. If you are visiting the Grand Canyon and look out over the vastness of it, you will naturally want to include all of it in your picture so when you share it with your friends, they’ll experience that scene with you. Only they can’t. The scene most likely will look flat and compressed with none of the grandeur you experienced by visiting there.
It never hurts to try to capture a big scene, but they come out best when you include three things: a strong foreground, middle ground and background. Again, a wider angle lens helps your composition here, but try getting close to a nearby object, a big rock perhaps, that leaves some room between there and the edge of the canyon in our case, with the vastness of the canyon beyond. Viola! Strong foreground, middle ground and background.
Another secret when shooting any wide view is to NOT put the horizon in the center of the picture. This brings us to, “The Rule of Thirds.” The rule of thirds has been around since the Egyptians built the pyramids and it basically works like this. Imagine drawing two lines horizontally across your picture dividing it into equal thirds. Then draw two more lines vertically in equal thirds, sort of like a tic-tac-toe board. The rule basically states that objects placed at the intersections of two lines are visually more appealing than that elsewhere in the frame, especially in the center. So in our landscape example, placing the horizon on the upper line horizontally does make it visually more interesting. By and large this works MOST of the time. Here’s my general rule about landscapes and where to place the horizon: if the sky is sort of blah, place the horizon on the top vertical line. If the sky is more interesting than the landscape, put the horizon on the lower vertical line. These rules also works well with flowers, buildings and even people, but take note; if you’ve placed a person on the left side vertical, make sure they are facing a little towards the right side vertical and not the other way around or it will appear as though they’re “looking outside the frame.”
But what often makes the more compelling picture is in the details. Find a small detail and focus in on that. It really gets back to the start of this blog. Slowing down, REALLY looking at the world, and pointing out a new way of looking at something to the viewer.
In part two of taking better pictures, we will focus on technical ways of getting the shot. Spoiler alert! Tri-pods!
Yours in shutter tripping…