The Photo Continuum, and his gardening blog at bambutopia.blogspot.com.
In the 30+ years that I’ve been taking photos, I’ve made all the mistakes that can be made—many more than once. Eventually I came to realize that each mistake is an opportunity to get better. If you feel frustrated with your pictures, don’t beat yourself up. Instead, look at them calmly and try to figure out what exactly you don’t like. Then work on improving that particular area. The following tips should help you get images that you’re happy with, whether you’re a complete novice or have been taking photos for a while.
Pick a subject.
This may sound redundant but a lot of photos don’t have a real focal point. If your viewers don’t know what to look at, their eyes will soon glaze over. Before pressing the shutter button, ask yourself: Why am I taking this picture? What is it that fascinates me in this scene? If you can’t answer these questions, chances are your photos won’t be of interest to others. As Ansel Adams once said, “There is nothing worse than a sharp image of a fuzzy concept.”
|Luna Park, Sydney, Australia|
Don’t center your subject.
Putting the focal point of your photo right in the center results in a symmetrical, balanced image—one that puts people right to sleep. Move your subject off center, even right into a corner. This will create visual tension and grab the viewer’s attention. And remember: This tip applies to both people and inanimate objects.
|Amargosa Opera House, Death Valley Junction|
Many photos do have an interesting subject but unfortunately it only occupies a small portion of the frame. Taking photos means being in motion. Don’t stand still like a signpost. Get up close with your subject—human or otherwise—or at least zoom in. Know that in many cases walking right up to a subject and using a wide-angle lens often creates a more dynamic composition than standing back and zooming in. In addition, zooming in, or using a telephoto lens, increases the risk of camera shake, even in spite of today’s image-stabilization technologies.
|Manzanar National Historic Site|
Change the perspective.
We’re used to seeing the world from eye level. To mix things up, lie down on your belly or climb onto a table or wall. You’ll be surprised by how different everything looks from down low or up high. The best photos show us the world from an unfamiliar perspective.
|Bondi Beach, Sydney, Australia|
Frame your scene.
In 1970s how-to manuals on landscape photography, there would always be a tree lurking somewhere in the corner to lead the viewer’s eyes into the scene. In spite of the cliché, this technique does have its merits. Anything near the edge of the frame that adds visual interest is a good thing. It could be an old lamp post when taking street photos in Paris or Prague; it could be the very edge of a neighboring building; or it could be a simple sign, as in the photo below.
I’m sure you’ve gone through your old photos and quickly realized that photos without people quickly become boring. I’m not even talking about people you know. What’s a beach photo with nobody in it? Or a nature trail without at least one hiker? People give photos a human dimension. Without that, even the most beautiful scene quickly becomes sterile, and we have a hard time emotionally connecting to the image.
Capture the light.
Photography literally means “writing with light”. To get stunning photographs, you have to know how to take advantage of the light. If at all possible, get up early to capture the magic light at dawn. And stay late for a repeat at dusk. I’m not talking just about sunrise and sunset proper; often the most beautiful color happens before sunrise and after sunset. Yes, photographers rarely get to sleep in and often they miss dinner, too.
|Devil's Golf Course, Death Valley National Park|
Use fill flash.
Unfortunately, when traveling it’s often impossible to wait around for the best light. Frequently you find yourself in a beautiful place in the middle of the day when the sun is directly overhead, casting harsh shadows. There’s little you can do as far as photographing buildings or natural scenes is concerned. However, you can greatly improve people pictures if you use flash. Yes, use flash even on a bright, sunny day, especially if your subject is positioned against a bright background like the sky. Invariably your camera will underexpose the photo so the person’s face is nothing but a dark blob. To prevent that, force your flash on (i.e. switch from “Auto” to “Manual”), or better yet, use fill flash if your camera has such a setting. The result will be a balanced image where both the subject in the foreground and the background are properly exposed.
|The Last Supper by Albert Szukalski, Rhyolite, Nevada|
Don’t be daunted by the information in this post. You don’t have to remember it all right away. Just focus on one or two of these areas at a time, and then go out and practice, practice, practice. Remember you don’t have to travel to exotic destinations to take memorable and meaningful photos!
Next week, Gerhard will be back with a travelogue and photos from his trip to Tasmania. We hope you will return to read all about his adventures and see how these photography tips work in the hands of a pro!