We all get lucky sometimes, it’s a part of life. And some people are certainly luckier than others it seems, but depending on luck to get you through life really isn’t a great idea — for many, many reasons. Relying on luck won’t make you a great photographer either. In fact, such an approach won’t even make you a mediocre photographer — you will simply forever be a lucky gal or guy with a camera.
It is my assumption that one of the reasons people even bother to read photography related blogs and websites is to learn how to improve their own photography in some way; you can learn about composition and shutter speed and depth of field; you can discover new post processing techniques; you get ideas about places to visit and subjects to shoot. All of these things can be highly beneficial.
But before you ever get to off-camera flash techniques, you’ve got to have some sort of philosophy of why you pick up your camera in the first place. You need to be aware of the things that spiral around in your brain while peering through the viewfinder. When you look at great photographs, you can see that there was a reason why those shots were taken. Those shots have purpose. They aren’t the products of dumb luck.
If you want to start capturing great images on purpose, the next time you’re spending time with your camera think about the following questions before you click the shutter.
Could you capture the shot from a different angle?
A fresh perspective can easily expand the impact your image has on the viewer. It’s a natural habit to photograph everything from eye level; we do it without thinking, we take the shot and move on. But take a moment to consider the possibility of shooting your intended subject from above or from ground level. A change in perspective could completely alter the way your image is interpreted by the viewer.
What message/story are you attempting to communicate?
Obviously there was something about the scene or subject you are in the midst of photographing that struck you to begin with — make sure you convey that in your shot. Use exposure, framing, subject isolation, composition to explain why you’re capturing the image and what it means to you. Even when you’re telling someone else’s story, you’re also making it your story to some extent.
Are there any distracting elements present?
If there are, they almost always show up in the background. Of course there are circumstances when you won’t be able to do much about it, but it’s always good practice to quickly scan the area directly behind your subject and determine if there is too much clutter or unwanted elements of any kind. Might as well run the same check on the foreground, too.
What is the anchor point of your shot?
If you can identify ahead of time what you want this point to be — the focal point that will initially draw the viewer in — you can put your compositional skills to work to decide on the strongest placement within the frame. You might also use size, depth of field, or shape to further enhance your focal point.
How’s your framing?
This is easy to overlook, especially when doing something like street photography where everything happens so quickly, but pay attention to how you’re holding your camera. When everything and everyone in the frame is leaning to one side, you either need to rethink your use of the dutch angle or start holding your camera straight.
Should you change the orientation of the shot?
Here, again, we’re dealing with something that is a matter of habit: vertical orientation versus horizontal orientation. We all have a preference with this — probably a very strong preference, which is fine. But while you’re checking to make sure your camera is straight as per the previous suggestion, try changing up the orientation. Like changing perspective, changing orientation can have an incredible visual impact on your image.
How’s the exposure working for you?
Of course, if the shot is too dark or blown out then it’s not going to be of much use to you; but you don’t always have to abide by what the camera tells you to do. I know we’re accustomed to talking about exposure as being either “good” or “bad”, “correct” or “incorrect,” but exposure should be an extension of your creative vision, not just some set of numbers arbitrarily cast upon you by a camera.
It’s unreasonable — or unlikely, at least — that you would go through each of these questions every time you pick up your camera; but if you keep a different one of them in mind each time you shoot, before long the whole process will become second nature.
Q: Who wants to be a professional photographer?
A: Everyone who owns a camera.
Okay, that answer might be a bit hyperbolic, but sometimes it really does seem that way; there are so many people — photographers and non-photographers alike — who harbor some rather fantastical ideas about how easy it is to become a professional photographer.
You’ve got a nice camera and a business card. You’re all set!
Hardly. Although plenty of pros have started out with not much more than a camera and a few clients, they quickly realized that the greater challenge was to turn it all into a gainful endeavor. There are any number of things that might conspire to contribute to how successful, or unsuccessful, anyone’s photography business becomes. As with anything in life, there are no guarantees.
But if attitude and perception play any kind of role in determining success or failure, it’s time for people to re-think some things; things that would-be professionals think about the business, and things that non-photographers think about professional photographers. Myths and misconceptions abound on both ends. Let’s discuss some of them.
There are enough myths and misconceptions out there to fill several books. The ones listed here aren’t intended to discourage anyone or to point fingers at anyone who may have ever bought into such a mindset — these things aren’t true 100% of the time for 100% of people. But they are common enough to warrant a discussion. Awareness benefits everyone.
With all the cool technology spiraling around us, it is incredibly easy to get caught up in the numbers and specs of our favorite gadgets and devices. Moreover, we seem to always want the newest and the fastest of everything, standing on the flimsy rationale that they will make our lives so much better in every way imaginable.
For photographers, this rationale is a distraction at best, a monolith of an obstacle at worst. If you are unhappy with or uninspired by the photographs you are currently producing, the answer is not to buy new stuff; that will only serve to lighten your pockets, while providing no real solution to your ordeal. So, if your ultimate goal is to create photos that you (and your audience) truly enjoy, photos that grab the attention of all who view them, photos that encourage more than a passing glance, then learning to “see” may just be the shot in the arm that you need as a photographer.
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