Thursday, April 13, 2006

Taking Better Photographs by Examining the Ones you Already Took

By Christina VanGinkel

Whenever I see a photo that makes me take a step back and say wow, how did they do that, I am one of those people who really want to know. Even amongst my own photographs, certain ones stand out from the others. There is a quality about them that makes me even ask myself just what I did different on those than I do when taking many of the other more mundane shots.
Some tips that I have gleaned from others and from my own photos are as follows:

Do not stage every photo. Sure, staging a shot has its purpose in the land of photography, but I would argue overall that the best shots taken by anyone are those that are snapped in the moment, when the subject least expected it, and with the smallest amount of warning possible.

Try different angles. Do not always shoot straight on. The angle at which a shot is taken can make a huge difference in the outcome. To experiment with this tip, choose a willing subject, and shoot it, him, or her, from several different angles so you can see with your own eyes how a different angle can have such a profound affect on a subject.

Know your subject and do not be afraid to use the zoom. Sure, the shot of a subject such as The Grand Canyon, or Pikes Peak might be encompassing a wide range of area, but even in a photo such as those, they are your subjects, so you will want landscape shots that encompass a wide area. At the same time, pick a subject, maybe a single flower in a field, or the top of the lighthouse, or your child's smile as he blows a bubble in front of it! Consider if you are snapping photos at a birthday party. Go ahead and snap a few wide shots, but then snap some of the partygoers up close. Pick a subject and snap. If you just take many photos of the group in general, you will miss chances to get some amazing shots of those people attending the party. Get up close and photograph your subjects, not just the party in general.

With the previous two tips in mind, be sure to consider the composition of the subjects. If you are wanting to take a picture of a lighthouse for example that is going to be worthy to hang on the wall, but all you have been able to end up with are ones that are barely good enough to develop, consider the placement, the composition of the subject. Try snapping the photo with the lighthouse off to one side, with another element (the bay, or a piling of rocks) off to the other side. Too often, we think we need to have the main subject in the middle of the picture, and this rarely works.

Lighting is as important as the subject of the photo is. The same scene can be stunning in the setting sun, and rather mundane in the light of day. Keep in mind that conditions such as clouds, fog, and storms, can all have effects on lighting.

My favorite photo of all time takes into account several of these tips all together. It is of my young grandson, when he still had a pacifier, and he could not find it. He had just stuck his thumb in his mouth, and was not sure if it was going to work like his beloved pacifier did. I had my camera in my hand, and just spontaneously called his name softly. As he looked up at me, thumb buried in his mouth, with eyes wide open in wonder both at the thumb and why Nana was calling his name, I snapped the photo. I was slightly above him and the sun was winding down for the day, offering softness to his features that would never have appeared under a glaring light. The soft light also contributed to him not squinting, at least in my opinion, and helped make the picture work as well as it did.

Study your pictures and ask yourself what might have been done differently to make a photo you like, be one that you love. You are your own best teacher, and with photography, simply opening your eyes, and acknowledging what works, and what does not, can be a significant step toward taking better photographs.

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