Having a great camera can help get a good quality image but it’s largely useless without the skill of the photographer using it.
The best way to do this is to train yourself to see as a camera does and so learn to speak the language of Image.
So, to make this fun, let’s pretend we’re a camera!
(remember pretending you were a tree in drama classes?)
Then we must temporarily forget the purpose and meaning of the subject and see it just in terms of Design, Light, colour and perspective. (remember: we’re acting!)
Firstly, before we start this the best question you can ask yourself is. ‘What am I trying to achieve with this photograph?’ Or to put it another way.’ What emotion am I trying to give the viewer?’
This will help you focus your purpose and keep you motivated.
Ok, let’s look a bit closer at the 4 groups we just mentioned.
Another name for this is composition, which just means the subjects arrangement of components like Mass, light and Colour.
Ask yourself where the focal point or ‘centre of interest’ should be: in the middle, the side higher, lower? The more central the placement the more static the composition, more off centre = more dynamic.
The overall question is: What placement would best express the subject? This obviously depends on what you’re trying to achieve
Forget for the moment that the subject has any depth (this may be easy to do with some people!) and try and see it as flat, as it will look on the print or on the screen.
The easiest way to do this is use one eye, which changes your normal stereoscopic vision into glorious monoscopic vision which is how a camera sees (this is method acting!)
Looking at things this way will highlight things you wouldn’t normally see: a tree that seemed safely behind your model may now seem to grow out of his/her head, or another part of the background will now seem more prominent thus either weakening or strengthening the impression of the picture.
Analyze the subjects design in terms of shapes and masses. Does it consist of a few large forms and many smaller shapes? Is there a pattern to the shapes which can give order or graphic interest to the composition?
What are the dominant forms? Vertical shapes? Horizontal shapes? Irregular shapes? Is there a form that can be used as the backbone of the over all design which other shapes can be formed around to make a self contained design?
Phew! Well it all sounds like hard work doesn’t it but like anything new the more you practise it, the easier and more natural it becomes.
The best way is to start with simple forms like a leafless tree against and empty sky.
Remember, we’re not looking at the tree, more at its design and of course with so many different types of tree, they all have their own design.
The word photography literally means light drawing, so this shows us that light is pretty important to the process!
The two main points here are quantity and quality
Quantity of light is simply noticing is there enough light in the scene to achieve a correct exposure, or is there enough light to make a hand held exposure at a shutter speed short enough to keep the camera from shaking and blurring the picture.
Most Photographers will think in this way and then just shoot, which is fine. But we are learning to look at things like an artist and create and compose a picture with finesse, meaning and to have maximum visual and emotional impact.
So to see light like a real photographer we need to be asking questions like: Is the intensity of light high, medium or low? Is the source of light from a hard spotlight or widely diffused? Is it direct or reflected? What colour is the light? Is the light source static and constant or variable and changing?
The answers to these questions will determine whether we need to introduce more light to achieve the desired look or can we shape/control the existing light. (This will be discussed in a later post!)
The quantity of light = exposure. The quality = mood
If the quality doesn’t match the quantity then not even perfect exposure will make a picture ‘good’.
In photography there isn’t really such a thing as true colour, as all colours change in the colour of the incident light, which is the light falling directly on to the subject from the source, light coming off the subject is known as reflected light and can be quite different.
Colour may be unusual but it is rarely unnatural. For example if you photograph a person beneath a big tree with light filtering through the leaves, the subject’s face may appear green or if the subject was a white horse taken in the shade of barn and the sky is blue, the horse will have a blue cast to it.
A blue horse? Is this unnatural? No just the way that we see light.
So as light and colour are so entwined the same rule holds true for both. Quality and quantity are two different aspects to be aware of.
Whilst big bold colours (quantity) provide impact and are used to great effect in advertising, paying attention to the quality of colour will really add finesse and mood to your pictures.
Magic hour is the term used to describe the quality of natural light that can be found around sunrise and sunset and indeed some photographers and cinematographers will go to great lengths to ensure that they work with this superior quality such is its influence on the image.
The way we see things is not always as they really are.
The two best examples of this are converging lines and verticals
Look down a rail track for example and you will see the lines appear to meet in the distance, this is obviously not reality or we would have some serious problems with trains!
Also when we look at a tall building, the vertical lines seem to get closer as they get higher, this isn’t reality again it’s a matter of perspective.
Perspective can also be altered by using different lenses. A wide angle lens will create a distortion where certain points will appear elongated where as with a telephoto lens the effect is that distance between subjects is flattened
Whether such perspective is considered a fault depends upon the intent of the photographer and the purpose of the picture. What matters here is that the Photographer is aware of this and learns to recognise it in reality before actually taking the picture so he/she can use it to good advantage or avoid it.
This is particularly relevant when shooting professionally things that are one-shot deals, like weddings, parties and other special events which may be impossible to recapture.
Another perspective phenomenon is scale. How many times have you taken or seen a landscape photograph that just looks, small!?
This is because the photographer has forgotten that in reality, they experience the landscape in relation to themselves- a small human surrounded by immensity. As a result their experience has scale but the photograph is without an indicator of scale.
The simple solution – include a human figure or two in the picture placed far enough into the picture to appear small would more accurately depict the awesomeness of a the landscape. Without this indicator of scale the landscape, or any other large object appears no larger than the paper or screen that it’s viewed on.
So, start looking at the world through a different lens, experiment with these four things and soon you’ll be not just taking snaps but great photographs.