10 Small Things that Make a Big Difference in Your Photos
I was watching my students at a recent workshop for emerging hobbyists. Walking around with the group, I noticed some images that they just walked past. In one instance, I saw a leaf no bigger than the diameter of a 50mm lens, perched precariously on an old piece of wood, with afternoon light making beautiful shadows across the dried up leaf. My students walked past it. It got me thinking how differently you see, after you learn how to see images. There were some behaviors that I knew I would do, which I noticed my newbie class did not.
Little behaviors can make a difference in what the lens captures.
When youâ€™ve been making images for a while, there are a few things you forget you learned, to make your photos better. These little things might make a big difference in the way your photographs turn out.
1. Large scenes are the first things we see, but donâ€™t forget the small details.
Itâ€™s easy to see everything in a scene, all at once. Itâ€™s harder, and more beneficial, to zoom into a more limited space around the object, and capture that. Often, details within a scene make for better compositions because you have one focal point of interest and make it easier for the viewer to enter the image, and exit the image. The easier it is for the viewer to interact with your image, the better the experience for them.
2. Declutter the composition.
Decluttering the composition means including only the elements that you absolutely have to have in the image to make it work. It means excluding things that only serve to distract the viewer from the subject youâ€™re focusing on. Half the work of making an effective image is looking at the space around the subject. If this space is not interfering with the attention the subject is getting, it is probably going to be an effective photograph.
3. Move in small steps around the subject.
Itâ€™s easy to get distracted and make dramatic sweeps around a subject. But it is more effective to take small steps around the subject to see the changes in the light and how a slightly different point of view would alter the resulting photograph. Moving in small steps allows you to get used to noticing nuance in your imageryâ€”those small things that might make an image tell a more compelling story.
4. Look for the light.
Light can make the difference between a snapshot and a stunner. Often, we are dazzled by the content of a shotâ€”whatâ€™s in the picture. A funny looking dog, a beautifully rusty car, a cultural moment that seems mysterious. But these situations can be more beautiful if we find them in good light. Conversely, a mundane situation can actually be stunning when it is lit well. Since we most often encounter ordinary scenes (unless we are NatGeo photogs on assignment), we need to look for the light to make our ordinary scenes look extraordinary in our images.
5. Look for naturally-occurring frames.
There are elements everywhere that naturally frame a shot. Walls, doorways, foliage, and other objects around us often can serve as natural frames for our shots. Looking for these frames can give your photos depth, making your composition look three-dimensional.
6. Donâ€™t forget to look up.
Itâ€™s easy to keep your eyes in front of you, looking ahead. But the thing is, you will find some images are hiding above your head. Donâ€™t forget to look up once in a while on your search for things to photograph. You never know what you might find.
7. Keep your eyes focused on the subject while taking the picture.
Slight movement of the camera while it records the image on the sensor can result in blurry photos. Aside from learning a breathing technique and how to hold your camera properly, something you can practice is how to keep your eyes focused on your subject, through the viewfinder, until the sensor has completely recorded the image (which is estimated to be around two heartbeats). This helps you get a sharp photo.
8. Be patient.
Sometimes it takes a long time to focus a lens, or to finally get the one shot that will work. Be patient. I tell myself, Just because you show up with your lens doesnâ€™t mean the universe is miraculously going to arrange itself into glorious harmonies. Anything that made you stop and think of taking a shot is something worth waiting for.
9. Get to know your camera well.
Itâ€™s important to get to know your camera well. Which buttons and what they do and where they are, are things you need to know well so you can change settings quickly as you respond to changing light or changing vantage points. Being able to change settings without having to peer into the camera every time is an advantage.
10. Wake up early sometimes.
Photographers are crazy because we do anything to get a good shot. People get swept away in tsunamis, get knocked down by typhoons, and get hit by race cars because they are after a shot. Waking up early is less extreme, and itâ€™s something that you can do if you want to get some amazing shots and enjoy the soft light of the dayâ€™s beginning.
What advice would you give to an emerging hobbyist?
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