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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 you’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 don’t forget the small details.

It’s easy to see everything in a scene, all at once. It’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.

BW leaves copyright Aloha Lavina.

Walking closer and taking a detail of a scene can sometimes be better than the entire scene itself.

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 you’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.

Bhutan morning with mist and mountains copyright Aloha Lavina.

Simplify and make your composition cleaner.

3. Move in small steps around the subject.

It’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 imagery—those small things that might make an image tell a more compelling story.

Bicycle headlight copyright Aloha Lavina.

Walk around the subject slowly and learn to see small changes when you move the vantage point.

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 shot—what’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.

Novice watching television in Divine Madman Temple, Bhutan copyright Aloha Lavina.

Light can make the simple more attractive.

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.

Monk framed by doorway in Bhutan copyright Aloha Lavina.

Natural frames occur everywhere. Learn to see them and use them in your compo.

6. Don’t forget to look up.

It’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. Don’t forget to look up once in a while on your search for things to photograph. You never know what you might find.

lights in baskets copyright Aloha Lavina

Look up. Some photos are hiding above your head.

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.

Burmese dancers in Rangoon. Copyright Aloha Lavina.

Keep your eyes on the subject, and give the camera time to record a sharp image.

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 doesn’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.

dragonfly at rest copyright Aloha Lavina.

Patience is a great teacher.

9. Get to know your camera well.

It’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.

sunburst near Shwe Dagon Pagoda, Burma copyright Aloha Lavina.

Know your camera well, and catch a lot of shots you might miss by peering into camera controls too often.

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 it’s something that you can do if you want to get some amazing shots and enjoy the soft light of the day’s beginning.

Monk and alms giver in Ampawa Thailand copyright Aloha Lavina.

Wake up early and capture a surreally softly lit world.

What advice would you give to an emerging hobbyist?

_________________
Welcome back and thanks for reading Imagine That!

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About Aloha

I am a photographer and writer currently based in Bangkok, Thailand. My work has appeared in CNNGo, Canon's PhotoYou magazine, Seventeen magazine, The Korea Times, Thailand Tatler, and a few photography books including recently Blogging for Creatives, a book published in the UK. I believe there is nothing you cannot imagine that you cannot do.

16 Responses to “10 Small Things that Make a Big Difference in Your Photos”

  1. Look at lots of photographs by good photographers. Then look at some more. Keep looking. When you see images you like, try to say (in your own mind, or out loud to someone else) what it is about the image that makes it work for you.

  2. I find your first point and the leading story really interesting personally. As I am legally blind with tunnel vision and night blindness, I never actually see the big scenes with my own eyes. So I can only ever appreciate the beauty via the smaller details within my tunnel of vision. With a wide angle lens, I can actually discover more of what a fully sighted person sees. Sometimes I photograph to show my perspective and other times I’m photographing to see! Love all of your points in this article!

    [WORDPRESS HASHCASH] The poster sent us ‘0 which is not a hashcash value.

  3. Hi Ammgramm, Yes! It’s a great way to train the eye to see harmony, everything coming together at the same time. I like your advice “Keep looking.” It’s so important to just enjoy good imagery.

  4. Hi Lucent Imagery, Wow. Your story is amazing. It’s so hard to imagine what it must be like for vision to barrel like you’re always looking through a telephoto. I like what you said about “other times I’m photographing to see.” Would you share some of your photos sometime? Thanks.

  5. One thing I try to remember is to find the unusual angles, get down on the floor or go high up. If you are taking a photo of a flower don’t stand over it, get down to the same level of the flower etc. The picture will seem more interesting since it is not the normal way you would see the world.

  6. Hello! You said it better than could so this post is now mentioned in my blog! Thanks for this!

  7. Hi Magnus, thanks for the great tip! It also works well when photographing children–always better to be on eye level with kids.

  8. Hi Fie, thanks for mentioning this post in your blog! I’m going over there to check it out…Cheers!

  9. Thank you for your kind words! I’m not sure if you’ve visited my blog, but I share my photos on there a couple of times a week. I sometimes write about my eyes and challenges etc too. I’m honoured that you would like to see my images. I don’t want to seem spammy but here’s my link incase the comment one doesn’t work. http://www.lucentimagery.com/ and the post where I went into more detail about my vision loss http://www.lucentimagery.com/index.php/2011/05/12/my-eyes/

  10. Extremely helpful tips. Thank you

  11. Thank you for this excellent post.

    I’ve reposted it on my blog today as an inspiration for others. http://saarimner.com/2011/09/30/great-post-of-10-small-things-make-a-big-difference-photo/

    Thanks for sharing!

  12. Definitely helps an image when the composition is simplified!

  13. Wow Lucent Imagery – I admire your talent, and your outlook. I checked out your link and your photos are beautful.

  14. Thank you DWP! Really appreciate you popping by.

  15. Really great points. Encourages me to slow down and look more carefully. I think it’s true to get a photo from different angles, levels, and in different light. . .often the light can change dramatically just based on where you are standing. Thanks!

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