Shoot what you love. What fascinates you? It could be anything: children, your garden, nature, faces, places, rundown buildings….. What subject matter can you bring your passion and heart to? See what other photographers are doing with your subject. Are they doing something wonderful with color, or light, or an amazing composition? Not that you want to copy their work, but allow it to inspire you. You can take an element of how they shoot and use it in your work. So maybe they always shoot at Magic Hour when the light is very low contrast and the colors are subtle and vibrant. Or maybe there’s something about how they frame their subject that’s intriguing. It’s standing on the shoulders of those who came before us that allows us to create something better.
You Need Light
Photography is a light-capturing medium. Cameras are light-capturing devices. Light can be a wonderful component of your photography. The study of light is a vast topic. Learning the five qualities of light
is a great starting place. Learn how to see light, how it defines, shapes, and colors your subject. This can be a powerful tool to draw upon in the images you make. Not all photographers are into light. Henri Cartier-Bresson, one of the most important photographers in the history of photography, famously said, “I don’t care about light. I never think about it.” Perhaps that’s true, but if you look at his pictures, the light he uses doesn’t ruin his shots. So he knew very well what nice light was and his work shows that.
To illustrate, one of the biggest points is hard light verses soft light. Direct mid-day sunlight creates hard, dark shadows and harsh, shiny spots called specular highlights. It’s terrible for a face. To me it feels stark, cold and mean. Not bad perhaps, if you have a subject that you want to feel stark and contrasty. Surely, many photographers love the hard, high-contrast light, with it’s deep shadow and screaming highlights.
Here’s an assignment: Take someone out at 12-noon and shoot them in the direct sun, and then in the shade. I think you’ll see the difference. When you shoot inside, go to a window and use that soft diffused light to shoot portraits, or a still life. At the end of the day, the light is low to the horizon and often a warmer color. This can be very nice for a portrait. When you are shooting with available light, different times of day will give very different looks to your lighting.
Frame It Well
How you frame your subject is a very important component of how you take great photos. Composition is an unavoidable part of photography. How you organize the content of your frame matter big time. What do you want in? What do you want out? It’s all about organizing “what” in your view finder. Are you paying attention? Once I took a shot of a bride with the men’s room sign behind her. Oops. Another time, I took a family portrait and somehow managed not to notice that I’d perfectly lined moose antlers behind Dad’s head! The kids thought it was pretty funny, however Dad didn’t laugh. So live and learn; I never made those mistakes twice. There’s a big dose of common sense to this. You have a subject and they are in an environment. Do they make sense together? Does the background add to your shot? Is the background interesting or beautiful? Does it have great colors or shapes? This is some of the logic of good composition.
Once you have found your great subject, put them in great light and framed them well, only now are you ready to take the picture. Timing is everything.
The Decisive Moment is a term associated with Henri Cartier-Bresson
. He is an historic figure in photography and acknowledged for the birth of street photography. He brought to photography this concept of the perfect moment, when all the elements of your image align to perfection. Bresson’s work often has these uncanny, seemingly impossible moments that suggest a compelling story. You’ll see see great light, composition and moment in all of his pictures. He has great subjects; the light is soft, usually; his compositions are geometrically perfect and his moments are miraculous.
So when you have a living, moving subject, like people, timing is critical and you need to bring a focused awareness to your subject’s body language, facial expression and how they fit into the background. It’s a tall order. Take a lot of shots. Work it, baby. If you have a static subject, like a building or landscape, then you don’t have a moment so much. Your timing element is the time of day when the light is great on your subject. At times like this, you might have a fast-moving weather event that could give a timing component to your motionless subject.
The study of how to get great light, composition and the moment is endless, and central to how you take a great photo. I’ll be giving some easily digestible ideas on these topics throughout the site as time goes on. I’m also teaching an in-depth class on this through Philadelphia Photo Arts Center
, or you can schedule directly with me. Contact me at email@example.com