5 Things You Can Do Immediately To Improve Your Photography (Without Spending A Single Cent)
Ever wanted a magical wand to automagically improve your photos? Wonder why your photographs of your wonderful holiday memories do little to evoke the awe and mood of the place? Here are 5 things you can do right away, with the next photo you take, that will improve your photography, and it does not involve spending money or buying more equipment. Banish the megapixel myth (of ‘more the merrier’) and read on…
Cyclist along the Han River | Seoul, Korea, 2008
NUMBER 1: KEEP HORIZONS LEVEL
One of the most annoying, distracting and amateur giveaway things you can do to your photographs is to have a slightly skewed horizon, we’re not talking about the dutch angle here, but a horizon that is just a few degrees off, especially if the horizon is a prominent part of the composition. It has the visual effect of ‘tipping’ the contents of the picture to one side and out of frame. Take a moment to check that your horizons are level and you are on your way to taking better photos.
NUMBER 2: GO CLOSER
The legendary photographer Robert Capa, co-founder of Magnum Photos was famed for saying, “If your picture isn’t good enough, you’re not close enough”. There are different schools of thought on this but for me, this statement excludes the use of long zooms (unless you are shooting wildlife), it mean physically moving your legs and getting yourself closer to the subject. This has the effect not only of physical proximity but also emotional proximity, the closer you get, the more you are required to engage with your subject, this is especially true of human subjects. Sniping away at people in the distance with a long zoom produces very different results from being close to the action and inside the physical and emotional space of your subject. So, when in doubt, go closer.
NUMBER 3: CHECK THE EDGES OF FRAME
Ever have a great photo ruined by half a leg sticking into one edge of your photo? Or a bright and distracting object in one corner of the picture drawing the eye away from your intended subject? Before firing off the shutter, have a quick scan around the edges of frame to make sure that all is well and nothing is happening there that will take away attention from your primary focus.
NUMBER 4: FIND A REASON TO BE TAKING THE PICTURE
This point is somewhat more philosophical, but photography is a conversation with your audience, its like words, just that its pictures. So randomly shooting away at everything without consideration is not-unlike some drunk at the bar at 10pm on a Thursday night ranting away at everyone and no one in particular. Is it the interesting shadows being cast that you are trying to capture? Or is it the grizzled old man with the colourful hat? Or the vista of the mountains being reflected off the still lake in front of you? What ever it is, anything else that does not add to the story, should not be in the frame, and a good photograph will manage to say multiple things to the viewer at once, but through it all, the photographer’s voice must be present, it is after all, your view of the world.
Early morning light at Lingyin Temple | Hangzhou, China, 2011
NUMBER 5: CONSIDER THE LIGHT
Photography in the Greek, is made up of Phos, “light” and Graphis, “stylus, paintbrush”, quite literally, Drawing with light. Quite rightly, light is a fundamental factor in photography. Not all light is equal, and light is not just exposure value. A property exposed photograph is not necessarily a well lit photograph. The quality of light is as important as the amount of light. For example, the diffused even light coming in from a window on an overcast day paints a very different mood from the light of the midday sun or the light being given off by a lone bulb hanging in a small room at night. The quality and direction of light is a huge factor in determining the mood of your photograph, and so bears consideration when framing up a shot. Move your subject (if possible) to a spot with more favourable lighting, or consider revisiting the spot at a different time of day for a different feel.
Photography, as with any other art form, is as much about rules as it is about breaking them, and the converse is true with all the points above (except maybe about the Light), and photographers who do the complete opposite of the 5 points above are also capable of producing beautiful photographs, but by and large, at least considering the points above will improve the majority of your photographs. There are so many websites on the internet filled to the rafters with gearheads, debating corner sharpness of lenses and MTF charts, granted good tools help an artist produce work more efficiently, but it is still fundamentally the person behind the camera that is responsible for creating the image. So, don’t worry about what camera you are shooting with, and if you don’t have a Leica Noctilux on hand, just go shoot with whatever camera you have on hand and produce some cracking work! At the end of the day, Ansel Adams wasn’t hampered in his work by the fact that his camera didn’t shoot 10fps, or that its handgrip wasn’t ‘ergonomic’ enough.
There is a vast difference between taking a picture and making a photograph.