Photo Tips

How to Take Better Photographs

Cloudy Afternoon - Hahoe, South Korea

Cloudy Afternoon – Hahoe, South Korea

I’m often asked about my photography techniques. Though impossible to detail on a single page, here is an overview of the three Cs of photography.

Control
Control means control of light, as controlling the amount of light you let into you lens determines the appearance and mood of your photo.  Photographing in low light enables far greater control – thus one hour either side of sunrise and sunset are ideal to practice your control craft.  Using reflected light (not direct light) coming through an open window or bouncing off walls whilst the subject is in shade is excellent for portraits.

Light control is mainly achieved through different aperture or shutter lengths. I usually choose aperture and allow the camera to decide shutter speed. If the speed is too slow, I increase the ISO until it is possible to photograph without camera shake – or use a tripod. An easy way to control light is exposure compensation. Step processes (0.3, 0.5, 1.0) may be too large but some photographic software allows you to change by margins as little as 0.01.

You can use graduated filter settings to darken skies in post-processing. However, using graduated filters at the time of the shoot looks more balanced and is more versatile than computer software. Try neutral density filters, for they give great flexibility in bright conditions.

Regardless of what camera type you purchase, if you are serious about photography ensure it allows manual alterations of aperture, shutter speed, exposure, and ISO.  Also choose a camera that shoots RAW, its post-processing options are far more comprehensive compared to JPEG.

Composition
Less can be more with photography. One person may have more impact than a crowd, and one tree may be more effective than a forest.  Does something in the frame distract from the subject – bright object, garbage, tree branches behind a person’s head, cluttered background – the list is endless. If so, find a different perspective or zoom to remove unwanted distractions.

A popular photographic rule is to position a major point of interest away from the centre – a third of the way in from top, bottom, left or right – hence the name given to this practice – the rule of thirds.  You don’t need to follow this every time, but it is helpful in the majority of cases.

Try different perspectives, especially with wide-angle photography.  A few steps forward, back, left, right, squatting or going higher will make an immense difference to your final image.

Remember depth (foreground, middle and background) as it gives the viewer the feeling of literally walking into a picture.  If applying this technique, use a small aperture (f11) instead of a larger one (f5.6) for greater focal range.

Digital technology allows you to take many photos and easily discard the unacceptable ones. Take multiple images, review them at home afterwards; analyse why you like one photo and why not another.

Connection
The secret ingredient in photography. There are brilliant photographers in the world (many far better than me) and their images are extremely beautiful technically but a number take photographs that are clinical and cold.

Take time to connect with the people you are photographing. Sit down, have a conversation. Don’t initially ask to photograph, find out some information about the person or people you are talking with and engage with them before making the request. By requesting to take a photo you will not always be granted permission, but the quality of your images will be far superior.

With any location, take time to sit and absorb its ambience and try to connect with it before raising your camera to start shooting. Ask yourself how a locale makes you feel and try to capture that feeling in your images.

Connect with people and places and your photos will contain a warmth that is difficult to describe but easy to discern.

The Art of Photography
In the darkroom days, it could take hours to correctly expose, colour balance, dodge or burn one image (the last two change the light intensity in a portion of the photo). Due to equipment, time, and chemical smell that came from mastering the Art of the Darkroom, it dissuaded many adherents. Thus, one had to heavily rely on getting the image right at the time of capture – the Art of Photography.

The use of computer technology means that these darkroom modifications can be achieved in seconds instead of hours.  It is a wonderful revolution for photographers, but its ease has caused an overreliance on the Art of Digital Processing.

If you are serious about photography, be careful of being seduced too much by the Art of Digital Processing. The time spent in attempting to master digital post-processing techniques is more productively and better spent in the field perfecting your photography skills.

If you rely on computer software to alter your image from something average to a thing of beauty, you have mastered the Art of Digital Processing, not the Art of Photography – and this latter Art is the more difficult and infinitely more satisfying to master.