Have you ever stood next to someone as you both took a snapshot of the same subject, looked at their screen and wondered what the heck they did or why didn’t you think of doing that? Trust me, it happens more times than you would think, and it happens to the best of us. Taking a photo can be all about luck. Luck to be at a place or a moment or having the camera work just right, just having everything line up all at once if you’re really lucky. But if you leave it all to luck, as in life, your chances of getting lucky will be slim. Therefore, it pays dividends to increase your chances of getting lucky by understanding a few basics of how to be more in control of creating the image with your camera.
Image creation is different that just taking a photo. Ansel Adams famous quote, “You don’t take a photograph, you make it.” explains it best. Think of it this way. You can walk up to a scene and point the camera at it and get a photo, or you can take a moment and look around the area around you. What do you see that can be a foreground interest? Let’s say that you’re shooting Mount Hood, for instance. Many folks, I’m sure, point their cameras at the snow clad peak beyond, ignoring the rhododendron bush close by that would give the photos some scale and depth. Is there some sort of trail or an element that would make a lead in line. Perhaps a gateway of trees to frame the scene. Look around and find some components that, if you position yourself properly, will create a more thoughtful composition.
And then there’s photographing people in landscape and photographing landscapes with people. I tell landscape photographers to include someone in the photo. It gives the photo scale and perspective as well as allowing the viewer to create a story in their minds as they view the photo. Conversely, I tell photographers who photograph people to put the landscape in the photo. Create a compelling photo of a friend or family member of a great time or location by including the whole scene. Get close to your subject and use a fill flash if you need to to illuminate them, or have them walk off into the distance and stand on a rock using a noble adventurer stance, pointing off into the distance like Lewis and Clark or their arms thrust into the air air in triumph. It will add a dimension of emotion.
Now that we’ve discussed adding a subject to a scene, or adding a scene to a subject, let’s talk a bit about composition. I have an understanding of and yet an aversion to standards and rules. I understand how I can learn them and understand them but I love to break them. Learning compositional standards is learning the mechanics of art. Learning how to break them is when art happens in my opinion. In the beginning the first standard one learns in art is the rule of thirds. The rule of thirds dictates a few rules that I feel is always a good place to start, such as not centering your subject, putting the horizon on either a top third of the frame of the bottom third of the frame and, in some forms of interpretation, in no case shall you center your subject, to which I would reply never say never, ever. Although I may start with the rule, it typically stops once I put my subject off center, such as a person at the side of the frame as not to block the view of the of Mount Hood scene behind. At that time I will look to each side and up and down to position the frame to include everything that I want in the frame and excluding all that I don’t. Move in toward your subject or further away, zoom in or out. Try shooting lower or stand on something to put yourself higher. Picture your photo inside of a frame. Be creative.
Light is important when making a compelling image. Try to go out and get your shot either in the morning light or in the late afternoon when the light is less harsh and more warm. Mid day sunshine is the most challenging light to get a nice photo in. Don’t be afraid to photograph your subject into the light. If you’re photographing people, try filling them with a fill flash because they will be in their own shade, or put them in shade and do a nice fill flash. One thing that I rarely do is put my subject in a position where the sun is shining into their faces, primarily because they will be squinting their eyes, but their faces will be too bright in most cases. Use the light to your advantage but don’t fight it. If you have the ability to do so return under a nicer light.
You have a lot of options to be able to create an image. Don’t be afraid to experiment with some of your manual setting if you have them. It always pays to know your camera and to override the Automatic setting if it isn’t getting it right. Conversely, don’t be afraid of the Automatic settings. If your manual settings aren’t getting the shot, flip it over onto Automatic and give it a try. The last thing that you want to do is miss out on the photo by messing with camera settings.
The next time that you’re out with your camera consider what Ansel Adams said and make your photograph, don’t just take it. Create an image not just a snapshot, but whatever you do capture the moment.