Developing a “Photographic Eye”
Photography in many ways is an artform. I find this to be true the more time I spend in honing this craft. Sure in one sense photography can be as simple as taking “snapshots” of the scene you want to capture without putting a whole lot of thought into the photo, and many are content with that level of photography.
What I want to share here though are a few things to keep in mind if you want to take a bit more time and effort in “composing” a photo, which is really more the mindset to be in if you want to take better photos. The tips I offer here are fairly basic and can be implemented with pretty much any camera you may have.
I am primary a nature photographer, so it is with this in mind that I write this article.
Photography literally means “writing with light”, so becomes easy to see that lighting can make or break a photo. Cloudless blue sunny sky is wonderful weather for being outside, but at the same time it makes for lousy photography lighting conditions. This is due to the fact that there is a high contrast between bright light and dark shadows. This type of situation is almost impossible to expose evenly unless you start getting into some fancy filters. If you set your exposure for the sky, your ground areas will be dark. If you expose your photo for the ground, your sky will be overexposed.
Unique lighting situations can offer up some really great photo opportunities; making what could be an otherwise bland landscape into a truly memorable photo.
Sometimes it takes awhile to get just the right lighting to highlight what you want. This is where patience and waiting for that right moment comes into play. Some of my favorite times for photos are during and after storms, as well as the “golden hours” of the warm, low lighting provided by sunrises and sunsets. A sky with broken cloud, like the photo on the left, also provides some great unique lighting opportunity. The photo on the right was taken just after a storm, and just before sunset.
Photos themselves are 2 dimensional, but with some good composition, you can give your photo a lot more depth of field. This can be a difficult thing to master, but patience and taking the time to study your subject before taking the shot can really go a long way.
All of these above shots involved using a fair bit of Depth of Field, or a combination of subjects that are both close and far away. One of the tricks is to make your picture naturally “flow” from one part of the photo to another. All of the above photos tend to “flow” from right to left. Good photo composition takes into account where your eyes will naturally gravitate first within the photo, then where they will go from there.
Generally it's a good idea to practice using the manual settings on your camera if you have that option. This way you have control over things like shutter speed, aperture, and even your ISO settings. Explaining this stuff is a bit more technical than what I want to deal with in this article, but basically the larger number that you have your aperture set, the more everything stays in focus. This is particularly important when your photo involves subjects that are both close and far away and you want everything to remain in focus.
A higher ISO, like in film, allows more light sensitivity, but at the same time can also produce digital noise, or a grainy appearance in your picture. Higher numbered apertures, or “F-stops” lets less light into your lens, so lower shutter speeds or a higher ISO setting has to be used to compensate. Ah the balancing act can get tricky!
You've probably heard about the “rule of thirds” in photography. Basically what this means is that you want the important elements in your photo to be where where these “one third” lines intersect:
Some cameras even have these lines on the viewfinder. This isn't a hard and fast rule, but it is a good rule of thumb to start with.
Using contrast in photos is kind of a combination of lighting and composition, but using contrasting colour can offer some really cool photos.
Contrasting colours can really make your subject stand out. This is where the vibrant fall colours or spring flowers can be a lot of fun. Even contrasts such as dead snags and live trees or other such natural “opposites” can really add to a photo.
Finally, take time to have a good look at other people's photos to see what works and what doesn't. There's some great websites that offer opportunity for you to post your favorite photos for critiquing, as well as opportunity for you to critique other people's photos. This can be a great learning experience as long as you are teachable and don't mind honest opinions.
One of my favorite sites for posting and critiquing photos is at http://www.treknature.com.
This is a free website and is aimed at nature photographers.
Photography can be as casual or as serious as you want it to be. The main thing is to get out have fun, and be creative!