In the previous post I talked about the Rule of Thirds to quickly and efficiently help you improve your photography.
In this section I'm going to talk about another very important technique you need to remember EVERY TIME you take a photo. This technique also comes with a free extra bonus so read on :)
1) THE RULE OF THIRDS:
Read this article.
2) KNOW YOUR SUBJECT:
This seems obvious but it is also one of the main reasons many people shoot photos that are dull and uninteresting.
A camera cannot always capture an image exactly in the way we see it with our eyes.
Take a moment to understand and accept this statement because this is the heart of bad photography! This statement literally rules photography.
A few years ago I went to the Italian lakes for a holiday and stopped in a town called Gandria for a picnic, on the northern shore of Lake Lugano. It is a beautiful picturesque small town with a tiny harbour. The view in front of me was exceptional, breathtaking! All my senses were aroused. I was standing on this small wooden pier. The village was on my left with those colourful old stone houses with a few steps going into the water. The lake was right in front of me with green hills on either side, like they'd been pushed aside by two gigantic hands. In the background I could see the very imposing Alps with white snow caps. It was June and I could feel the heat of the summer on my skin, I could smell the Italian food from the restaurant nearby and hear the birds singing. I was on holiday, the weather was amazing and I was happy. It was a 360° experience. The scene in front of me was grand! So beautiful. Amazing. Of course I took a tone of pictures.
When I went back home and sorted my photos out I had the worst feeling when I looked at the images of Lake Lugano in Gandria. The composition was fine and the elements were all there. But it was dull. Uninspiring. Small.
There is a simple explanation for that. When you look at photos on your computer, tablet or phone, the photos are small, you are not on holiday, the images are 2D with no depth or dimension, there is a border that stops your eyes wandering too far, there is no Italian food cooking nearby, the birds are not singing Pavarotti, the leaves are not rustling, the Alps look like a blown out white dot that is more distracting than appealing. It's a mess. A disappointing mess!
So, remember: A camera cannot always capture what your eyes see.
Practice, of course, will help you see like a camera. But still today, I manage to take lots of bad photos too. So don't be afraid of taking dull images. It also happens to experience photographers. They just don't share them.
But there is a technique that can help you take better images. The problem with my Italian lake example is that I tried to put everything in one frame. Big mistake!! The colourful stone houses were one subject. The Alps were one subject. The harbour was one subject. The lake was one subject. Everything was the main subject so, consequently, everything became secondary. There was no ONE main subject. All the elements were competing with one another.
The art of photography is the art of sacrifice.
You have to sacrifice certain elements to emphasise the right subject. There was no way in this case that I could give each element its real value and importance. I should have sacrificed certain elements, make a choice, decide what I wanted to be the main subject.
When you next take your camera and point it towards a scene, stop for a moment and think about what you like about it.
What makes you want to take a photo?
Is it the light on an object, is it a building, is it a colour, pattern? What is it? Try to explain to yourself what it is that attracts you. Use words.
Somebody once said if you can't explain something clearly and simply then you don't properly understand it. I can't remember who it was (and it definitely wasn't my mathematics teacher) but the idea is that it is easy to take your camera and point and shoot at a scene in front of you without really understanding what excites you about it. And this will be a snapshot, a factual recording of something in front of you. But it won't be attractive nor will it be giving an emotional trigger to your viewer. And if you want people to look at your hundreds of holiday photos then you need to make them interesting.
Know your subject. Be able to describe it.
But then what do you do?
This is when the bonus comes into the game.
De-clutter! And move in close. When you know what your subject is, fill the frame with it. Change the angle, walk around it and make it your main subject. Fill the frame with your subject. It is better to take 2 or 3 photos with one subject in each frame then take one photo with all your subjects in it. They will lose their interesting aspect.
It is not uncommon to have a primary and a secondary subject but your viewer needs to know which is what.
By de-cluttering the scene you help make your subject stand out.
As I've said it before the best way to learn photography is to look at photos and understand how they were created:
Getting closer to your subject will trigger a better emotional response. Above, I de-cluttered the scene and the background so my subject is clear. I still took the bigger picture (below right) including the field, the fence and all the other sheep but the photo is not as striking.
You can see three very different photos of the same subject, above and below. Which is more striking? The one with the de-cluttered background above? The yellow shrub was beautiful in real life but looks terrible in the photo below. My eyes didn't see the background because my brain decided it wasn't important. All I could see was this powerful and bright yellow but it made an appalling photograph. Instead, I used the contrast with the sky to create a simple, de-cluttered background.
Above: I could have photographed the fountain from a wider angle but instead I decided to take 3 close up shots.