Sunday, April 09, 2006

Improving photographs

click photo to enlarge
Does the enthusiastic amateur photographer - the person who wants to do a bit more than take family and holiday snaps - read books these days? It's been pointed out on the photography forums that asking basic questions on the internet seems, for many, to have replaced reading the camera manual. But, in many of the shots I see posted on forums, there is a similar lack of understanding about the fundmaental elements that make a good photograph. A short article like this is not the place for a basic primer in photography, so I'll restrict myself to a few thoughts that have come to mind as I've looked at some people's work.

Less is more. Many shots include too much information, and therefore convey very little. Two pieces of advice that invariably improve a photograph are: get closer, and be selective. From what I see, the simplest thing that most people wanting to improve their photographs can do is halve the distance between the camera and the subject! The next is to forget trying to include all of a subject, be it a ship, a beach, the view from a high building, or whatever, and select a part of what you see. This part should be visually interesting and expressive of the whole.

Decide what your photograph is about. One of the commonest holiday snaps has a distant person against a scenic background.These record a person at a place, but rarely work as photographs. So, decide whether you are photographing a person or a place, and give emphasis to one or the other - don't try and make one photograph do two jobs because it usually ends up doing both badly.

The light is everything - use it. The standard advice used to be to take photographs with the sun behind you. Better advice is to have the light to the left or right of your subject to model it better by giving shadows. The other problem with light behind you is that it throws the photographer's shadow into the image in evening shots. So, today's post is one that emphasises that rules are made to be broken! This block of flats by the River Thames in London has my wife's, my son's and my own shadow at the bottom left, with the sun illuminating the scene like a floodlight. It isn't the greatest shot ever, but I think it works despite (and in the case of the shadows, because of) these faux pas.
photograph & text (c) T. Boughen