You are standing there with you camera in your hand. In front of you is something you want to capture a picture of, maybe because is a memorable moment, maybe because is a beautiful panorama, maybe because it’s something that touches your heart, or maybe for a complete different reason. The question then is how can I get the best image out of whatever it is I want to photograph? Today it’s so easy with any camera to just raise it to your eye and let the camera do its thing. Push the button and think no more of it. Most likely the result will be correctly exposed and quite an OK picture.
But what if you want to get more than just an OK picture? If you want to make it into a personal statement? Make it interesting for others that don’t have memories associated with the moment of capture? Then you have to start making conscious decisions, and you have to put more of yourself into the picture capturing process. In so doing it might be useful to split the picture taking up into five different decisive components and look at them separately, assess each of them in order to make them as superior as possible. The five factors you can affect or change when taking a picture are the content, the light, the moment, the graphics and the point of view.
Let me quickly go through them. Content is everything – is something I always teach in my workshops. If the content is boring there is nothing you can do to make a picture interesting. The interesting thing, which I see again and again, is that nothing is really ever too boring to be photographed. What makes the difference is the photographer. If the subject engages the photographer, he or she will always be able to make a telling image out of it. If not – no way! You simply have to connect with your heart as I have talked much about on this blog before.
We all know that photography literally means to paint with light. Light is important; it sets the mood in a picture, creates depth and brings out the beauty in a subject. When you stand there in front of something you want to photograph, think about how it’s possible to improve the light in one way or another. Maybe just turning around to get the light from a different angel, or move the subject to another place with better light, add artificial light – or maybe wait till a better time of the day when for instance the sun is lower on the sky or it’s hidden behind a cloud.
There is always a moment when a picture comes together, when the composition and the content almost mysteriously reaches a higher level. It was the renowned photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson who came up with the phrase the decisive moment. He said «it is the simultaneous recognition, in a fraction of a second, of significance of an event as well as the precise organization of forms which gives that even its proper expression.» It’s easy to detect a moment in sports, for instance when a high jumper lays flat over the bar or when a goal is score in football. But there is always a moment, even in more subtle situations. It could be nothing but a sudden shy smile from a person, some kind of interaction between two people, a reaction, a person crossing into a cityscape. Even in landscape picture taking there are better moments, for instance when the sun is rising or when a rainy day clears up and there is still both rain and a bit of sunshine or when the moon is sweeping the scenery. In other words there are quick moments and there are slow moment – but there is always a better moment.
When I use the word graphics I mean composition, the placement of elements, the perspective, use of depth of field, a slow or a fast shutter speed, etcetera. This very much comes down to the craftsmanship of photography. Sometimes you have all the time in the world to make the graphics come together in the best way, other times you have to react instinctively when the moment comes on you very fast. It’s all about training you eyes to see the potential in all subjects. And it’s always possible to improve a photograph’s graphics. Don’t just go for the first and easy solution. Move around; try out different angels, increase or decrease contrast, work out details in Photoshop.
The last component of the picture capturing process to control, point of view, should probably have been mentioned first. It’s the least tangible of the five, but in a way it goes before the other decisions and forms how you want to put the photograph together. With the point of view in this context I don’t mean perspective, but why you take a picture. What is it that moves you to take it and what is it that you want to convey or tell the viewers with your picture? It is closely connected to content, but in a more conscious way. If you for instance want to show the misery of a homeless person you need to figure out what you really want to say.
Of these five components of the picture capturing process, the ones that have the most impact of how strong a picture is conceived is content and moment. In our workshops we let students bring along their favourite pictures by other photographers. When we go through them we let the students give points to how the photographer have solved the various decisions he or she did with respect to these components. Again and again it turns out it’s content and moment, much to most students surprise. In other words put your emphasize on these, and don’t worry if the technique is not perfect. Nevertheless it’s good practise to evaluate all the components before taking a photograph. You might not be able to improve all of them in a certain situation, but surely you will at least be able to improve one or two in order to make a better and more interesting picture. Think about these five components as a useful tool in the picture making process.
This is something I will talk more about in my upcoming photographic eWorkshop. More info about the workshop will soon follow.