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I think this is a valuable piece of information to pass along to both newcomers to photography and the more experienced crowd…
Perhaps the best piece of advice I can provide which will immediately improve one’s photography and cause it to stand out from the countless other photos on the web, is to act unusual while taking the photos.
If you’re standing upright, pointing your camera at obvious subjects, from obvious perspectives, at obvious times the day, the resulting photographs will be nothing more than…obvious.
Your photos will not differentiate themselves, as is the intentions of so many photographers. Everyone wants ‘different’ images that catch the public’s eye. But many do not take this into consideration while out with their camera. Many more do take it into consideration, but let the perception of passers-by impact their willingness to get into a unique position from which to gain an interesting perspective, to implement that prop that’ll make the photo fun and unique, or to point the lens toward subjects most people walk by without notice.
Many of my best photos were taken with at least one (and sometimes several) person staring at me as if I were a closed-head injury patient who happened to find a DSLR lying on the side of the road. These stares are usually led by my wife…
If I’m receiving unusual looks due to my lying on the ground, using an unusual prop in public view, or pointing my camera at a seemingly boring object because I see photographic potential, I can usually rest assured that I’m on the right track.
Unless an unusual opportunity presents itself, you can assume that a photograph which is easy to obtain has already been taken by numerous other photographers. But, if you have to get down on the ground to find a unique view of the subject, or if you are sticking your lens out of the window of a cab who’s driver is eying you down in the rear-view mirror, chances are you’ll come away with something unique.
Aside from potentially gaining an advantage over the army of other photographers ‘on the street,’ you’ll also fundamentally alter the way you view the world. After paying attention to different scenes, lighting, perspectives, textures, etc. through years of trying to view things from a unique viewpoint, I’ve realized that this strategy has trained me to see the world through my own internal lens. Overall, I think this allows me to come back from visiting various parts of the world having truly experienced the uniqueness of each place.
1. First, take the shot you would normally take. Then, force yourself to take it from a drastically different perspective. This could be lying on the ground, climbing a nearby hill, or circling the subject for another alternative view.
2. Don’t be afraid to set up shop (tripod, camera, other gear) in busy places with lots of people watching you, wondering what you’re doing. Obviously, make sure you’re not breaking any rules or laws related to the location. But definitely don’t let odd looks from passers-by cause you to skip the shot. Just do it. When you get home and pull up the image on the computer, you’ll be happy you did.
3. Don’t quickly bounce from tourist-attraction to tourist-attraction while in a new location, as you’ll undoubtedly miss valuable shots in between. Pay attention to the doorways, the fence posts, the people, and everything in between. You might later realize your best photo of Paris isn’t of the Eiffel Tower, but is instead of the elderly man sipping espresso who you noticed on the way back to the hotel…
4. Be willing to act as your own subject, should the right situation arise. If you come across a picturesque situation which would be enhanced with a person in-frame, don’t hesitate to set up the tripod and become the actor in your own production. I assure you, you’ll find that you’re easier to direct than most potential subjects…
5. Finally, have fun. When you put down your guard and concentrate on having fun, instead of on acting normally in public, your shots will be impacted by that shift in thinking. Normal is boring. Unusual, is interesting…
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