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There’s one surefire way to start becoming a better photographer. Stop taking pictures.
A picture is what you take when you accidentally mash your hands on the shutter release while your camera sits idle on the living room table. It’s when you bump the camera while it hangs from your shoulder and snap that oddly angled picture of your feet. It’s the photos you took of your friend just because they asked you to. It’s also generally what most of us are shooting the first time we pick up our cameras – myself included.
But if you really want to advance your photography, you’ve got to stop pressing that shutter release just because you can. Instead, take the time to create a vision. Stop taking pictures. Start creating images.
We all admire the fantastic work of professional photographers from around the globe. It’s not simply because their photos are perfectly exposed, their white balance is spot on or they followed an exacting rule of thirds guideline. Given enough practice, anybody can do these. Many photographers still do. There’s a simple element that separates those photographers you admire from those you don’t.
Good photographers take great pictures, great photographers create images.
An image is something that evokes an emotional response from the viewer. It speaks to us individually and conveys some form of attraction or connection with a photo. Whether it’s longing, awe, desire, fear or any one of a thousand other, an image elicits within us a response. The ability to combine the technical with the creative and create an image is what separates a great photographer from a good one.
Fueling that creativity is a constant journey we should all strive to be better at every day. It’s something I work at every day as well. None of us have it right from the start, and even veterans of 20 and 30 years are pushing every day to take it to that next level. Here are a few techniques I’ve found helpful on my own drive towards creating images and not just taking pictures.
If it sounded like I’ve been telling you to stop shooting, it’s exactly the opposite! As well-know commercial photographer Chase Jarvis says, the best camera is the one you have with you. Shooting every day, even with a simple camera phone, helps develop your eye for pleasing compositions, great locations and visionary editorials. But you don’t want to be taking just pictures anymore. You want a mix of pictures and images.
What you need to add to create those images now is a plan. That doesn’t mean you need to look for six assistants, a creative director, three models and twelve lights! The start of your plan can be as simple as spending an afternoon out with your friends and showing them having a good time, keeping a vision in mind.
A practice I’ve always found helpful is to ask myself, “Why am I taking this photo? Why is it different from any other out there? What am I trying to convey with it? What emotion am I trying to invoke? Who is my audience?”
Advertisements plan for and answer these questions all the time. They want to create the vision of a lifestyle in their images that says, “Hey, buy this brand and you’ll be like this,” or a longing that says, “You too could be experiencing an extraordinary sunset at our hotel pool.” And they want you to create that emotion through your unique vision.
Answer some of those questions and you’ll be able to answer the one every client or company asks when seeking a photographer for a job. “Why are you worth paying for?”
Before pitching a model or client a test shoot, I’ve usually sketched down my ideas and a few frames on a piece of paper. It can be an invaluable tool in laying out an editorial or a vision. It’s a great way to involve your subjects in the images and help direct them. The confidence in having a clear cut vision and idea will be obvious to those you are working with, and they’ll take confidence from it as well. Ultimately, you’ll create better images because of it.
Whether it’s a landscape angle you see in your mind or simply a few portrait poses, drawing out a few ideas goes a long way towards executing a vision. Always remember to ask, “What am I trying to convey?”
Here’s an exercise you can set for yourself the next time you step out the door with your gear in tow and you’re just out to shoot for fun. Set yourself a client to shoot for.
Let’s say it’s the clothing store Pac Sun. What kind of image conveys the Pac Sun lifestyle? Who shops there and what message do you think will connect with them? Start thinking about what the client would want and you will be on the way towards creating photos with a purpose.
So remember the next time you grab your camera, sit down for a few moments first and concept some ideas. With a vision, planning and perspiration you’ll soon find yourself no longer taking pictures, but creating images.