Do you find it difficult to make photographs which stand out and truly resonate with the people who view them? Let me share with you three key ways you can practice that will change your photographic experience and will assist you in making more dynamic photos.
1. Know your subject – don’t just know about them
Research, understand and relate to your subject. Communicate with your subject – whether that be a person, pet or place, (or anything else,) you need to relate to and have rapport your subject.
The more knowledge and understanding you have of your subject the easier it will be for you to make compelling photographs of it or them. Sometimes, as is common with travel photography, having a fresh perspective on a subject will allow you to capture it in a way an expert may not see. But generally having some education about your subject will aid you in producing better, more dynamic photos.
Develop an intuitive sense
Knowing your subject well will give you more opportunity to get an intuitive sense of when it’s the right time to make a picture. Knowing and being passionate about your subject will help you develop your intuition.
Being comfortable with your subject, even if you do not know it so well, will also help you to create more interesting and unique photographs of that subject. Having the ability to really focus in on your subject, observing them carefully, the surroundings, the lighting and any activity associated with them, will help you to develop a meaningful connection.
This is something that can sometimes happen quite quickly and at other times will need to be developed over a longer duration.
2. Don’t Focus on your equipment
“The fact is that relatively few photographers ever master their medium. Instead they allow the medium to master them and go on an endless squirrel cage chase from new lens to new paper to new developer to new gadget, never staying with one piece of equipment long enough to learn its full capacities, becoming lost in a maze of technical information that is of little or no use since they don’t know what to do with it.” – Edward Weston
There’s a lot to be said for knowing your camera equipment well and being confident using it like you’ve mastered it. Being in control of your gear and being competent using it so that your focus can be immersed on your subject allows you to connect in a more meaningful way because you are not distracted. Achieving this ability takes nothing more than a little study and a whole lot of practice.
Use camera settings you’re comfortable with
Using camera settings you are comfortable with releases you to give more attention to your subject. When you work with camera equipment you are not familiar with or maybe when you first start trying to understand and use manual mode, your focus will be on your camera, not on your subject.
Becoming familiar with a camera and how to work with it confidently takes concentrated practice. Just as a musician will not take the stage and play a brand new song they’ve written without practicing it well first. Neither should you expect stunning results from a camera or technique you are not familiar with and well practiced at doing. Sure, sometimes you can get lucky, but to be consistently good you need to practice a lot.
Balance the technical and creative aspects
Balancing the technical and creative aspects of photography is challenging for most people. You are generally either more technically oriented and love learning how to use your new equipment or you are more creatively oriented without much interest in learning to understand all the bells and whistles on your camera.
Be mindful that photography is a creative process which requires a complicated tool. Even if you are using the most basic of cameras you must command a certain amount of technical skill to produce pleasing results regularly. To grow as a photographer and develop your own style, you will need to find a happy balance of the technical and creative aspects of this art form.
Aim to capture mood and feeling
Aim to capture mood and feeling in your photographs by giving as much of your attention to the technical settings as to the feeling you have and how you want to portray your subject. If you set your camera so your exposure is good and you have as much depth of field as you want, you will be free to connect with your subject. This will give you more freedom to get a real feeling for what you are doing which will resonate in your photographs.
Reaching beyond the technical and concentrating your creative energy on the subject you will produce photographs which draw in your audience. They will be able to experience and feel the relationship you have with your subject.
3. Follow your passion
“Your connection with the world is unique” – Martin Parr
This is why people who photograph subjects they are passionate about will typically produce more creative, interesting pictures than someone who photographs a subject they have no real interest in or connection with.
My wife takes far better photos of flowers than I do. She is passionate about flowers, she loves growing them. She has a lot of knowledge about flowers and flowering trees. Taking care of them and making sure they have the best conditions in which to flourish is important to her. She consistently makes far more beautiful and creative photographs of flowers than I do because she is passionate about them. They may not always be technically correct, but they are made with feeling and convey that feeling.
Have a deeper, more soulful relationship
When you have a deeper, more soulful relationship with your subject, you will naturally make more interesting, creative photographs as well. Your connection with the world is unique. No one else sees things and experiences life as you do. By applying your unique perspective and conveying this through your photographs they will resonate more strongly with people who view them.
You may even find you pay less attention to technical aspects as you genuinely begin to follow your feelings and become immersed in photographing your chosen subject. Enjoying photography in this manner can be deeply therapeutic. As you begin to concentrate totally and follow the flow of your feelings toward your subject everything else will become secondary, nothing else will matter.
At times like this, you must take extra care to be aware of your own safety. Many times I have stepped back onto a road, come close to stepping backward off a jetty and had wet shoes because I stepped in a puddle. I was so focused on what I was photographing and not paying much attention to anything else. So please take care!
A practical example
When I visited the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul, Turkey, I went looking for a quarter I’d read about where craftspeople still produce copper wares using traditional methods. I love photographing people engaged in creative activities and I had never photographed people making copper goods.
I eventually discovered the right location and found three men in a small workshop. Two of them were putting finishing touches to some beautifully crafted artworks.
I politely approached and using gestures and showing them my camera, as we had no common language, I was welcomed in and made to feel comfortable. I showed an interest in what these men were doing and they were comfortable with my presence. The older man even gave me a glass of Turkish tea. I quickly became engrossed making photographs of the creative process I was witnessing.
Despite having no prior experience with this subject I was still able to connect with the men and easily relate to what they were doing. Eventually, a fourth man entered the workshop and he spoke some English so I was able to ask how many generations this family had been working with copper. After a considerable amount of discussion all three men, who were cousins and father/uncle, looked at me and shrugged their shoulders. Their tradition had been in their family longer than they could tell me.
Sadly, the fourth man who had joined us was a buyer. He told me he wanted to push the price the craftsmen were asking for their artworks down and was threatening to steal their designs and mass produce them in his factory (which now mass produces lamps, coffee pots, urns and other goods which were traditionally made in small, family-owned workshops.) As he told me this story I continued to photograph with the aim of capturing the mood of the conversation.
Connecting with your subject in a meaningful manner will support and enhance your creative process. Knowing your subject in advance, or adapting quickly to relate to it in a short time, gives you a depth of connection that is not likely if you are distant and non-communicative.
Being technically competent enough to not spend most (or even some) of your attention on your equipment will release you to develop your connection with your subject.
Being passionate about your chosen subject will favor you to go that much deeper and further without distractions to create more interesting and more creative photographs.
The most effective way to learn these things is to choose a subject that you can photograph many times, preferably one that you enjoy. If your chosen subject is a person, one who enjoys being photographed. Make time to photograph your subject as often as you find enjoyment in the creative process and develop a feeling for the technical settings of your camera. Doing this will help you to learn more about your subject and hopefully, you’ll become more passionate in the process as well.
Watch the video below to see this in action.