5 Steps to Better Photography

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A Guest Post by Eva Polak

Just like athletes, a photographer’s skill comes from hours of training, accompanied by dedicated experimentation.

By its nature, creative exploration means going beyond the easy and familiar. Trying new tools or techniques, after initial frustration, can lead to great discoveries and open new ways of self-expression.

The goal is to come up with your own interpretation of the subject. This takes time, patience, and the discipline of using your eye to try to see beyond what is in front of you.

Below I listed 5 tools which, with practice, will help you to create strong sense of visual excitement in your images and ultimately to allow you to express the feelings that prompted you to take photographs in the first place.

1. Light

Eva Polak - Light.jpg
Light is the most important aspect of photography. Understanding light will enable you to take advantage of any lighting situation. You can do that by studying your most successful photographs.

Look for the light and what it’s doing in each of your images. Is it hard or soft, defuse or directional?

Look at the shadows, identify where the light is coming from. Become aware of light and its magic. On the field, use this knowledge to your advantage. Make the most of what is available.

2. Colour

Colour has an enormous impact on us. It can influence your mood and express your feelings. Learn some basic principles of colour theory. Familiarize yourself with the 4 basic dimensions of colour: hue, value, intensity and temperature. Discover the secret language of colour and its meaning. Using colour concisely will help you to create interesting compositions.

3. Abstraction

Eva Polak Abstraction.jpgEverything you photograph is composed of shapes. You cannot photograph a tree, you can only photograph a form and colour that conveys the visual information of a tree.

Therefore, it is important for you as a photographer to be able to see subjects as shapes. Train yourself to break down the scene in front of you into areas of simple shapes and colour. It will help you to create simple composition with a clear message.

4. Elements of design

The elements of design are the building blocks used to create a work of art. The most basic element in any photograph is lines. Being conscious of the subtle feelings associated with lines will allow you to manipulate a photograph’s emotional impact. For example a horizontal line suggests calmness and tranquility, a vertical line gives a feeling of balance, oblique suggests movement.

To create more effective photographs, actively look for lines and arrange them within your viewfinder to evoke specific feelings.

5. Techniques

Eva Polak Technique.jpg
Techniques are important to the success of any photograph(s). You should practice to the point that they become second nature. Then you will have the freedom to create. But remember, techniques should not detract from what you are trying to communicate. They are there to help you make that message clearer. It can become a pointless exercise where there is too much reliance on technique.

There you have it: 5 simple steps to better photography. Now, go and create, experiment and most of all have fun. And don’t be afraid of making mistakes. As Garry Marshall once said “It’s always helpful to learn from your mistakes because then your mistakes seem worthwhile. “

Eva Polak is fine art photographer based in Auckland who specializes in impressionist photography. Author of two books “At the beach” and “Impressionist Photography Techniques” – visit her site at www.evapolak.com.

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  • Mark

    Thanks for the reminder that photography is just another art form. We can learn much from the art world. Wander around an art museum. What painting styles are best for you? Impressionist? Pointillism? Realism? This can inform your photography style. If you like it in a painting, you probably like it in your photos! You might even find that you enjoy two or more styles and that can be equally useful and challenging. The point is “find the lines, colors, and shapes you like in the scene and consciously create your photos”.

  • A really well written post which crisply describe the elements which could make a huge difference to every person who reads the this.

    Thanks for sharing.

    Manish 🙂

  • Very sound advice.

    I particularly like the emphasis that you placed upon design elements, it really does help you approach a composition in a different way. Last year, I decided that I really wanted to add graphic design to my repertoire, so I began taking classes. Doing so, has enhanced my photography greatly as those new components I have learned with every class helps me see things differently than I would have before.

    Great article! Thanks 😀

    ~WW

  • All very good points and remember, don’t just take a picture of a pretty flower, take a great picture of a pretty flower.

  • GREAT little article. Every point is so important. My favorite is the first point, Light. Nothing is more important than light when it comes to great photographs. And I very much DO believe that if you study what makes your photographs good you’ll learn so much more for next time. If you think you don’t have great photographs study others. What makes them so great? What do you like most about it? Then keep those thoughts in mind when you are out with your camera next time!


    Cabin Fever in Vermont

    NEK Photography Blog

  • eva

    Thank you all for your lovely comments!

  • Great tip! i also think that 3 and 4 can combine into one. I also heard a saying and found that very true in my photography: “quantity creates art.”

    http://sweetlighting.com/

  • I am an amateur photographer and just put a step-by-step Plan (link below) together to improve my skills. I copied the Plan from a guy who makes a living as a professional photographer. I was wondering if you had any thoughts on this Plan and whether you think anything major is missing. Seems to cover a lot of what you mention in this post.

    Thanks in advance for any feedback.
    JAS

    http://www.mysomeday.com/globehound/someday/Creative/Improve-My-Photography-Skills

  • Eva, I’m off to read about your Impressionist Photo Techniques. Your 5 tips are spot on, this is exactly how I approach photography, probably because I was an Interior Designer first, before I fell in love with photography.
    The one thing that helps me sometimes when I’m out and about shooting is something I read somewhere – find at least five ways or angles to shoot your subject. It has resulted in some great shots where I would have walked away with a blah photo instead.
    I’m taking my first steps as a pro photographer and I had been looking for more information on impressionistic photography styles. Thank you so much!
    Practice makes perfect, but there is no substitute for experience and an inquiring spirit.

  • eva

    @Joseph S.
    I think your list is very good. Have fun doing it!

  • Thanks Eva, I appreciate you taking the time to check out my Plan.

  • cbinsa

    Wonderfully clear article. Points 3 & 4 are the ones I struggle with the most and tend to forget. Thanks for reminding me once again!

  • Excellent tips. It is really refreshing to see an experienced photographer place emphasis on experimentation and discovery. Far too much is written on settings and practices to recreate work that has already been done by others and not nearly enough on how a photographer can find their own voice.

    Kudos.

  • very nice tips.I’ve learned a lot from it.Thanks for sharing.

  • All these tips lay down a really good foundation of elements to keep in mind when approaching your subject. I’m particularly attracted to color and really try to pay attention to design when I’m composing a shot. I was pretty happy when I found this snail on a poppy and could bring together both color and design in this image…

    [eimg link=’http://www.flickr.com/photos/peggycollins/3102781566/’ title=’Archive Dive for Color’s Sake’ url=’http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3012/3102781566_e419af168a.jpg’]

Some Older Comments

  • Peggy Collins October 22, 2010 05:31 am

    All these tips lay down a really good foundation of elements to keep in mind when approaching your subject. I'm particularly attracted to color and really try to pay attention to design when I'm composing a shot. I was pretty happy when I found this snail on a poppy and could bring together both color and design in this image...

    [eimg link='http://www.flickr.com/photos/peggycollins/3102781566/' title='Archive Dive for Color's Sake' url='http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3012/3102781566_e419af168a.jpg']

  • Patrik Smit October 20, 2010 08:39 pm

    very nice tips.I've learned a lot from it.Thanks for sharing.

  • Steve October 17, 2010 01:41 am

    Excellent tips. It is really refreshing to see an experienced photographer place emphasis on experimentation and discovery. Far too much is written on settings and practices to recreate work that has already been done by others and not nearly enough on how a photographer can find their own voice.

    Kudos.

  • cbinsa October 12, 2010 10:27 am

    Wonderfully clear article. Points 3 & 4 are the ones I struggle with the most and tend to forget. Thanks for reminding me once again!

  • Joseph S October 11, 2010 09:52 am

    Thanks Eva, I appreciate you taking the time to check out my Plan.

  • eva October 11, 2010 03:11 am

    @Joseph S.
    I think your list is very good. Have fun doing it!

  • Rose Hill October 10, 2010 04:50 am

    Eva, I'm off to read about your Impressionist Photo Techniques. Your 5 tips are spot on, this is exactly how I approach photography, probably because I was an Interior Designer first, before I fell in love with photography.
    The one thing that helps me sometimes when I'm out and about shooting is something I read somewhere - find at least five ways or angles to shoot your subject. It has resulted in some great shots where I would have walked away with a blah photo instead.
    I'm taking my first steps as a pro photographer and I had been looking for more information on impressionistic photography styles. Thank you so much!
    Practice makes perfect, but there is no substitute for experience and an inquiring spirit.

  • Joseph S. October 10, 2010 04:25 am

    I am an amateur photographer and just put a step-by-step Plan (link below) together to improve my skills. I copied the Plan from a guy who makes a living as a professional photographer. I was wondering if you had any thoughts on this Plan and whether you think anything major is missing. Seems to cover a lot of what you mention in this post.

    Thanks in advance for any feedback.
    JAS

    http://www.mysomeday.com/globehound/someday/Creative/Improve-My-Photography-Skills

  • Chen October 10, 2010 03:27 am

    Great tip! i also think that 3 and 4 can combine into one. I also heard a saying and found that very true in my photography: "quantity creates art."

    http://sweetlighting.com/

  • eva October 9, 2010 03:02 pm

    Thank you all for your lovely comments!

  • Jen at Cabin Fever October 9, 2010 07:05 am

    GREAT little article. Every point is so important. My favorite is the first point, Light. Nothing is more important than light when it comes to great photographs. And I very much DO believe that if you study what makes your photographs good you'll learn so much more for next time. If you think you don't have great photographs study others. What makes them so great? What do you like most about it? Then keep those thoughts in mind when you are out with your camera next time!


    Cabin Fever in Vermont

    NEK Photography Blog

  • Tyler Wainright October 9, 2010 04:26 am

    All very good points and remember, don't just take a picture of a pretty flower, take a great picture of a pretty flower.

  • Wayfaring Wanderer October 9, 2010 03:46 am

    Very sound advice.

    I particularly like the emphasis that you placed upon design elements, it really does help you approach a composition in a different way. Last year, I decided that I really wanted to add graphic design to my repertoire, so I began taking classes. Doing so, has enhanced my photography greatly as those new components I have learned with every class helps me see things differently than I would have before.

    Great article! Thanks :D

    ~WW

  • Manish Ahuja October 9, 2010 01:21 am

    A really well written post which crisply describe the elements which could make a huge difference to every person who reads the this.

    Thanks for sharing.

    Manish :)

  • Mark October 9, 2010 01:04 am

    Thanks for the reminder that photography is just another art form. We can learn much from the art world. Wander around an art museum. What painting styles are best for you? Impressionist? Pointillism? Realism? This can inform your photography style. If you like it in a painting, you probably like it in your photos! You might even find that you enjoy two or more styles and that can be equally useful and challenging. The point is "find the lines, colors, and shapes you like in the scene and consciously create your photos".

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