Having run photo workshops for several years now, I have noticed some familiar traits that many people share with their photography. So I’ve put together some tips that I feel will help you improve your photography – straight away. These little ideas have the potential to make a huge impact on your image creation.
1. Have patience
“Genius is patience.” – Isaac Newton
Patience is a skill I think many amateur photographers sorely lack. This matters because photography is often a waiting game – waiting for the subject to get into position, for the light to change, or working the elements of your photo into a perfect composition. If you are not prepared to be patient, you’re not going to get many shots you like.
Many amateur photographers are so driven by the desire to have a full memory card at the end of the day that they don’t take the time to set up or wait for a great shot.
This could involve recognizing that the light isn’t great now, but it might change in an hour. Or it might be setting up a great composition and then waiting until the right person stands in a precise spot. It could be shooting a person or a scene over and over until you get an expression or angle that reveals something unique and interesting and creates a more impactful photo.
“You get more by waiting than you do by moving. You wait for the light to come and it will change the world in front of you.” – Peter Fiore
I believe a lot of it comes down to people’s expectations. For me, getting one amazing shot in a day’s shooting is a good result. Sometimes I go out and get nothing, sometimes I get a half a dozen, sometimes I just get one.
You need to be patient and take the time to work your scene and build a fantastic composition. Forget the next spot and the next subject. If you find something that really inspires you then stop, be patient, and work the scene until you’ve made the best photo possible. Take 10, 20, even 50 photos if you need to!
“Patience is not passive; on the contrary, it is active; it is concentrated strength.”– Edward G. Bulwer-Lytton
2. Free yourself from fear
“Everything you want is on the other side of fear.” – Jack Canfield
When you are involved in a creative act, you will at some point be faced with one of the greatest forces known to man – fear. It is pervasive in our lives, and it can create havoc with your photography.
For example, most of the photographers I teach have a fear of photographing strangers; this is very common. Now, you can either give into that fear and not photograph the subjects you really yearn to – or you can deal with.
I still get fearful sometimes after twenty-odd years in the business. Sometimes I go to new places and feel self-conscious, or get intimidated to shoot someone whose look I like. It doesn’t really matter what it is, fear is always fear and it can stop you from taking action if you don’t face it.
I deal with fear by just recognizing that it’s there. That fear has decided to show its face, and I just let it be there, knowing that eventually, it will drift off. I don’t let it stop me, that’s the key. After all, I love photography. I love the whole process of taking photos. Although this was said by an athlete, it is so relevant to photographers, and it’s worth reminding yourself that:
“You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.” – Wayne Gretzky
Remember – on the other side of fear is possibly an amazing image.
3. Think geometrically
“The only joy in photography is geometry. All the rest is sentiment.” – Henri Cartier-Bresson
I read recently that Henri Cartier-Bresson would choose which images to print by examining his contact sheets and work out which have the best geometric composition. By looking at them when they were printed small, he could see the shape and form of the photo, rather than the subject. He would then choose his photos based on which of them had the best geometric composition.
Of course, the subject is important, their expression, the light, etc., but I like this idea of concentrating on the geometric elements of the photo. The reason being that all elements of the photo count, and having a strong organization of the shapes and forms, which is essentially the geometric elements of the photo, will create a strong composition.
“I like form and shape and strength in pictures.” – Herb Ritts
4. Stop fixating on your subject
I have noticed that many people learning photography become totally fixated on a subject that they love, but forget to compose the other elements of their photo.
For example, you see someone you think is awesome-looking. You start photographing them, without consideration for rest of the frame. You don’t look all the way into the corners of the composition, you overlap your subject with telephones or trees coming out of their head, nor do you notice lines running randomly out of the photo drawing the eye away from the subject.
Even though the frame may feel pretty small, often people don’t look at every part of the composition to see if the whole is working together. It is always about the whole image, not just what is currently fascinating you! It takes practice and concentration folks – all of the elements in your frame need to be relevant and work well with the subject.
5. Learn to become an observer
“To me, photography is an art of observation. It’s about finding something interesting in an ordinary place… I’ve found it has little to do with the things you see and everything to do with the way you see them.” – Elliott Erwitt
This tip is important. The best state of mind in which to take photographs is one of complete creative freedom, in the creative flow, where you are undistracted by your life outside of that very moment. Where you have forgotten about your to-do list and the thousands of emails you need to answer. You are just standing in the moment, looking around, noticing everything, and empty of thoughts about what else is going on in your life.
That’s easy right?
No, not always. For many, it’s super hard because what you do in your work and rest of your life requires skills which are exactly the opposite. Holding tons of small pieces of information, remembering, doing and rushing around with the business of life.
Much as we may like to think that photography is all about technique and kit, it is actually an inner game. I don’t really much care what gear you have, even though I love a new camera as much as the next person. The best photographers I’ve come across are completely in tune with their environment. They study the world around them and don’t constantly try to be in it doing, but instead, they look and observe.
This might be something you need to cultivate – and it’s totally possible to attain, even if it doesn’t come naturally. Something in you has been drawn to photography, to the visual world and to express yourself visually. So you already have potential inside of you to become a great observer.
Hopefully, these ideas have helped point you in the direction of deepening, developing and improving your photography. It’s so rewarding to work on simple ideas that have a great impact on your photos.
I’d love to know what you think of these tips, please comment below.