Start To See Photographically In Six Easy Steps

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We are living in a time of unlimited free shutter clicks. This is both an advantage, and a disadvantage for you as a photographer. On one hand, the learning curve is faster, easier and definitely a lot cheaper. On the other hand, many photographers have a tendency to shoot without taking much care in their composition and rely on the occasional lucky shot.

Stop shooting randomly and start photographing with intent. Before you click that shutter, ask yourself: “What do I want to convey? What story do I want to tell?” There are many ways to achieve this, here are few easy steps to help you step up your game, no matter what camera or lens you use.

Six Steps to Start to See Photographically

1 – See the light

Play with light and shadows. Be aware of the quality of light around you (hard versus soft light) and its effect on objects, buildings, etc. The more aware you become of the quality and quantity of light, the better you will be at harnessing it and making it work for you, no matter the time of day.

See the light, its effect on building and objects around you.

See the light, its effect on buildings and objects around you ©Valérie Jardin

When you see light, any ordinary object will become a wonderful subject. ©Valérie Jardin

When you see light, any ordinary object will become a wonderful subject ©Valérie Jardin

2 – Express your vision with basic composition rules

There are many ways to express your vision and they all start with the decisions you make before you press the shutter.

Use focus point and depth of field

The obvious way to lead the eye of the viewer is by focussing on the subject and using the right depth of field so that there is no mistake as to where the eye should go. It only takes a fraction of a second to lock your focus and recompose. You have to put some thought into it and soon you will make quick decisions that will make your images stronger.

Use focus point and depth of field to lead the eye to your subject ©Valérie Jardin

Leading lines

Too often ignored, the use of lines is a powerful tool to lead the eye.

Use leading lines in your composition. ©Valérie Jardin

Use leading lines in your composition ©Valérie Jardin

The rule of thirds

Positioning your subject in your frame is one of the most important decisions you will make in regards to your composition. You cannot overuse the rule of thirds, but it’s okay to break it as long as it is done intentionally.

The rule of thirds works, use it! ©Valérie Jardin

The rule of thirds works, use it! ©Valérie Jardin

Break the rule of thirds as much as you want, as long as you know why you’re breaking it. ©Valérie Jardin

Using color

Just like using focus point to draw the eye, using color is another powerful compositional tool. Alternatively, because color draws the eye, it is also a reason to convert your color image into B&W to remove distracting colorful elements and make stronger images!

Negative space

The clever use of negative space makes stronger images as it puts more emphasis on the subject (positive space).

Use negative space to give more impact to your images. ©Valérie Jardin

Use negative space to give more impact to your images. ©Valérie Jardin

Patterns

See and use repeated patterns or, even better, look for breaks in the pattern!

See repeated patterns. Even better: a break in the pattern! ©Valérie Jardin

See repeated patterns. Even better: a break in the pattern! ©Valérie Jardin

Soon you will see stronger images that incorporate several elements such as repeated patterns, leading lines, rule of thirds and color that draws your eye to the main subject. ©Valérie Jardin

Soon you will see stronger images that incorporate several elements such as repeated patterns, leading lines, rule of thirds and color that draws your eye to the main subject. ©Valérie Jardin

3 – Less is more

Learn to make stronger images by leaving unnecessary elements out of the frame. One thing I notice all the time when I look at my students’ work is that they tend to include too much in their frame. What you decide to leave out of the frame during your composition will make or break the image. Keep it simple. Learn to see and crop in camera.

You don't need the subject in it's entirety to have a strong image. Practice cropping in camera. The use of a fixed lens will help you! ©Valérie Jardin

You don’t need the subject in its entirety to have a strong image. Practice cropping in camera. The use of a fixed lens will help you! ©Valérie Jardin

Less is more, think minimalist and give more impact to your images! ©Valérie Jardin

4 – Get close and fill your frame

Objects, even the most ordinary ones, look more interesting if you frame them tight. Get close. You think you’re close enough? Now get closer!

Fill your frame! ©Valérie Jardin

Fill your frame! ©Valérie Jardin

Get close, and then get closer! ©Valérie Jardin

Get close, and then get closer! ©Valérie Jardin

5 – Work your frame

Try shooting from different perspectives, shoot high, shoot low. Tilt your camera for more dynamic images.

Work your frame: Shoot high, Shoot low... Things don't look very interesting at eye level. ©Valérie Jardin

Work your frame: shoot high, shoot low… things don’t look very interesting at eye level. ©Valérie Jardin

6- Watch your background!

It only takes a second to scan the edges of your frame and check your background for distracting elements. It also only takes a quick second to move one step in either direction to get rid of a distracting element or avoid a branch to stick out of someone’s ear.

This image would have been ruined had I not stepped slightly to the right to avoid the potted plant to be directly on top of the gentleman's head... ©Valérie Jardin

This image would have been ruined had I not stepped slightly to the right to avoid the potted plant to be directly on top of the gentleman’s head.  ©Valérie Jardin

Next time you go out with your camera, try to slow down and think more about what you want to convey with your images. Unless you are photographing birds, busy toddlers or action sports, try to make every shutter click count!

Soon these composition rules will become second nature. You will see them without having to even think about them, you will learn to see photographically, and your work will improve.

Have fun!

Read more from our Tips & Tutorials category

Valerie Jardin

I live and breathe in pixels! Photography is more than a passion, it’s an obsession, almost an addiction. When I’m not shooting or writing, I spend my time teaching this beautiful craft during photo workshops all over the world! I am also thrilled to be an official X Photographer for Fujifilm USA. Visit my Website
Follow me on Facebook , Twitter , Instagram. And listen to my Podcast!

  • Sohail Alam

    Even though these techniques are helpful, at the end of the day I always make up a story in my head before taking the shot. Making a story up really helps you realise different ways you can tell the story through the frame.
    For me a photograph has always been something that should tell a story. It can be something specific, or it can just let the viewer create his own.
    Great article though! Cheers! 🙂

  • Hello, I Came Across Your Blog and Saw your Wonderfull Post, It Really Gives me another idea on How to Make my Photo / Photography more easy to retouch, I Would Like to Add Some Great Tutorials on How to Learn Photo Editing and Portrait Retouching, Learn Photo Editing and Portrait Retouching

  • Ted Dudziak

    Nice summary of the basics that one can go back to when in a slump and a good starting point to move forward with to develop a style.

  • Thierry Van Biesen

    Great article, with a lot of wonderful examples!
    And so many important aspect of the image building process to take into consideration every time we shoot.
    I’d love to add to this article that there is a way to master our use of all the points mentioned in this article. The best way to grow as a photographer, and develop your own personal vision is to always look at your images after you shot them.
    Ideally, print them and post them around your home. Continuously interact with them, throughout your many different moods.
    One day, you will notice that, almost magically, your images will have taught you why you shot them, shown you what you like in each image.
    The light. The framing. The relationship between background and figure. Everything you put into your image intuitively, seeps back to the surface of your print to teach you why you made it.
    And this will train your eye, refine your vision, to bring you closer and closer to mastery of your image production process.
    From your mind, to the pixel.

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