One of the best photography tips I can share is to think less about the technical aspects and more about the impact your photo has on the people who view it. While it’s important to understand the elements of exposure, those techniques won’t guarantee an emotional connection with your subject. Here are five ways to help you capture the moment that connects with your viewers.
What makes a photograph art instead of a snapshot? Patience! Just because you want a photograph right now doesn’t mean the subject is ready for your right now. You may have to wait for a sunrise or sunset. You may have to wait for a bird to land on a post in the water. You may have to wait for the perfect wave to crash. Maybe – just maybe – you may have to wait for all of these elements to coincide to get a shot that no other photographer will get because they weren’t patient enough to let things happen. Maybe they weren’t patient enough to see what happened next. The world will unfold on its own schedule, so pick a good spot – be patient – and be ready to capture the moment.
Some photographers enjoy shooting rapid-fire to get an action shot – spray and pray – and hope they have something good when the action is over. That isn’t control, though. It’s trusting your fate to luck.
It doesn’t matter if you’re shooting wildlife, sports or a model in a studio. There’s a concept known as the peak of action, and that’s the shot you want to capture. You may get it with spray and pray, or you may not. Rather than firing off a blast of shots, think about your subject. Put yourself in the subject’s position. Look for patterns, rhythms, or any clues that will help you predict when and where your subject will be at the optimum moment to capture the peak of action.
A big part of timing is knowing your subject. You need to know when is the optimum time for that subject to arrive in just the right place.
Your photos need to show a connection. Sometimes that means creating a connection between the subject and the view. In other cases, like this one, it means showing a connection with your subject and something important. Our subject, Connie, is a body builder preparing for a competition. She goes through a number of exercises, of course, but I chose this one to tell her story.
From this perspective, you see that she’s strong. She’s intent. She’s focused. The story is about her, but the handles show a relationship that helps define her as the subject. She has a relationship with the weights she’s lifting. She needs them in order to be the woman she wants to be. We show this relationship with those handles close to her. That’s the peak of action, when she bears the most pressure. That’s when the relationship is at its most intense and intimate moment. Intimacy helps the viewer understand her story.
As a photographer, light is both your enemy and your friend. If you don’t have light, there’s no photo. If you have too much light, there’s still no photo. That’s because an evenly lit photo is little more than a dull snapshot. Nothing stands out. Nothing is special because you see everything. There’s no mystery – you see it all. Without shadows, we have no sense of depth or dimension. Shadows are crucial. Their sense of darkness give shape, form and a sense of importance to the part of the photo in the light. I heard a saying from Scott Kelby, who heard it from Joe McNally, who heard it from his editor at Life (who I suspect may have heard it from someone else).
If you want to make something interesting, don’t light all of it.
If there’s anything about this photo that gives a sense of moodiness, it’s the absence of light that does it. Those shadows give a sense of gloominess, they show the edges of carving along the walls and statues. Those features stand out because of darkness and light working in concert with each other. Without that contrast, you have no story because it won’t have anything to hold your interest. It’s just a snapshot.
I’ve mentioned this in the previous tips, but those were tools to lead you to the ultimate tip. If you want to improve your photos, then your photo needs to tell a story. It needs to say something to the viewer. It needs to draw them in and make them wonder. It needs to pique their interest. People look at images that are interesting. What makes them interesting? The photo communicates something to them.
Why is the girl in the water? What is the surfer thinking before he enters the water? I wish I had her dedication. Why does this dangerous beast look so content? Where is this relaxing scene? There are stories for any emotion. If you can feel an emotion, then there’s a story to go with it. That’s what you need to capture and share with your viewers.
Need more information? What Every Photographer Should Know shows you exactly how to make your photos more creative by teaching control of your exposure and how lenses affect the result. Go to Suburbia Press to get started with this inexpensive eBook immediately.