Simple things to make better photographs

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I once showed my latest batch of photographs to a friend and was told, “You were certainly having a bad hair day then, weren’t you?” Now since I nurture this concept in my mind that I am an artist, criticism of my art can hurt. Like down to the quick. But I am also resilient – in this business you have to be.

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However, criticism is the Mother of Excellence, and we should never be afraid of it. This can be difficult when you have the deeply inbuilt conviction that there are only two sides to any discussion, yours and the wrong one! To improve, you have to be able to look critically at your own work and see what you can do to improve your standard. You also have to look at the work of others to see what made their work excellent.

Photography and photographs are judged by the subjective response of the viewer. They either like them or they do not. Successful photographers know how to take photographs that are more pleasing to the majority of viewers than otherwise.

This ability is not something that they were born with – it is something they learned over the years. This skill is yours for the asking. Believe me!

One of the greatest sources of all knowledge is in the written word. There are lots of books published to assist the novice photographer who would like to improve. Never go past a book shop without looking in the photography section.

There are three authors I can really recommend. John Hedgecoe, Michael Freeman and the Kodak “How to take better pictures” series. All of these books are written in plain English, without excessive use of photographic jargon. Sure, you have to know how to recognize your f stop from your elbow, but you should know that already. (If you don’t, write to [email protected] and I will send you the answer confidentially in a plain unmarked brown paper envelope.)

Here is a simple and easy way to change your photographs for the better this weekend. This week’s hot tip – place the subject of the photo to one side rather than dead set plumb in the center. Ideally this should be one third in from either side, but just not putting it in the middle is a start. Now, working on the knowledge that westerners read from left to right – you will find they “read” photographs the same way. So items in the left of the photograph represent the past and items in the right represent the future. Still with me? Take a picture of a car on a road for example. Place the car pointing to the right in the right hand side of the picture and it means the car is going away. All the items in the left of the shot have already been passed and left behind. Conversely, place the car in the left of the shot and the car has not yet reached the items on the right.

Now imagine a photograph of a hitch-hiker with the car shot. With the person on the left and the car on the right, the car has passed, and the hitch-hiker has been unsuccessful and this is presenting a “sad” photograph. With the person on the right and the car approaching from the left, the hitch-hiker is still hopeful. A “happy” shot. Your shots can present emotions.

Can you see just how your photographs can tell a dynamic story, even though one still picture only represents a fleet split second of time? (Probably 1/125th of a second!) Just by offsetting the main subject you have managed to improve and add interest to your photograph.

The books I have recommended will all give you ideas on ‘how to’ take different photographs of objects, but only you can inject the emotions by careful placement of the subject material in the frame.

All these tips, and lots more are available in the bookstore and it makes good sense to buy a couple of decent reference books. In the meantime, place your subjects off-center this weekend and see what you get. Happy snapping.