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Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Break Free From Your Comfort Zone

Familiarity can hamper creativity. If your photos have been feeling bland lately, it may be time to push yourself into some uncharted territory.

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Think about the direction of light. If you typically shoot in front-lit situations, turn around and experiment with backlighting or sidelighting. You can create some dramatic looks. Play with exposure. Deep shadow can create its own compositional elements and shapes within a frame. Don't be afraid to try making high-contrast images.
Find New Perspectives
Try to get away from "normal" perspectives, focal lengths, compositions and positioning. Shake things up a bit and break free from your personal routines. For example, instead of shooting at eye level, get low for new angles. If you tend to use normal-range lenses, put an extreme wide-angle lens on your camera instead and get in close to your subject to create an "in your face" perspective. Don't just shoot frame-filling portraits of wildlife with the longest telephoto lens you have; experiment with wider compositions that include some of the animal's habitat. Tell a story about your subject and create an interesting composition.

Brush up on the theory of artistic composition so you can move beyond the comfort zone provided by the Rule of Thirds. Study the works of the great painting masters such as Vermeer, Sargent, van Gogh, Degas and others, and you'll see that they employed a number of dynamic compositional techniques long before the Rule of Thirds ever came into existence. Try compositional styles that are new and unfamiliar to you. If your photos tend to lack "punch," try something bold and attention-grabbing instead; if you rely on bold compositions with powerful leading lines, try something less obvious and more subtle. Take chances with your compositions—they may not always end up looking good, but you can't progress if you don't have some failures along the way.

A scene doesn't have to be in an iconic locale to make a powerful photograph.
Master The Moment
There's no need to always search for iconic scenery. Some of my personal favorite images are of rather boring subjects, brought to life for a brief moment by a rare convergence of unique natural elements. Such moments can transform even a mundane place into something magical. Rather than search for places that are instantly recognizable and easily copied by many, search for never-to-be-reproduced moments that will inspire and amaze. Henri Cartier-Bresson, one of the most famous practitioners of the art of photography, coined the phrase "the decisive moment," referring to the peak moment when two or more disparate elements interact in a meaningful way. Photographers like Cartier-Bresson relied on capturing decisive moments—capturing convergences of motion, shape and mood—to create their art and to reveal the essence of their subjects.

Weather, above almost all else, defines the decisive moment in outdoor photography. For example, clouds create compositional shapes, which relate to elements of the landscape below, and can create color and mood, as well. "Atmospherics," as I like to call interesting weather phenomenon such as mist, rainbows and storms, can transform even average scenes into something exceptional. Bad weather often produces the most dramatic conditions, and the best photographers find a way to suffer through the nasty stuff, waiting for the chance to shoot moody storm clouds, backlit mist, sunbeams scattering across the sky and other magical moments.


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