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Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Pro Tips For Better Photography

There are no commandments in photography, but these simple tips will make an immediate difference in your shots

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Aspens in a snowstorm, Aquarius Plateau, Utah. As a storm moved in, every delicate branch on these aspens became accented in white, separating them from the grove beyond. Wista VX 4x5 field camera, Nikkor M 300mm, Fujichrome Provia 100F, converted to B&W in Photoshop CS3
Who among us isn’t hoping for a secret formula or a magic spell we can use to conjure up great images anywhere, anytime, at our beck and call? A switch we can flip to reveal unique compositions, beautiful light, rare moments and deep insight—a “silver bullet.”

Obviously, there’s no such thing and, when you think about it, it’s good that there isn’t. If making powerful images was as easy as snapping our fingers, would we truly appreciate them?

And yet, there are some easy answers. There are tips you can use today that won’t cost you a penny, but may make a significant difference in the quality of your work. They have for me.

Bullet One: Get Out More
Magic happens. Somewhere out there something wonderful is unfolding. This is as true for this very moment as it is for any other. If you’re reading this, you’re probably not there to see it; but rest assured there will be more perfect moments to be found than you can fit in a lifetime.

The more time you spend outdoors, where your favorite subjects are, the more likely you are to be at the right place at the right time to experience and photograph them. Too many people are under the impression that a quick trip to a pretty place comes with a guarantee of superior images. Not so. As landscape photographers, we’re very much at the mercy of numerous random factors. Some phenomena can be predicted with some accuracy and some can’t.

There’s always an element of luck in getting a special image, no matter how well planned. There’s no public schedule for serendipity, superb light doesn’t take reservations, and dramatic skies don’t appear on command. Your best chance of finding something unique is to give something unique a better chance of finding you.

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Lone Pine Peak over the Alabama Hills, Sierra Nevada Mountains, California. Tal had a different image in mind, but as he hiked the rugged terrain, the symmetry of the boulders against the mountains caught his eye.

Wista XV 4x5 field camera, Fujinon A 240mm, Fujichrome Provia 100F
Bullet Two: Be Serious
Take your subjects seriously, take your camera seriously and—more than anything—take yourself seriously. Believe that you can make great images, believe that whatever camera you’re holding right now is capable of capturing great images and believe that there are great images to be found wherever you are. A common mistake is to dismiss a special moment for lack of faith in your own abilities or the abilities of the camera you happen to have with you.

When you come upon an interesting subject, take your time—study it and ask yourself: “What can I do with this?” and “Is this really the best possible composition?” These questions have nothing to do with whether you’re toting a hefty 8x10 view camera or a little point-and-shoot. They have nothing to do with whether you’ve hiked 20 miles to a remote wilderness or just stepped out in your flip-flops on a family vacation.

If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing well. If the scene evokes emotion, if the light is good and if you compose it properly, you’ll have a great image. Anything short of that, and all you’ll end up with will be excuses. Put your best effort into it, and you just might turn what would otherwise be a missed opportunity into a masterpiece.

Don’t let yourself off the hook, cut corners and underestimate your viewers. Photographs don’t play poker—they can’t hide a weak hand. To put it bluntly: Nobody cares why an image doesn’t work or why an image almost works.


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