In last week’s tip (Common Traits That Make Great Photos, Part 1), I explained how dramatic light, good subjects and good composition can help you create images that leave an impact. This week, in part two of this two-part series, I’ll share three more common traits that make great photos.
Trait #4 - Decisive Moment: The decisive moment is a term made famous by Henri Cartier-Bresson. He was a street photographer who intuitively knew the precise second to press the shutter. He didn’t rely on high-speed motor drive. It’s a lot easier to capture the decisive moment with today’s technology and frame per second rate, but it still requires anticipation, knowledge of the subject and fast reflexes. Anticipation goes hand in hand with having knowledge of the subject in that the photographer armed with wisdom can stay one step ahead of his competition. Whether the subject be animals, people or athletes at a sporting event, if you can intelligently predict what action may occur, you’re ready for it. I frequent a local pond to photograph the waterfowl. There were a few other photographers present. Based on the way one of the male wood ducks was acting, I told everyone to keep their lenses pointed at him because he was about to rise out of the water and wing flap. “How did you know he was going to do that?” I was asked. Knowledge of the subject allows you to capture the decisive moment!
Trait #5 - The Background is Equally As Important As The Subject: In trait #1 from last week, I shared two of my favorite tag lines—see last week’s tip to read them. Another favorite is, “The background is equally as important as the subject.” I don’t care how gorgeous the subject is, if it’s offset against a distracting background, the photo will fall short. The background is incredibly important. For many wildlife subjects, the more out of focus and simple, the better the background. It allows the subject to come forward and let the viewer’s eye rest on just the face. The best recipe to create a clean background consists of three key aspects: use as wide open an aperture as possible, shoot with as long a lens as possible and be sure the subject is far away from the background. Conversely, if the background harmonizes with the subject and it’s not distracting, keep it in focus. The key ingredients to accomplish this are to stop the lens down to ƒ/16, use a wide-angle lens and place the camera on a tripod to ensure the slow exposure doesn’t introduce camera movement.
Trait #6 - Sharpen Your Skills: Given the five traits I’ve mentioned so far (see last week’s tip), let’s look at a scenario. The light is amazing, the subject is perfect, the composition is refined, the perfect moment is about to happen, and the background is clean and simple: CLICK! You look at the LCD and that once-in-a-lifetime shot is ruined due to a lack of sharpness. It’s essential you have the active focus point over the most important part of the subject. Press the shutter half way down and move the active focus point around using the command wheel or dial on the back of your camera. If the subject moves, move the point with it. Continuous or Servo focus modes does this for you provided the initial active focus point was placed over your subject. If the circumstances make sense, use a tripod. Use a cable release in conjunction with it. The simple pressing of the shutter can impart movement even if with the camera on a tripod. Take it another step and use mirror lockup so the slap of the mirror doesn’t impart movement. If a tripod isn’t in the mix, switch on vibration reduction or image stabilization if the lens or camera body has it. Not all do. Be cognizant of your shutter speed. If the shutter speed is too slow when you handhold the camera, the photo won’t be sharp. The more telephoto the lens, the more critical it is to use a fast shutter speed. Model the concepts above, in addition to those found in last week’s tip, and you’re on your way to creating one of your own top-five photos.
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