Delving deep into improvement
Dave Williams here for #TravelTuesday on ScottKelby.com, and this week I’ve been trying not to dwell on the fact that I’m not in Iceland when I should be, and when the northern lights have been kicking off large! (British term, hope you get it.)
It’s still a time of uncertainty for all of us, globally. Scott announced his annual Worldwide Photo Walk, but this year there’s a twist: it’s solo. I sincerely hope that as many of us as possible will take a walk with our cameras on October 3rd to continue the world’s largest social photography event and to support the Springs of Hope Orphanage in Kenya, with 100% of the entrance amount being gifted straight to them. Walking solo rather than in a guided group, as usual, will be a little different, but there’s plenty of support coming from the team at KelbyOne.
Sticking with uncertainty, we often find ourselves uncertain about our photography. We also all strive for improvement constantly, at every level in this industry. Even Scott himself never stops learning and it’s very important to our individual success that we identify areas of improvement. Sometimes it’s not straightforward to do this, but all too often the things we need to improve are rooted in quite practical reasons why our photography may not be at the level we want it to be. To that end, this handy list of reasons serves to remind us where those roots are and what our focus should be when we’re trying to identify those areas of improvement. Let’s get stuck in.
The exposure triad, the triangle, the weigh-off of shutter speed versus ISO versus aperture, whatever you want to label it, understanding and applying our knowledge of exposure has to be top of the list. Shooting in Auto doesn’t allow us control or understanding of the exposure triangle because we’re handing over complete control of it to the brains of the camera. So, doing some research into exposure and moving away from Auto onto a semi-automatic setting such as Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority, or Program Mode should be our first step, followed by the absolutely-immersive and totally-overwhelming Manual mode. The thing is, once we get a grip on this understanding, we lose all sense of being overwhelmed and release a whole new level of creativity. We can also sway away from the rules and deliberately over or underexpose our images for that artistic edge, having understood the rules so we can effectively break them. Trust me, it makes sense! It also opens up the world of light painting, long exposures, and much more, which in turn gives us direction and education in itself.
Composition is a very, very close second place on the list. There are far too many photos taken that clearly give no aforethought to composition. Here’s the thing: Us humans are big subliminal fans of certain things. These things include even distribution, good placement, regularity, pathways, and other such things. All of these have a place within the realm of photography composition, such as the pathway found in an image containing leading lines or the placement of a subject when the rule of thirds is applied. There are a lot of resources available for what makes good composition—I’ve written several here on ScottKelby.com, and there are classes available on KelbyOne which help, among others. Composition should be considered—it can make or break an image. It’s even true to say that good composition can make an awesome image of a boring subject, whereas a really interesting subject composed badly will be an image nobody remembers. Remember that.
This is also a very close position, only losing to composition by a hair. Perspective is another element that makes or breaks an image, and here’s why: –
We walk around all day, every day, seeing the world from our perspective— our eye level. When we take photos from our eye level they look normal. They look the way we see things as we walk through life. The photos that intrigue and captivate us, sometimes even leaving us wondering for a second or two about what we’re even seeing, are the ones that are taken from a different perspective to what we’re used to from our eye level. For example, a flower sits below our eye level and we look down on it—that’s normal. If we take a photo of a flower from the perspective of a caterpillar in amongst the foliage it creates an unusual perspective. Now we’re looking up at, or sideways onto, an object that we normally look down on, and that shift in perspective has made an everyday object look far more special. The same thing applies to Kaylee Greer‘s awesome dog photos, for example. We see dogs from above, but if we shift our perspective and get low, we see them from a new angle. And, in getting lower, so that we look up to them, we even step it up a gear and turn them into heroes, just in the way that iconic images of our superheroes are from an upwards perspective. Change your perspective!
Learning to see light is an actual thing. It may not be something that many people understand, and it can even be the case that people think they can see light but the truth is, once you can see light, you know you can see light. Highlights, shadows, drop-off, gradation, tone, all these things suddenly come to light (pardon the pun), and it helps us really understand a scene and a photograph. I’m talking about blue hour and golden hour in this section, too. Knowing when the best light will arrive and recognising it when it does is the difference between a snapshot and a portfolio piece. There are lots of places to help us understand how to see light, and one of the best teachers for this is Glyn Dewis.
And by “projects” what I mean is that you haven’t done any! One of the best ways to improve, hands-down, in photography is to undertake a project. It takes us out of our comfort zone and helps us to understand a different genre of photography, educating us in the intricacies and nuances of another field and giving us skills that transfer into our own field. For example, if you’re a landscape photographer, shoot some portraits. If you’re a macro photographer, shoot some night skies. It could even be as simple as doing an alphabet project, finding everyday objects that resemble letters of the alphabet in order to improve composition and perspective.
That is to say, lack of subject. One big mistake people make, particularly at the beginning of their photographic journey, is to take photos that lack a clearly defined subject. Our brain works well at rationalising things. We try to understand what things are all about. When that applies to photography we’re looking for a reason, a rationale, and a subject. We look at a photo similar to the way we look at a piece of art in a gallery, and how many times have you looked at a piece of art and wondered, “What is this even about?” If we have a clear subject in our photos, we don’t leave people wondering what the photo is about and we free our viewers into exploring other elements rather than walking away scratching their head.
Practice, practice, practice. Understand photography, understand your photography, understand your camera, learn why things work and why they don’t. A great way to do this is to study and copy other photographers’ work, and critique your own work whilst constantly practicing and striving for improvement. We’ve all heard the famous, “Your first 10,000 photos are your worst” quote, and it’s because it’s all practice, and it’s ongoing.
Keep taking photos. Keep thinking about why they do and don’t work. Keep striving for success. If you aren’t happy with an image, just take a step back and think about why. There are lots of things we can do to improve, and no photo is perfect. There’s plenty of time between now and October 3rd to register for the Worldwide Photo Walk and knock out some amazing photos and win some amazing prizes on a solo photo walk in the world’s biggest photography event!