When you bought your first “real” camera (you know… the kind that had more buttons on it than Captain Kirk’s control panel), you were eager to fire off award winning images. Images that would wow your friends, co-workers, the squirrel in the oak tree outside your front window… anybody other than your mother, who just may have a bit of a biased opinion on your work. You set out to the local park to take pictures of flowers, the beach to take pictures of the sunset, the little league baseball field a few blocks from your home. And when you were done shooting, you’d drop off your film (Film… what’s that?) at the one-hour photo lab, anticipating the adulation that was surely to follow. But then, reality set in. You saw your photos. And they sucked. The good news is that in today’s digital age, you don’t have to wait an hour to know you suck as a photographer when you’re just starting out.
There are numerous tips out there to help beginners become better photographers. Most are very helpful, such as “get closer”, “use a tripod in low light”, and my favorite, “make sure your lens cap is off”. But, one often-heard tip that can be misleading is to “take more pictures”. The theory is that if one takes more pictures, eventually, one becomes better at photography. And, that may be true. But, I feel there’s a more efficient way to become a better photographer. I’ll contend that taking less pictures is an easier way to become more proficient at photography.
The logic behind taking more pictures, is similar to knowing when spaghetti is ready to eat… that if you throw enough of it at the wall, eventually, something will stick. The problem with this approach is not knowing what made it stick. You focus your camera on the subject, and begin to rattle off dozens of pictures within seconds at blinding speed, constantly changing your shutter speed and/or aperture on the fly, and dancing around your subject like a well-trained ballerina. Then, you look at your LCD screen, and begin to look over your images, hopefully finding one that is acceptable. YES!!! There is one!!! But, what made that image “the one”? Often, beginners are content with just the fact that they were successful, instead of focusing on the why of their success.
Often, we get too caught up in the technology of photography (f-stops, shutter speeds, ISO), and forget about the very essence of this art…. composition. When creating an image, it’s important to envision how you want your final product to appear. The approach I usually take, is to walk around the subject numerous times, when possible, sometimes, crouching below it, or standing on something, allowing me to rise above the subject. Then, when I find the angle that most intrigues me, I take a picture. I’ll view the result in the LCD screen and make an adjustment or two, if necessary, in order to achieve the exposure I want. And, more often than not, I’m happy with the result. But, most imoprtantly, I’ll know why I was happy with the image.