Whether you’re a true beginner with a phone camera or a seasoned professional with years of experience, these five shortcuts were designed to power you to the next level. Too often, our creative vision is clouded by unnecessarily complicated technical details. While these have their respective place, you won’t find instructions on setting custom white balance or determining the proper flash ratios here. By adjusting our thinking and placing mind over megapixels, anyone with a camera can create memorable images.
1) Asking yourself just one question can improve your photography: What is my subject? Consider it before each press of the shutter. If you’re able to provide an answer, you can learn to see like a camera. The human eye interprets a scene differently, heavily influenced by our peripheral vision and ability to scan from left to right. The camera, however, sees in a much simpler way, as it’s only able to record a small portion onto the sensor. By determining what the subject is, you can take the necessary steps to make an effective photo.
2) Simplify the scene to eliminate distractions and bring attention to the subject. When we experience something grand, it’s tempting to try and include it all in one frame. The expansive landscape, the crowded streets, or the touchdown celebration are all exciting, but lacking in any one point of importance. To more effectively communicate your vision, check all four corners of your viewfinder and either zoom in or physically move to make a stronger image. Do you need the fence in the bottom corner, or the tree that seems to enter the frame from nowhere? This type of attention to detail will help strengthen the composition in-camera, which saves you time at home trying to clone out unwanted objects.
3) Walk around, also known as composing with your feet. At nearly every scenic vista or photographic landmark, you’ll notice a definitive dirt spot where grass once grew. This well-worn spot is the final destination for scores of tourists who shoot the same photo year after year. Rather than following the crowd, take a quick loop around the area and search for unique perspectives. Perhaps it involves lying down, or finding a raised vantage point. Maybe you’ll come across an interesting element to add to your foreground. You’ll work a bit harder this way, but the effort can lead to unique captures of a heavily photographed site. In his book “You Can Do Anything,” author James Mangan wrote, “The narrow mind stays rooted in one spot; the broad mind is free.”
4) Observe, wait, and watch. Years ago, when shooting film, there was no LCD screen to draw our attention away from the subject. This allowed one to really study what was in front of their lens, and be ready to capture the decisive moment. A careful study of a bird for example, often reveals patterns and clues as to what may happen next. These days we have become so accustomed to scrolling through DSLR menus, we are not fully present. If that’s not enough distraction, we have phones with vibrating e-mail alerts, whistling notifications, and chimes for Facebook updates. Photography takes patience and often it involves slowing down, tuning everything else out, and keeping your eye to the viewfinder. Can you imagine a day where you photographed with your LCD screen covered with tape? It may be a fun challenge.
5) Ask yourself, “what if?” Part of photography is documenting reality; the other is pre-visualizing what can potentially unfold before your lens. If you come across a dolphin swimming in a harbor, it may decide to get playful and leap from the water. If you see a beautiful flower with butterflies nearby, there’s a chance the two subjects will come together. To understand how pre-visualization works, you must tap into the wonder of your imagination. If you can see the shot in your mind’s eye, you’ll be ready for it when it happens.