'Snap shots' or The Art of Photography

I have recently had occasion to comment on a person’s photography, and give some advise, as I see it. As I sometimes do, I have collated it into this journal so that it may serve others as well. These are my own opinions, and not to be taken as coming from some authority on the subject. Hope it helps, particularly with Christmas arriving soon, and lots of family members milling around the lounge room.

When shooting people, particularly when you have (a) a busy background, and (b) have not much distance to the background – a wider aperture helps isolate the subject/s. This is possibly the single-most visual and initial difference between what looks like a family snap, and a professional photo – largely because point-and-shoots do not have the ability go to very wide apertures. Wide apertures decrease the DoF (depth of field) – which is the region that is in appreciably good focus. A bit of experience (or online DoF calculators, or your DoF preview button) helps you to select the correct aperture to bring to attention the areas of a scene that you want to highlight. Narrow apertures (higher F-number) produce deeper DoF – bringing more of the scene into focus. Useful for landscapes and such – not so great for a busy lounge room.

The point to the photo.
It helps to keep in mind as you work, what exactly you are trying to achieve. Lucking shots is what most people do, and being pleasantly surprised every now and then. But the truth is – there is no need for luck. A photo is a story – a visual slice of time, frozen forever in a way that cannot be accomplished by other means. A good photo maximises this concept, by bringing a message, story, emotion to the viewer. A good photographer is a storyteller. A great photo reads like a book.

When we shoot, we are shooting ‘light’. We are capturing how light reacts on physical objects, just as our eyes do. Learning to read, use and manipulate light sounds complex, but in fact it is not. A good professional photographer can immediately see and sense how light falls, how shadows interact, how scenes and moods change with different lighting. Using available light such as sunlight, or overhead house lights is one of the most important things one can learn. This can be accomplished from moving yourself around a subject to take advantage of the conditions, by moving your subjects, and/or by moving your light sources. Using flash or another source of artificial light is a field unto itself and is worth learning, but I won’t get too far into here, other than to say – pointing a flash at your subject and firing is the least effective and natural way to add light to a scene. Try bouncing your flash off a ceiling or wall.

Obviously, your subject, or at the least, the poignant portion of your subject, should be in focus. Aside from the obvious, DoF comes into play. Widening your aperture will reduce the depth of your focus area, as well as bring in more light, allowing faster shutter speeds and/or lower ISO. When focusing, there are a few methods to ‘nail it’. There are very few times when manual focus is preferable with indoor group photos and current day cameras. One method is ‘focus & recompose’ – a system I use very often when shooting from 20’ away or greater (the further away your subject, the greater your DoF). This is performed by selecting your exact focal point on the subject (like the eye) using the centre area in your viewfinder, half depressing your shutter release button, and recomposing your photo to frame as you see fit. Alternatively, you can use a different focal point, which will minimise your recomposing, and therefore not shift your plane of view appreciably (which can shift your focus at closer ranges and wider apertures).

Composition and framing
Another major difference between snapshots and great photos. When I take a photo, I instinctively imagine the image in my viewfinder hanging on someone’s wall. This is before I release the shutter. I have done this for so long, and so instinctively, that I rarely need to crop any photos. It is a good practice, saving post-processing time, allowing you to keep the entire frame (and pixels), and also satisfying. All scenes have a natural flow to them. Just as we read books, our eyes follow an image from top left to bottom right. This does not mean that all photos need to take advantage of that particular physiological trait, but it is handy to keep in mind. A good photo has balance, with areas of the scene harmonising to each other using light intensity, facial expressions, emptiness, lines, etc. In fact this is a whole huge subject in itself – the psychology of photography.

Since a photograph is a slice of time, getting your timing right, particularly with moving and animate subjects – makes a whole lot of difference. It is one of the main things I look for when shooting. I think of a snapshot as a glass of milk. A well-timed shot is a Pina Colada :)
Look for expressions on faces that relate to the mood/scene/environment. Hands have expressions also, and often carry as much ‘weight’ as faces.

In my journal I have a brief commentary on exposure – it may help you. Not plugging myself here – just something I wrote quickly to save time when people ask – I point them to it instead of re-writing.

Feel free to debate, query or challenge.
Hope this helps you in your Christmas photography, and have fun 

Journal Comments

  • Kerstin  Inga
  • Lorraine Creagh
  • Carmel Harty
  • wingedwon
  • Marion  Cullen
  • Rosina  Lamberti
  • whittsatwoopi
  • Christine Wilson
  • Adriana Glackin
  • Cordelia