Some of the most frequent questions I get asked, especially on instagram are, "How do you make beautiful images?"... "What's the best camera to use?".. "What are the best settings for travel photography?" and "What makes a good photo?".
There are times I have nodded my head in approval of a photo I took and other times (Oooooooowie... So many other times) I almost sold my camera and looked for a day job. Woosah!...so this post is my attempt at answering those and more ways to turn your photos from every day snapshots to epic masterpieces... Photos that tell compelling stories.
The 5 concepts I share here can apply to any kind of photography you'd like to do. All the images I've chosen here were taken under some kind of limitation/restriction/impediment whether it be time, space or equipment. In essence, these images could easily be snapshots, images that didn't require much (Work/effort/time) to create... and by showing them I hope to;
- Illustrate that the best camera is the one you have in your hand at the moment (I have used plenty of cameras including my phone(s) in the span of making these images).
- share some of the fundamental things you can focus on every day when you think about taking a photo.
So here goes.
1. Take your landscape photos at odd hours...
Yes, I do mean odd as in "not even"... Let me explain.
Wake Up Early
Waking up at 5am means you can set up either on a tripod or flat surface and capture the sky as it's transitioning from black to blue (Depending on where in the world you are and what time sunrise is). Sometimes that soft light from the rising sun (But before it comes up from the horizon) can be very flattering especially when you have bodies of water. The blue of the sky reflects well on water bodies and gives your photo a nice colour palette (Try bringing that up at the dinner table... Go ahead, Impress the peeps). I shot this on the Samsung NX300 with the kit lens.
Get Out Late
In most places around the world, the sun sets from around 6:30 to 7pm. This is perfect for taking photos of cityscapes at dusk. 7pm means you have a fading blue sky and city lights in buildings as work comes to a close. I make it a point to find out if I can access at least one rooftop in whatever city I'm going to. If there is booking and paying involved, it goes in my budget for the trip. Just like above, the need of a tripod or steady surface where you can place your camera is necessary. In this case, my tripod was not allowed up the Top Of The Rock in New York. I had to improvise... Placed my camera on a book I had carried and used the camera's timer so as not to get a blurry image.
Stay Up Late
When the sun goes down and we have clear skies, the stars come out to play. Sometimes it doesn't dawn on us to look up and marvel at the night sky. Best time being from around 11pm (Because the milky way usually has risen around this time and makes for interesting night photography)... There are a few limitations to shooting stars though... It requires you to be in a relatively dark area and for your camera to have raw shooting capabilities. For more on that, you can check out a tutorial I had put up here.
2. Use Leading Lines
Humans are extremely visual beings... You draw the line, we will follow it (Or cross it even). Leading lines basically "lead" the viewer's eye to what they're supposed to see. And you, as the storyteller, decide what we see in an image. These are the two ways I've mostly used this...
Using Straight Lines
This is possibly the easiest and most common way to use leading lines...Straight lines are everywhere you look...roads, buildings, power lines.. everywhere. The farther the lines go away from you the more they converge, leading our eyes to a point.
Using Curved Lines
The potential of curved lines to be visually pleasing is high because they ensure the viewer's eye is travelling through the entire frame of the shot. Curved lines ensure we notice every other element in the photo that we otherwise wouldn't. For example in the photo below, it's easy to think that the tree is the main "character" of the story...Without the tyre tracks, that would actually be the case. The tracks on the sand let us know that there is a more "important" character in the story we should be focusing on... flinging the tree into the supporting cast of the story. I shot this through the window of a fast-moving car.
3. Isolate Your Subject
When your photo doesn't have a clear subject, a "star of the show", then the viewer is forced to look around to try and see what catches their eye first. It is vital that the star of your show stands out... There's a few ways to make sure of this.
This is one of the simplest ways of isolating your subject. Especially if your subject is dressed in brighter, more dominant colours than the background. Something you wouldn't want is for your background to be competing for attention. Solid coloured backgrounds work well for this.
Frames could be anything from doors to pillars, leaves, windows, columns... Anything that pretty much surrounds your subject in a way that leads the viewer's eye to them directly. For example, in the first photo below, my friend Michelle is in frame within the small corridor...In the next photo, the trees in the background help frame the farmer in the center of the image.. and lastly, the students in the library become more obvious because the doorway leads our eyes to look inside.
4. Wait For It... Waaaait for it!
By far the most underrated aspect of making epic images...Patience. Sometimes the difference between OK and Great is the WAIT. In the photo below, after noticing the patterns of the flamingos (Walking in threes or more), I waited a few minutes after framing the shot I wanted till they walked to where I wanted them... then shot. It would have been a rather boring shot if I had only the flamingos in the distance. The three flamingos in the front give the photo more depth.
In this next photo... I entered the baseball field and sat for a few minutes watching the game. Walked around framing the shot in my head before I took out the camera. Then waited again to study the pitcher's movement and knew when he would raise his leg to throw the ball.
5. Experiment With What You Have!!
This is actually my favourite part. I just loooooove to experiment. There's a time when I had only a 50mm lens with my old Nikon D5200 camera. I shot so much with it I didn't think I needed another lens. Then I got a 35mm... same drill. It was like listening to that one song in the album till it scratches. Nowadays I shoot on my phone (Huawei P9) almost all the time. In fact, for a recent HungerFree documentary project I was on, I shot almost exclusively on the phone... With the help of an unlikely accessory... A selfie stick. Who knew turning a selfie stick the other direction (Away from you...no selfies, please) could create such magic... Here's one way you can experiment shooting on phone.
Get Up High
The beauty of shooting on phone is that it forces you to think about your shot... The framing, the composition, the angle. In my opinion, your phone is the most powerful camera you'll ever have because you always have it... It's always ready to shoot. I used the Huawei P9 here on a selfie stick...I was standing on a crate, punched in the settings and stretched out my arm with the back camera facing downwards..
Sometimes the difference can be just a few inches. The image below was shot on the phone with my arm outstretched. The image right after was on the selfie stick which added just about 4 inches but made a huge difference to the shot.
That's about it for now. 5 tips that can make all the difference... Happy shooting!!