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9 Killer Creative Photography Tips
|By Mia Rose and Josh Austin|
These creative photography tips are things that I often bear in mind when shooting. Before taking a photo, I tend to have a few questions lurking in the back of my mind:
- "What's caught my attention here?"
- "What sort of mood is there to this scene?"
- "How might I tell the story of what I see (in one shot or several)?"
Asking yourself these questions can really help bring some clarity to what you're trying to do. So below are some of the ways that I respond to the above 3 questions when I'm shooting.
What's Caught My Attention Here?
Whilst photography has a lot to do with how you see things, not just what you see, if what you see is interesting you're off to a good start! Be selective about what you choose to photograph. Most things that pass by in front of you don't deserve to be preserved in a photo.
Wait until something really grabs you. Ask yourself what it is and why it's caught your attention. This will get you thinking about composition and how to present it effectively So...
1. Choose an emphatic point of interest. Don't be afraid to only shoot when something has the 'wow factor'. These pictures will hold viewers' attention much better. It could be a lone tree in an empty desert, an explosive moment of sporting action, a moment of high emotion; just something that has punch!
2. Play with composition. Go with your instinctive sense of composition to begin with, to capture the subject as you feel is right. Then bear in mind techniques like the rule of thirds, lead-in lines, scale, balance etc., to work towards the best version of the image you can produce.
3. Experiment with focal length. The focal length you choose has a dramatic impact on the relationship between you and your subject and its background. All else being equal, the shorter the focal length, the wider the field of view.
A short focal length demands close physical proximity to your subject (or, at least, to the foreground). A longer focal length allows you to stand back and zoom in, which has the effect of the background looming large behind the focal point.
4. Play with angles. This is somthing that makes taking pictures really fun. The impact of your angle on the subject is huge! We're lucky in the age of modern digital photography not to have to use great big unwieldy cameras. Most cameras can even be held one handed with an outstretched arm. Get high, low, left, right etc! Lead-in lines often tie in with a clever use of angles.
2. What sort of mood is there to this scene?
There are lots of tricks for helping you to capture mood. Some are all about how the shot is taken in-camera, others involve post-production. Don't get bogged down in seeking technical perfection. There's no such thing! Perfection differs between images. Depending on the mood you want to convey, you can use blur, pin-sharp techniques, graininess, filters, bright light, low-key light etc.
5. High-Key vs Low-Key. These terms are pretty self-explanatory, and are most often applied to portrait shots. A high key picture is very brightly lit, often with intentionally blown out (white) highlights. Slightly over expose a shot to create a high-key effect. You can use natural or artificla lights. The resulting mood, is happy, bubbly, serene, joyful, fresh, pure and innocent.
Low-key photos involve slightly under-exposing a shot. Shadow areas can be totally black in places. The mood in low-key images tends to be more brooding, understated, intimate, perhaps threatening or sinister, introverted and loaded with implications.
6. Smoke or mist in landscape shots. There are lots of things that can bring mood to landscapes, but a veil of dawn mist or smoke rising upwards are sure-fire winners. These things always bring a lot of atmosphere to landscape pictures, so make sure to pounce on them when the opportunity arives.
7. Experiment with filters and Photoshop effects. Just like the colour temperature (white balance) of an image can have a big impact on the 'feel', filters and subtle Photoshop adjustments can really change the character of a shot. Here are a few that I play around with often:
- Warming filter. Brings a mellow, tranquil mood. Great for Autumnal landscapes and outdoor scenes.
- Black and white Photoshop converion. Often pictures with high contrast look wonderful in black and white. Make an instant conversion in Photoshop and tweak the contrast/levels adjusments.
- Use textures. I tend to like warm, rustic textures that can bring an almost dream-like quality to photos.
- Apply grain. This is a fun technique and can influence mood in a number of ways. It can also be a way of imitating film stills. I use Nik's Silver Effect Pro to convert your images to black and white and create film-like, grainy images with high contrast and a lovely richness to them. I often add a little bit of grain to my images in the digital darkroom with Alien Skin’s Exposure plug-in.
- Add intensity with the Unsharp Mask Filter. Selective sharpening helps to draw the viewer's focus on to a specific part of your image. It's great when used to sharpen the eyes in a portrait photo.
How might I tell the story of what I see?
It's a brilliant challenge to try to really tell a story in a single still photograph. Sometimes it just can't really be done. But that's ok, because photo essays, like the ones we see all the time in newspapers and magazines are really fun projects.
8. A single picture. Look at the photos of great photographers, be they portrait photographers, documentary photographers, war photographers or whatever. Somehow they have a knack for clicking the shutter when it really counts. There's only so much you can say in 1/60th of a second! So choose the moment carefully.
Steve McCurry's portraits have an emotional depth that reveals so much about the life of his subjects. Henri Cartier-Bresson would wait until all the elements of a scene came together to articulate the meaning of an event perfectly, and then 'click'! Don McCullin froze 2 or 3 moments of the Vietnam war that came to speak of the entire conflict. Use photographers like these as inspiration. It's all about being highly selective.
9. Photo essay. I love photo essays becasue it allows you to build up a picture of an entire event, place etc. You have to be just as selective with you shots, but you just get to cover the subject from every angle (metaphorically).
I think photo essays are very similar to travel photography. When you're trying to represent a place you tend to show the big wide-angle view of a town square; then a few smaller streets; some close ups of windows, doors, textures and materials; portraits and candid street scenes of the local people; perhaps some shots of major monuments etc.
With a photo essay you build up an overall picture, often chronologically, or perhaps thematically. Say it was for a sports match. You might start with a photo of a road-side ad for the match; then a candid picture of your family/mates in the car; a view of the stadium from outside; a close up of a hot-dog or something; a shot of the crowd as the game builds up; then onto action shots of the match; a few of the moments when the crowd are on their feet; the scoreboard etc. Or something similar on a much smaller scale(!)...
There are thousands of more technical creative photography tips that you can explore on Photography Art Cafe. But those above deal with the over-arching questions that you might have in mind when shooting.
What's caught my attention? What sort of mood is there? How can I tell the story? They're all really useful things to be conscious of. The last one in particular can be a hugely valuable way to improve the quality of your shots.