Here are a few of the tidbits that photographers digest as we grow and learn about our medium. I hope that you find them helpful even if you are just using your phone to take photographs.
1. How do I use lighting? The best time of day to photograph just about everything is either in the early morning or in the evening (basically when the sun is coming over your shoulder rather than straight down). When the sun comes in at an angle, the light that your camera will read is often warmer and softer in tone. It also is less likely to blow out highlights/details. Another aspect of lighting is the option of photographing people in indirect lighting – this causes the light to be more even across their features rather than casting harsh highlights/shadows on their face or body. Indirect means: A. Reflected light (off of a wall, a handheld reflector, or whathaveyou) is another way to cast softer light onto someone or something. B. Overcast weather/no direct sunshine/shade.
2. Where can I place my subject within the image? A lot appealing, but not all, photographs use what we know as the rule of thirds. This means that the main subject is offset from the center to the upper, lower, left or right third of the image. This can also work for images where the main subject really fills the image. You can compose your shot to have your subject’s eye in one of the thirds. Something called leading lines is also helpful. Lines in an image can lead our eyes inwards or outwards from the subject(s) in an image. Roadways, fences, windows, or really anything can be used to direct the viewer’s attention where you want them to look or not look. Be mindful of lines that lead the viewer’s eyes completely out of the image rather than towards what is supposed to be focused on. Also don’t stand too far away from your subject. Don’t be afraid to get in close and fill up your image with your chosen subject!
3. How do I use my camera? Read your camera manual. Seriously. It is a great way to discover hidden features and make full use of your equipment. And you will also understand what that little symbol on the back of your camera means. As cameras get more and more complicated, it really is a good idea to read your manual. You paid or were given the camera, right? Make good use of it if you can! Sometimes manuals also offer compositional advice on how to use different features. If you don’t understand your manual, don’t be afraid to ask others for help. As you learn more about your camera, the more control you have over your images.
4. What is a good point of view? When photographing children and pets, it is an often great vantage point to be on their eye level. This may mean sitting on the floor or squatting down. If you are shorter than the person you are photographing (say you’re photographing your husband and he’s a foot taller than you), either find a way to elevate yourself or have the person dip their chin down. This helps reduce the unattractive “looking down their nose at you” look and it also helps people with unflattering necks. Hardly anyone looks great being photographed from below their eye level (although turning the chin down a bit really does help).
5. What is with all the stuff in the background? It is SO easy to miss details happening behind your subject. Whether it is a bright reflection on a car window, clutter, or a pole appearing out of the person’s head… it should all be considered before you take that photo. The background matters just as much as the foreground. Blurred out highlights in the background or overly dark objects can be distracting. Getting in close or even moving yourself forwards, backwards, or sideways can help eliminate anything distracting.
All rules can be broken sometimes.
To reinforce that rules can be used and broken, here is a recent popular photograph of mine:
Here I have:
– Used indirect lighting in the late afternoon.
– Photographed her slightly below her eye level.
– Used the direction of her eyes and her smile as a way to suggest hopefulness.
– Placed her in the right third of the image.
– Kept the background simple.
In the context of a senior portrait, why do these choices work? Is she looking towards the future with hope? What might this say about her personality and perseverance? How would a different background change the story of this image?
Feel free to leave a comment if you have any suggestions for future advice posts! Thank you for stopping by and reading.