We all want to make better photos. But how do we improve? What are we striving for? Here are five elements to consider, whatever our chosen subject may be, that directly impact the quality of your photography.
- Great lighting + careful exposure
- Engaging composition
- Careful timing
- Resonant color and/or tonal range
I believe the more you can integrate any of these five elements into your images the more satisfied you will be with your photography. I also know that it is no easy task to include each of the five in a single photo!
1. Great lighting + Careful Exposure
Light is the substance and essence of photography, not of photographs, but of photography. Where there is no light it is impossible to make a photograph. Light is the raw material of photography. We’ve all been aware of light since before we were born, but for most people, this awareness remains in their subconscious mind. If you want to become a truly creative photographer you must begin to consider the light with your conscious mind.
Learning to see light and be aware of changes in light is one of the most significant actions you can take to improve the quality of your photographs. Controlling your camera to expose well and capture the light the way you see it, or how you imagine it will look in your photograph, goes hand in hand with seeing the light.
2. Engaging Composition
Composition is how you arrange the elements within the frame of your photograph. It’s about what you include within your frame and what you leave out. You can control your composition by choice of lens, your point of view from where you take our photograph and sometimes by moving the physical elements you are photographing.
Rules of composition have generally originated from those studied by classical painters and have been around since before the camera was invented. You can study them, rigidly apply them, and at times still not achieve engaging compositions.
3. Careful Timing
Henri Cartier-Bresson’s famous term (and book title) “The Decisive Moment” sums up what is regarded as another essential element in creating good photographs. The moment you choose to open the camera shutter has a significant influence on the quality of the photographs you make.
Depending on your chosen subject, this could be a split-second decision or it may even take weeks and months of planning to finally reach the right moment.
4. Resonant Color and/or Tonal Range
Where light is the essence of photography, color and tone (tone only when you work in black and white) are the expressions of reflected light captured by your camera. Color and tone are what you see when you look at a photograph. You do not see light, you see what the light is reflecting off, and this is represented by color and tone in your photographs.
By resonant color, I mean color which affects the viewer because it is significantly incorporated into the photo. The same goes for a resonant tonal range in your black and white photos.
The first four elements I have discussed can be learned by careful study. This last one can be more of a challenge for many people. Some will achieve it effectively with a relatively little study. Others will labour over the technical issues so much that any intuition is substantially blocked out of their photography experience.Knowing our camera intimately, how it functions, what dials to use to set the exposure, (and understanding why you need to) where the essential settings are in the menus, and when you are best to adjust them, will free you up to be more intuitively creative with your camera. For some people, this is easier than for others.