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Keys to Better Photography - First in a Series

Blogs: #9 of 12

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As a member of several online venues where millions of photos and art are available for purchase or license I see a wide range of photography. As you would expect, there are some fantastic photographs coming from some good artists. On the flip side there are many photographs that reflect a photographer struggling to understand the components of a good photograph. Without an understanding those elements there comes an inability to self-edit or self critique.

To those who have advanced skills or are happy with their work you may want to stop reading. For those wanting to improve their results or want a refresher, today I am starting a new series that highlights what I believe to be the keys to advancing your photographic skills. The keys presented in this series will not only serve to help you better critique your own work, but also increase your percentage of successes when you sit down at your computer to edit. Todayís topic is light. In the future Iíll address composition, subjects, distractions, critiquing your own work, post processing, and more.

When I pick up my camera I am not only trying to capture moments for my own memories, but since I started licensing images and selling prints many years ago it became more important to excite and captivate those who view them. Over the years my success rate has improved considerably through practice and measuring my work against those that are better. I am still trying new things, sometimes failing and other times succeeding. I either case I continue to learn and push my understanding of what works.

I have never held my photography up as the standard for the world, but through practice and reflection I have come a long way to understanding the elements that combine to make an interesting and hopefully a captivating image. I am generally a tough critic of my work and am not afraid to pitch photos into the digital trash box when things donít work as planned. It is easy to fall in love with a photo that should have been great but that missed the mark. I refer to my work as ďimageryĒ as I feel it better describes what I do. You can take a photo or your can create and image. So for those who want to up their game and show the world better results lets begin.

This is where it all starts. It flatters or diminishes your subject. Light often makes or breaks a photo and should be a primary consideration when you are visualizing a photograph. An average subject with great light is often better than a great subject in poor light. I have forced many shots when the light was poor because I was impatient or my timing was bad. More often or not those images end up in the trash can or linger deep in my files never to see the light of day.

Most outdoor and nature photographers do not introduce light into a scene and therefore rely on the sun as the primary light source. There are ways to control light (diffusers, reflectors, etc), but thatís another topic. The angle of the light, the angle of your shot, and the quality of the light are critical to enhancing your subject. For landscape photography the best light is most often in the hours around sunrise and sunset. For macro photography a diffused or even light often works best (yes, cloudy days can be good for this). I observe far too many flower photographs taken in contrasty light, or landscape photographs taken at mid-day or on cloudy days when the light is very flat. If you are attempting to sell your images or do well in contests you need to edit these out of your portfolio. The point is that it is lazy to shoot in bad light if you have the opportunity choose the when and where to optimize the light for your subject. This will put you on your road to better photographs.

When youíve found your subject you need to visualize how you want to use the available light relative to your subject. Some people will simply start shooting and ultimately work toward better shots. Thatís okay, thatís their process. You may also visualize exactly what you want and then put yourself in a position (physically and time of day) to accomplish your goal. So consider what angle of light will flatter your subject. Sometimes your initial thoughts will morph into other and sometimes better ideas.

Iíll admit that most of my favorite images came about with good planning, but some do not. When I am traveling on a schedule I am moving about and canít always be where I need to be at the right time. For those subjects I know I want to capture I plan ahead and make the time. For others my subjects often present themselves because the light is so fantastic. In other words, I hadnít planned on the shot, but Iím glad the light gave me the opportunity! The key is I am putting myself in the right places at the right time given the light. The rest is serendipity. Remember, light can make an average subject look great or a great subject look bad.

Feel free to share your comments or add to this discussion. If there are specific subjects youíd like me to address, feel free to let me know.