So, you’ve started taking pictures but can’t seem to take them to the next level, and it seems impossible to take great pictures without having an eye for photography. However, before you throw in the towel, be sure to try out the following 3 tips which we introduce in this article—we promise you won’t even have to worry about the f-number or shutter speed. (Edited by studio9)
Point 1: Make a collection of your favourite photos
Before you begin, think about and identify what it is exactly that makes a photo “great.” If you start shooting without a clear idea, you won’t have a goal to work towards.
Step 1: Put together a collection of your favourite photos
Assemble photos from your favourite photographers, or even photos from magazines or websites that catch your eye. For a start, aim to assemble around 50 photos.
Once you have collected 50 photos, take note of the following steps. Continue to look for more photos, and replace those in the initial 50 with the new ones you have found. In doing so, your 50 favourite photos will increasingly reflect your own preferences, and what was previously just a vague notion of a “great” photo will start to take shape.
Step 2: Assemble 50 of your own photos
Next, select 50 photos that you like from those that you have taken. As in Step 1, once you have selected 50 shots, replace the existing photos with new ones.
Now you will have two groups of photos: one consisting of photos that reflect your idea of the ideal photo and the other consisting of photos that reflect where you stand in terms of photography skill. Like this, you should be able to see the clear differences between the two groups. You’ll also be able to easily identify the areas you need to work on.
Once this is done, keep replacing your own 50 photos with new photos that you take from now on. By continuing to do this, you will be able to improve and get ever closer to the 50 ideal shots you initially collected.
Point 2: Think of the subject and its surroundings as one set
When you first start taking photos, it’s easy to get carried away focusing on the subject, and to overlook its surroundings. However, a photo isn’t just about the subject itself. You also have to consider the subject relative to its surroundings.
Once you have found a subject, take some time to check out the surrounding area and decide what the subject should be taken together with, or whether there are things that should be left out. With this in mind, you’ll be able to take a greater variety of photos.
Since there are so many different shooting situations, I will introduce some practical methods for you to get started.
＊Rules of Thirds ＋ Diagonal Lines
Once you have found your primary subject (what you want to shoot most), try to arrange your composition in such a way that the secondary subject (what you want to shoot it together with) forms a diagonal line with it. Think about placing the subjects in diagonally opposite corners using the Rule of Thirds.
The orca (primary subject) is arranged diagonally to the silhouette of the parent and child (secondary subject).
As the plate at the bottom left was long and narrow, I placed it diagonally as well, whilst trying to arrange it in a diagonal line with the teacup.
*Create diagonal lines with the surrounding scenery
If there is only one subject, you can also create diagonal lines with its surrounding scenery.
By placing the section of a path—known as a vanishing point—at an intersection point of the gridlines in the Rules of Thirds, it appears as if the surrounding scenery is being drawn towards that point. Try as much as possible to shoot at a wide angle for a great shot.
Using shadows to create diagonal lines is also a great idea!
Point 3: Take a step closer
When you first start taking photos, sometimes you might not be able to really grasp the sense of distance between the camera (focal length of the lens) and the subject, or how far away you should be when shooting.
*Get really close and shoot as you step back
Unless you are shooting a subject several hundred metres away from you, simply taking one step closer can greatly change the impression of a photo when shooting a subject that appears to be several metres away.
One such example is when you are shooting a tree. A photo gives a completely different impression when you get really close and shoot from a distance of 20cm, compared to when you shoot from a distance of 1m away from the base of the tree.
Shot taken at a distance of 20cm from the base of the tree.
Shot taken at a distance of 100cm from the base of the tree.
Look at how much a photo can change just by you getting closer to the subject. However, most people would normally not get this close. They just don’t, unless they are used to doing it.
I know from experience that most people will not really get closer when you tell them to move closer and shoot, so I will suggest this: try to get so close to the subject that it actually goes out of the frame, and take shots as you move backwards.
*Keep your zoom fixed—tape it down
Another suggestion is to tape down your zoom. If you have a prime lens, you could use that instead.
While you might think that having a zoom lens from the get-go is a great way to have fun shooting various photos, as it can be, it does come with a big side-effect. You will have a tendency to zoom in to take an up-close shot, instead of taking one step closer.
However, taking one step closer to shoot the subject up close without zooming (lens remains at the wide angle end) is different from zooming in (lens zooms from wide angle to telescopic end) to magnify and shoot the subject. Generally, a picture tends to appear more impressive when taken from up close at a wide angle.
Moreover, when adjusting the size by zooming, you tend not to move from where you are. However, if your zoom is sealed, you will naturally have to move, not only to the front and back, but to the left and right as well.
Coming back to Point 2, it is also easier to arrange the composition since you can adjust the positional relationship of two subjects simply by moving to the left and right.
For this reason, I recommend those of you who use a zoom lens to practise taking photos with the zoom ring kept fixed with masking tape.
Use masking tape to keep the lens fixed at the 50mm position.
By intentionally making it impossible to zoom, you’ll start using a zoom lens the way you would a prime lens, and you will be able to grasp the sense of distance between yourself and the subject. You’ll also develop a habit of arranging the composition by moving your position.
A general kit lens has a zoom range of 18-55mm and with this method, you can try fixing the focal length at the three typical values of 24mm, 35mm and 50mm with a single lens. Who knows? You might find yourself preferring to shoot at 50mm. In that case, it might be a good idea to get a 50mm prime lens.
Summary: Try shooting from a different perspective from what you’re used to
For those who think that you’re stuck in a rut with regards to your photography, just looking at different photographs, shooting with a different perspective or even using different photography methods might help shake things up and get you out of that rut.
A photography website established in Japan in 2011. With the slogan “Bringing photography closer to you”, the site provides content that is useful for everyone who enjoys photography. Besides web content, studio9 also conducts seminars and workshops.