I started out taking pictures when I was 12. I received my first 35mm camera and was filled with excitement as I anticipated the masterpieces I would capture on film. My first attempt was at Silver Falls on a trip with my parents. I took all 24 exposures of trees and water. When I got the pictures back, I was disappointed beyond words. What I managed to capture was a bunch of boring trees and flat water falls with bad lighting. The next roll of film was not much better and even years down the road, I still took pretty bad pictures. It wasn’t until I started observing other people’s great pictures and tried to understand what made their pictures interesting and mine lifeless. Here are a few key things I’ve learned.

  1. Subject. Your subject should tell a story. I always ask myself what is it that I want to remember about this moment. Is it the laugh, is it the breeze, is it the love I feel, the joy I see between siblings, the mess, the 20 feet of snow on the side of the road? When I keep the story in mind, I can better zero in and leave out the distractions.
  2. Vantage Point. Take pictures at the same level as your subject. If I am taking a picture of a baby on the floor, I get on the floor. You can play around with the angels and take some great pictures from above or below, but the general rule is to stay on the same level. I have a picture of me with 3 of my friends at the end of a very memorable summer when I was 16. We got all dressed up and found what we thought was the perfect picture taking place on a big rock. The person taking the picture was unfortunately below us by quite a bit and our heads were in a shadow. The picture I ended up with is 4 girls with shadowed heads and gigantic glowing legs. Pictures taken from below make the subject look larger, and the vice versa is true also.
  3. Background. When taking pictures of people in everyday life, the background can be a distraction. Zooming in on the subject can take care of the problem. One thing I always do when taking pictures of babies and kids is to take a picture as soon and I see something memorable and worry about the finer points of photography later. With little ones, the expressions are fleeting and I might not get another chance if I wait. If I have adults in the picture, I can ask them to move to a better location or I can change my vantage point slightly. I always scan the background of an anticipated picture to look for distracting or distorting objects like telephone polls, glowing lamp shades and strangers wearing red. Also, never take a picture inside with your subjects against a day lit window. You want the majority of the light in a picture behind or above the camera.
  4. Patience. I take lots and lots of pictures, but only if something has changed with my subject, vantage point or background. I take one picture and then examine the finished project on the back of the camera. Did the subject smile as I hoped? Is the light sufficient or do I need to move? Are there distractions in the background I can change (like moving a pile of laundry of a dirty dinner plate)? It is easy to get caught up in the moment and forget about the science of the photograph. I’ve been sorely disappointed after taking a whole series of pictures to later realize they are all too dark or the same annoying power line runs through the back of all of the pictures.
Posted by Picasa