There is one practice you can adopt that can dramatically change quality and consistency of your images. But if you think there is an easy solution to all of your photography woes then you are mistaken. Photography’s magic bullet simply doesn’t exist.
Your mind’s eye
The one key element that makes or breaks a photograph is the photographer’s ability to decide what your final image will look like before ever bringing the camera to your eye. This ability to “see” an image and its importance to successful image making cannot be understated. Once you understand what it is you want to accomplish with the camera the rest becomes mechanics. You must decide what is in front of you that you want to capture and how you can best use the tools available to you. You must make this decision and commit to it.
The manipulation of the tools of photography, the craft if you will, is what most people are able to learn. But the creative aspect remains heavily dependant on the eye of the photographer. Some say that you either have an eye for a photograph, or you do not. The photographers whose work stands out certainly have a unique eye - a unique way of seeing the world - that differentiates them from the masses. But if you are able to master the tools of photography to match what you see in your mind’s eye you will have made great progress toward a dramatic improvement in your own images.
Children play on an Innu swing, a Ueuepeshun, at an Innu camp on the western shores of Mistastin Lake, in the interior of northern Labrador on Sept. 21, 2014. Community leaders from Natuashish have come to these traditional Innu hunting grounds to help some of their young men and boys discover some of their culture and form better community bonds. The hope is that fewer of them will follow a path of substance abuse that has plagued these communities for many years.
Today’s cameras can be quite intimidating and do not easily inspire confidence in a struggling learner. The seemingly endless amount of features to choose from all need to be understood and navigated in order to make the best use of all the cameras have to offer. But, if your goal is to make great, thoughtful, inspiring images, you might consider simplifying your process. This simplification begins with knowing what you want and then using the tools available to make it happen.
I encourage my students to resist being intimidated by the plethora of dials and buttons and to reduce the necessary adjustments for their photography to a bare minimum. In practice there are only a few adjustments that one needs to concentrate on, and these become even more simple once you understand their relationship to one another and how they will impact your final image.
Basic exposure involves the choice of shutter speed, aperture and ISO - the exposure triangle. Add on an understanding of how focal length, focus point selection, and composition impact an image, and you have the makings of good photographs. There is no avoiding having to learn the relationship of the elements in the exposure triangle. A reliance upon an automatic camera mode may result in some pleasing images but will not necessarily give you the images you had in mind.
Shoot in manual mode
You must take control to make the most of your creativity to get the images you envision. This means working in manual mode. With a clear goal for your final image(s) you can then prioritize your settings and check them off one by one starting with the setting that will have the most impact on the final image. Doing so will reducing the confusing exposure triangle to a single variable that you adjust for the best exposure.
If shallow depth of field is your goal, for a portrait for example, you would choose the lowest ISO possible for the situation and set your lens aperture to the widest available. The final setting to adjust will be the shutter speed. This process can be repeated if you understand what the various camera settings will do for you and you make decisions to make your image a certain way. Once the creative decision is made and you know which variable will most impact it the other variables became secondary.
It can be a frustrating process trying to figure out how to get the images you want. There will be times you are pleased with your results but more often than not you may find yourself scratching your head and asking why your images did not meet your expectations. Professionals and skilled photography enthusiasts make the creation of memorable images look far easier than it really is. Try not to compare your photography to the works of those you admire, but rather use their images as inspiration for your own vision.
Do your homework to equip yourself with the basic technical know-how. Once you understand how creativity is impacted by your choices you will be free to make decisions and see pleasing results more often.