“A way of certifying experience, taking photographs is also a way of refusing it—by limiting experience to a search for the photogenic, by converting experience into an image, a souvenir. Travel becomes a strategy for accumulating photographs.”
― Susan Sontag, On Photography
I remember travelling to Lake Louise with my mother many years ago. Lake Louise is a stunning glacier fed lake located in Banff National Park, Alberta. Thousands of pictures have been taken of this lake and the hotel that sits facing it. It is “picture perfect”. So it wasn’t a surprise that shortly after arriving we were asked by some visiting tourists to take their picture in front of the Lake. Then they took a picture of us, then we took a picture of all of us. It was a bit surreal. After that they got back on their bus and traveled away.
This scenario is repeated over and over at every tourist attraction around the world. Taking pictures has become less about recording the experience as it is getting a quick souvenir, the “I was there t-shirt”, before rushing off to the next attraction. I myself have fallen into the trap of snapping off a quick shot, especially on a road trip. My husband and I have had to create new rules for travelling that include; stopping the car, where ever, if you see something interesting and also, spending quality time at a location. Slowing down to appreciate the place is not just important for getting better pictures but it also opens you up to special experiences; meeting new people, seeing the small details, looking at what is all around you. Walking around a place before you take a picture gives you a better feel for it. Sure, take a photo if you see something interesting, but don’t let that be the only photo. Spin around, sit down, look up, breathe in. All of these movements will allow you to see things that the tourist platform misses.
I would argue that this approach can be used for all situations not just travel. With smart phones it is so easy to knock off hundreds of pictures because the phone is so automatic, so easy to use. But for good quality pictures, the rules are the same no mater what device you are using. Sure, with a smart phone you don’t have to think about F-stop or shutter speed or ISO but you still need to be thinking about light, composition and framing. So breathe, take in the moment and then take the shot. In the end you should have fewer images on your camera and the ones you do have will be much nicer to look at.
Some tips to taking fewer and better images:
- Think about what you made you stop to take a picture; the light, the colour, the shapes, the laughter, the silliness. Focus on that.
- Don’t move for a second after you take the shot. This helps avoid unnecessary blur. Remember, breathe.
- Steady the camera with a tripod or whatever is close by.
- Get down at the same level as pets and children.
- Don’t take picture of people eating – unless you want them to look horrible.
- If they are talking or singing take multiple shots to get the shot where their eyes are open and their mouths in a flattering position. Easy to edit the nasty ones after.
- Early morning light and evening light is the most flattering and makes landscapes shine. Mid day sun is harsh but ok in a pinch. If you can, wait.
- Diffused light or shade is best for people (no shadows under the eyes). Make sure everyone in the group is in the same light.
- Look around the whole frame, corner to corner. Eliminate distracting objects, lines, things that aren’t related to the subject. Make sure there isn’t a tree coming out of someone’s head in the background.
- Look up sometimes.
- Get in close, as close as possible. Sometimes, distortion can be fun.
- Look for lines – converging, separating, parallel – think about drawing the eye into the image.
- For high contrast situations (lots of sun and lots of shade) use the HDR feature. HDR lets the camera adjust the exposure for a happy medium between the two extremes. This does create two images however, so you will have to delete the version you don’t like later.
- Don’t use the digital zoom feature unless you just need a record. The feature creates a highly pixelated, fuzzy image.
If you want to get more serious about it, check out sites like the ones below to learn more.
10 tips making your smartphone photos look they came real camera – Popular Photography
How to take better photos – lightstalking.com
Then when you have a bunch of images on your phone…
Next photography post will be how to ruthlessly edit your images.