‘If your pictures aren’t good enough, you’re not close enough . . .’
Robert Capa, 20th century combat photographer
Of course, it is not at all necessary to go on courses to improve how you make photographs, that is just a masochistic approach. Mobile phone cameras are improving in leaps and bounds, and we are all photographers. As for the frequent question ‘how do I get better?’, the best approach is to keep looking, including looking at the pictures that you make and thinking how to improve them. The technical part is usually taken care of by today’s gear anyway.
We are all more visually literate now. We devour films and computer games, and we are besieged by adverts. If you examine advertisements and work out how they are directing you, how they are drawing attention to what they want you to look at and their ‘message’, then you can apply that to your own photos. You convey a mood by how you photograph. It often works if you restrict yourself, or play with an idea, for example you can decide I’ll do just reflections today, or just the colour red, or experiment with speed. I mean slow shutter speeds. A limitation can force you to be more creative, rather than letting your head spin because anything is possible. How about photographing a place you know in two completely different ways, as if they were different places?
Some people say that their picture lacks impact, this is where Robert Capa’s dictum is always quoted. By close enough he meant get physically close to the subject: take a few steps forward. Importantly, he also meant emotionally close in that you draw the viewer in to connect with the subject. What are you trying to convey in this particular image? Are you taking a picture or making one, which is much more proactive. When photographing people it often works to choose the background first, then you can tell a story or create a feeling, instead of just recording the fact that they were there.
An excellent way to get your ’seeing eye’ in is to look at Flickr and see what grabs you. You might find that you respond to a certain style or subject . . . Then you can go and try to re-create it. You’ve probably been to many many art galleries, so you have absorbed the conventions of images anyway, but now you have to unpick them and name what you are seeing. How has the artist used light and shade or colour to direct your attention?
However if you want to learn more techniques for example (simplified):
1. Large aperture = low number e.g. f2.8 = shallow depth of field = only the subject is in focus, the background is probably out of focus = good for portraits
2. Small aperture = high number e.g. f22 = large depth of field = most or all is in focus = good for landscapes
3. Slow shutter speed* = e.g.1/15 = things (cars, waterfalls) will blur
4. Fast shutter speed* = e.g.1/250 = moving objects will be frozen
* (i.e. gap between the curtains for you pedants out there)
Then you can have fun putting the effects together.
If you are already using rear curtain sync then you are humming.
Then you had better be very very careful for you are on the way to being hooked.
What camera shall I get is usually the burning question, but they all work. Some choose by weight or colour, or you can choose by what it can do. There are many websites and forums out there to help. Some are commercially driven, some are deeply unhelpful and are full of people flaming each other, but two useful websites to start with are: http://www.dpreview.com/ and http://www.luminous-landscape.com/
Then you can go out and see what you find. There are increasing restrictions today however on street photography. Photographers are sometimes stopped by police in the UK, and in France people have copyright in their own image should you wish to publish anything. If you are serious about publishing or selling your photos then keep an eye on the “Orphan Works Act of 2008″ (H5889 and S2913) in the US. Corporate land owners can create problems too: don’t try photographing using a tripod around Canary Wharf unless you can run fast.
Happy photographing! I will be blogging again next year on Nanny Brown again.