The success of a photograph will often hinge on how the subject is handled. Ian Rolfe explains the key to taking your photographs from ordinary to extraordinary
Sometimes a subject is so beautiful and unique that almost any photograph of it will be engaging. But apart from rare occasions, an interesting subject usually isn't enough to make a great photo on its own. A successful image must not only have a clear subject, but also a unique way of seeing the subject.
Learning to isolate and frame our subject to its best advantage makes us better photographers. Developing a compelling way of seeing can help us make great photographs of even the most common subjects. Essentially, that's the secret to great photography. Learning this process is deceptively easy, but most people are so intent on pressing the shutter, they often fail to take a really good picture. How many times have you heard someone say, "It actually looked better than this" or "The animal was a lot bigger than the photo shows it"?
We don't want to end up with an album full of pictures that are just okay, so taking the time to make our pictures succeed is worth the effort - especially when you consider the nature of the investment you're making. For instance, architecture is a popular subject for photographs, especially when travelling to exotic places. Tourists take thousands of images of famous landmarks, yet most of them are just ordinary, or downright boring. A clever use of position and framing will improve most images quite dramatically - and it's easy to do.
Take a photograph of a house, for example. It's a simple picture at first, but then we find the picture's cluttered, with powerlines across the sky and an unresolved foreground. Try instead to look for details and use these to your best advantage. There might be flowers in window boxes, an interesting fence in the foreground or some other element of interest that will improve your image considerably.
Learn to crop out most distractions within your frame and focus your composition on the elements to which you're most strongly attracted. Simple changes in the distance from the subject or in the angle of view can make a significant difference in the success of our picture and its impact on the viewer. The pictures shown here illustrate that point. In the first picture, we see a lovely village scene in Dorset England. The photo is quite okay in itself, but there's room for improvement.
If we apply the rule that an interesting photo in itself is not enough, we begin to focus on the elements within the scene that initially engaged us. In this scene, it's the tight row of cottages and the rural landscape behind. Therefore, in the second picture, a change of viewpoint removes the unwanted foreground, crops out a lot more sky and brings into focus the lovely English scenery behind. The photo now has more impact and a much stronger focal point.
Apply this simple philosophy whenever you raise your camera to your eye. Say to yourself,
"A passable photo is simply not good enough" and it will no longer be.
After all, our investment in our pictures is an investment in our future. Take your time.
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