For those who love photography but who are beginners, it can sometimes be disheartening to see the work of professionals and think how much better their images look. Certainly, in many instances the subjects themselves are incredible and hard to duplicate – celebrities, amazing locations, etc. However, even when the images are of something relatively mundane, such as a flower, the photos just have that pop that most inexperienced photographers don’t achieve. It is easy to shrug your shoulders and just assume the professionals have better equipment, and sometimes the camera or specialty lens used certainly helps. But in many cases the difference boils down to HOW the photograph was taken. When taking a shot of even an everyday object, there are a few simple methods to keep in mind that will help your image stand out from the average photograph. These are things that the most inexperienced photographer can utilize with even the simplest camera:
1. Approach your subject from a different perspective.
When photographing flowers, what is the angle from which almost every amateur photographer shoots? Since flowers are on the ground and we as photographers are typically standing up, most amateur images of flowers are shot from above. The same can be applied to pets, children, and pretty much anything we are shooting. One way to make an image stand out is to approach your subject form a different angle or perspective. This could mean shooting something from above (e.g., a street scene) or getting on your stomach to shoot, as in the case of my flower image above. When you are about to shoot something think to yourself, “From what angle or perspective does everyone else usually photograph this subject?”, and then do something completely different. Feel free to actively move around your subject if you can and view it from different locations. You just might see something a bit more interesting, such as a beautiful shaft of light. As you move around your subject both the perspective and the background changes. Experienced photographers do this all the time to make sure they are getting the best shot.
2. Get close to your subject and fill up the screen.
I find that most inexperienced photographers tend to stand back from their subjects regardless of the image. Sometimes much too far. Visually, we perceive something in an image that is larger and/or in the foreground to be the main subject. If you want to add some interest to a photograph, try filling the screen with your subject. This lends greater importance to the subject and may reveal interesting details that would otherwise be missed. Being very close to the subject in my image of the pink flowers reveals texture in the petals and additional shades of color. These are things one would not see if I were standing (or in this case kneeling) further back and the flowers were much smaller in the photograph.
3. Play with focus and depth of field.
Another common feature of images we see from those inexperienced with photography is that everything is in focus. All the time. There are certainly times when a greater depth of field (the distance between the nearest and the furthest objects that give an image judged to be in focus in a camera) is appropriate, such as landscapes. However, professional photographers have subjects in or out of focus for a purpose, not simply because the camera is always set to the maximum depth of field. Today, almost all cameras, including smart phones, can vary the focus or depth of field. The next time you are shooting a photograph, try playing with the focus. When an object in the foreground of an image is in focus and the background is not, it tends to draw the viewer’s attention more. Additionally, if you are shooting something but there is a lot of clutter in the background (other people, furniture, etc.), making the background blurry will mean the clutter is less distracting to a viewer. This will help the main subject to pop out more. Also, making the background blurry can create some interesting visual elements. In my flower image above there is what appears to be mist between the tops of the two flowers. I don’t know if that is actually mist, or light reflecting off of the water, or a leaf, or something else. This visual mystery adds interest to the image and is made possible because the background is so much out of focus.
Try one or all of the above suggestions in your next photograph and see if it improves your image. There are certainly more things that experienced photographers do to make their images better, but the above examples are simple to do and don’t require any special equipment. Let me know how it goes!