One of the reasons people become consumed by their creative endeavors is due to an overwhelming desire to overcome a challenge. Any challenge worth confronting will, once defeated, yield an appreciable sense of personal satisfaction. But such challenges are also, to varying degrees, frustrating — you can see the light at the end of the tunnel, but making it there is the hard part.
Something that new photographers commonly struggle with (though this is hardly limited to just beginners) is translating the pictures they conjure in their mind’s eye to match the images that come out of their camera. We’re so accustomed to the concept of what you see is what you get as it applies to computers; it’s easy — when you enter text and print it out, the hard copy looks like what you have on your monitor.
Photo by Marcin Wichary
With photography, you've got to put forth a little more thought and effort in order for the final product to match what you originally envisioned. Here are some ideas on how to accomplish this.
Clearly Define Your Subject
That means you’ve got to make a decision. You can only fit so much in one frame. But it’s not really about trying to squeeze a bunch of things/people into one shot, is it? Focus on whatever or whomever it is that has your attention in the first place. Sure, there may be other elements that appear in the shot, but you want your subject to have top billing. Ask yourself, “When others see this photo, will they know right away what my main subject is and why it’s interesting?” You don’t want to create visual confusion or ambiguity.
Photo by Kyrre Gjerstad
Get Out of “P” Mode
In contrast to a camera’s fully automatic modes that do all the thinking for you, Program mode still keeps the lion’s share of the decision making with the camera, while you get to have control over ISO, white balance, and flash. P mode is a great tool for incremental learning. But a great deal of creative photography is about competent use of the exposure triangle — aperture, shutter speed, ISO. So if you’re serious about capturing shots that are in reality as good as you imagine them to be, you are going to have to ditch P mode. Staying there will only ensure that you continue to be unfulfilled in your creativity.
Photo by Salim Fadhley
Take Control of Depth of Field
So you’re finally ready to graduate from P mode. What shooting mode should you use now? In context of the aforementioned goal of clearly defining your subject, aperture priority seems appropriate. Of the three components of the exposure triangle, aperture is the one that dictates depth of field; depth of field, in turn, determines how much of a subject is in clear focus. How much — or how little — depth of field is present will go a long way in helping you further define your subject.
Don’t Underestimate the Importance of Composition
If you really want to give your subject the star treatment, give the subject a prominent and meaningful place among all the other elements within the scene. Depending on your subject and environment, some compositional techniques (rule of thirds, fill the frame, leading lines, etc.) will work better than others, but the point is to put some thought into the composition, as it will bring order to the contents of the photo and solidify the aesthetic qualities of the image wholesale.
Photo by Meena Kadri
Remember that Your Eye is a Better Camera than Your Camera
This is particularly true when it comes to dynamic range. Dynamic range in this context is, in short, the ability to simultaneously discern extremes of shadows and highlights…and the human eye is exceptionally good at this. Some cameras have better dynamic range performance than others, but none are as good as your eyes. This is why you can’t wholly rely on your camera, shooting mode notwithstanding, to perfectly duplicate everything you see. For example, your eyes will be relatively successful at balancing a scene where the subject is backlit; your camera, on the other hand, will render the subject as a silhouette. If a silhouette isn’t what you’re after you will have to make some adjustments to your camera settings or even use a flash to balance ambient and artificial light.
Photo by James Kendall
Continue to develop your vision. Trust yourself. Your camera doesn’t have a brain, so you simply need to learn how to make it do exactly what you want it to do. Perhaps that’s easier said than done, but with plenty of practice — a nice way of saying “trial and error” — you will get there.