Can one take the perfect photo and what would it look like? This conceptual topic is rather subjective with part proven technique, part aesthetic sensibility and part gut instinct.
I recently had a chat with friends on this whole concept of how to take better photos. This was after they groaned about too many duds they had taken on their last holiday. As we talked, I could see that most of us make an effort to bag that awesome picture every time we pull out a camera.
So why do we fail most of the time to shoot that perfect photo? Yes it’s complicated, but let’s break it down into smaller chunks.
The first and main concept is that a photo is a means of communicating to other people a message.
So before you shoot, think for a second about what you are trying to say visually. There was a reason you reached for that camera, and what was it?
A photograph is a record of a moment in time. It has no sound or movement. It has limitations and you need to know how to translate what you see and feel into a two dimensional image. Not easy, as most photos of the Grand Canyon just do not seem to convey the grandeur of when you were standing there on the edge.
Now there are set rules you can find in many books on basic photo techniques that you should know. I learned the rules then made every mistake in the book, and that is OK. I learned from those mistakes, and built a good base of understanding the photographic process by reviewing my shots and improving on that.
This is what you need to do. Then you can turn around and unlearn many of those basic photographic skills to free yourself and be creative and develop a style of your own, like a musician does when they improvise. That is your aesthetic sensibility and gut feeling at work.
Shoot now — ask questions later, is a blind way to photograph. Better to be armed with a mental check list and a plan. And yes, photography will still be fun. There will be less luck in the process and more predictable results.
In that moment BEFORE pressing the shutter button
here are a few things to consider to make your photos better:
- What is the message?
- Where is the main point of interest?
- What kind of camera settings – shutter, aperture, ISO?
- What angle, lens perspective to use?
- How do I crop, is it a horizontal, vertical?
- What’s happening with the light, shadows, do I need a flash?
- How do I work the composition of colour, shape, lines, people, buildings…?
- Filters or effects, now or in the computer?
I have a Free Pre-Exposure Checklist (click to download PDF file) of points you should do every time before taking a photo.
I developed these years ago while I was teaching night school and it’s sound advice everyone needs to consider before taking pictures.
What.. homework? Well sort of, it is an easy list to read. After a while it becomes a quick conversation in your head to go over these points and work out a better way to shoot that photo or maybe decide there really is nothing there yet and wait. Ya waiting for the right moment (if you can) is also considered a good strategy.
I go through this process automatically when deciding what to take. It’s a natural thought process and part of “seeing” the world in a different way. You need to know the goal and try to reach it, knowing still that few photos ever reach stardom.
When I get out and travel around, I expect to get a few “perfect pictures” every day. I don’t know what they will be and that is exciting. It’s almost like a game hunt, with the challenge and anticipation of bagging a great photo possibly but with no guarantees.
My odds on a great day are around 1:15 to none if all is not right. That’s right, my expectations to get a winner is about every 15th shot or more. Now there are alway still many more nice, pretty, well executed photos taken that day I can use for my travelogue slide shows, but not prize winners.
It will depend on many variables during my trip to get close to hitting the mark. And you will have to contend with the odd too, as you travel and deal with the weather, lighting, location access, people and endless factors. This includes your own mood, as you may not be up to doing photography when the occasion arises or even not feeling well (having caught a local bug).
Nowadays, cameras are so automated that taking a picture has become too easy. But taking a great picture, well that requires some effort. The journey is full of surprises and rewards as well, for even the most calculated of photographers.
If you can get closer to achieving the perfect picture, you will have vacation photos that bring you back to those cherished holiday spots that much better. It is an elusive goal to consistently shoot great photos (and few can get close to it), but trying gets you better results and brings creative enjoyment.