As photographers we need to embrace what literally catches our eyes’ attention.
Whether it’s a hot-looking girl or guy, a pretty sunset or just a beautiful garden, we all stop and take a good look and stare.
We may hide the staring behind dark glasses when our significant other is around, but we all do it, we can’t help it.
It explains how we interact with everything around us now that we all have cameras in our phones: we reach for it and take a picture.
So why is it some folks take better pictures than others?
Is it because they know the rule of thirds? I think not.
Drawing or painting versus photography
Understanding some key differences in photography and drawing or painting is probably a good place to start.
When we draw or paint, we create an image on a totally blank canvas, we get to decide everything.
If drawing from a real life scene, we can decide how much of the background fills our canvas, the perspective, the lighting and more importantly whether we want only the good parts or pretty parts of the scene.
With photography, we are often looking and finding real objects which occupy a real background.
The photographers’ world as it exist, without photoshop, is mishmash of beauty mixed in with ugliness like horribly contrasty lighting or else it is a moment in time that defies capture because there is simply insufficient light to freeze the essential beautiful parts.
For the sake of simplicity, let’s choose an inanimate object as our subject.
A traditional viewfinder is always better than a ‘live-view’ as seen on the back of most cameras in my opinion.
Viewfinders allow you to concentrate on the subject completely.
The black opaque frame lets you mentally block out what’s irrelevant.
“Live-view” can be difficult to see when your surrounding is bright and it’s a drain on battery life.
“The photographers’ world as it exist, without photoshop, is mishmash of beauty mixed in with ugliness like horribly contrasty lighting or else it is a moment in time that defies capture because there is simply insufficient light to freeze the essential beautiful parts”–Peter Phun.
Zooming with your legs
The next step, recognizing what to keep and what to throw out in the scene takes the most time to learn.
There usually is no short-cut.
Most folks get better at making this decision through practise.
Once they start to recognize what exactly in the scene is most worthy or eye-catching, then it’s a matter of walking closer to exclude extraneous elements or walking further away to include more.
Because today’s DSLRs and compact cameras are often bundled with a kit lens or what’s known as a zoom lens usually in the range of 18-55mm, their owners don’t realize there is another often better way.
Zooming-with-your-legs has the distinct advantage of letting you be more steady.
You can get away with shooting with a lower shutter speed as you walk closer compared to using a longer focal length setting on your lens.
So a worthy exercise, believe it or not, is to shoot abstract, inanimate objects with graphical elements with your phone.
Since the phone has no zoom lens, you will be forced to learn to zoom with your legs.
While walking around, you might want to consider look down on your subject, or up at it and even tilting the camera.
You are looking for graphical elements so you don’t need worry about the horizons.
Also, because the phone doesn’t have any controls to affect depth-of-field beyond what to focus on, you will be forced to really consider what is important in the scene.
Finally if you are obsessive-compulsive like me, you might consider what the scene might look like if you go back in the morning or in the evening.