In my first article on this subject, I explained that one of the reasons successful pros create images that stand out is a matter of “damental” process of photography. If you haven't read that article, I highly recommend you check it out here.
Refining the creative process is a little like “wax on, wax off”. If that reference doesn't make sense, you probably haven't seen the original Karate Kid movie and that's okay. The point is, you break the process down into steps, then repeat each step until it becomes instinctive. It works for martial artists and it works for other artists as well. It's important to realize that I'm not talking about “learning” creativity. I'm talking about training your mind in a way that creates a subconscious thought process that works in the background while your creative mind plays.
With that in mind, here are 6 more ideas for exercises that may help you take photos with more impact and increase your chances of becoming a successful pro.
Sub-framing, while admittedly one of the most overused composition elements, it is also a very powerful one. The trick is to avoid the cliché photos and find unique ways to put it to work.
The next time you're in a session, whether it's portraiture, landscapes, architecture or any other genre, stop for a moment to notice what's available to frame and help isolate your subject. It might be something as straightforward as a door or window frame, or something much more subtle, such as shadows or the branches of a nearby tree. Just step away from the camera for a moment and look. You may be surprised at what you've been ignoring.
Make yourself a note to do this for your next session and continue it. Before long, you'll start to notice sub-framing opportunities without having to remind yourself.
(Success Tip #1: Find out how your photos of people having fun can be profitable.)
Yep, there's another Karate Kid reference. In this case, though, I'm talking about visual balance, which can have a tremendous effect on your photos. That effect can be either positive or negative, so it's an important consideration.
Here's a great way to develop a good feel for balance. Note that this may be much easier with a zoom lens. Start by framing your subject tightly, so that it's the only thing in the photo. Make sure you follow the rules of composition to make it interesting. Take that shot, then pull back to include another item or two in the frame. Recompose with these new objects, so that the apparent weight of all the objects is evenly distributed. Change your point of view as needed to accomplish this. Take that shot, then repeat the process until your main subject is no longer well defined.
If you'll make a point of following this routine once or twice every time you're shooting, you'll soon start to recognize balance in your compositions on a subconscious level. In the meantime, you may create more usable images from these sessions.
Join the Halves
One of the most common problems in photos is a sense of two pictures in the same frame. You'll see this fairly regularly in landscapes, especially those that have a dark foreground and bright sky. It leaves the viewer's eye moving back and forth between the two “halves”, so the composition lacks continuity.
To learn how to avoid this situation, start by finding 5 or 6 landscapes that create exactly that impression. Beach scenes and rolling pastures are good examples. Instead of setting up for the usual framing, look for elements that can tie the two areas together. A great method is to drop your point of view enough to allow an element in the foreground or middle distance to extend above the horizon. Another is to use something in the lower half to reflect the upper half. Moving left or right of your subject may help by creating perspective instead of flat horizontal lines. Try several angles. By practicing this regularly, you'll find yourself seeing more options when you set up your shots.
Catch the Wind
Here's one that can help you eliminate an excuse not to shoot as well as develop more dynamic images. Are you guilty of deciding not to shoot outdoors because of the wind? Why not use it to your advantage instead? The effects of wind on elements of your photo can convey a wonderful sense of motion.
(Success Tip #2: (This deck of cards can help you improve your photos.)
First, just get out there while the wind is blowing. Bundle up if necessary, and make sure you have everything you need to stabilize your camera – camera shake isn't what you want. Find 10 scenes where you can combine clouds, chimney smoke, snow blowing off a roof, waving trees, dancing flowers or similar subjects with static ones like rocks or buildings. Use slow enough shutter speeds to allow some blur. An ND filter can be helpful here, but not absolutely necessary. By finding the right combinations, you can give your viewers a sense of the conditions in your photo, connecting the viewer with the environment.
Try this one in different seasons. Your photos will be better for it.
Accentuate the Negative
One of the most important things to understand in composition is the concept of positive and negative space. In the strictest sense, it's simple; anything that's a subject is positive space and anything that isn't is negative space. Many artists focus strictly on balancing the two in their compositions. Negative space can also be used to help set a mood, support a sense of motion or isolate a subject.
Schedule some photo sessions just for the purpose of shooting negative space. You can use whatever genre you like; just work on using the space around your subjects as your first supporting element in the compositions. You can use it as leading space for an object in motion, as an aid to positioning your subjects at intersections of thirds, or as a way to create a sense of solitude or separation. By making a point of occasionally considering it first in your compositions, you'll train your subconscious mind to “see” it more effectively.
Suppose we Juxtapose
Alright, I apologize for the cheesy heading, but let's hope it helps you remember this exercise. Juxtaposition is the act of placing objects next to, opposing or within the same frame as each other, particularly to highlight the difference in those objects. Dark can be juxtaposed with light, smooth with rough, wet with dry, rich with poor, sad with happy – there are countless ways to use this element. It's one of the most subtle and powerful tools of visual composition. It can be almost subliminal in affecting a viewer's interest.
To learn to recognize subjects that can be juxtaposed, you need to start by consciously looking for them. As in the exercise above, take the time to do a shoot with juxtaposition in mind. You'll be surprised at how many subject ideas will come to mind when you're thinking along these lines. Think in terms of emotional as well as physical properties. Go out and find them, then find the best ways to position and frame them for effect. As with the other exercises, you'll find that just by practicing these efforts, they'll soon become second nature and work their way into the way you view possible subjects.
That's a wrap!
There you have it: six ways to practice the skills that can help your photos rise above the ordinary. I hope you'll find them useful. In case you haven't already figured this out, you can also try a few of these when you're in a creative slump. Just getting into the rhythm of a project can often be all it takes to get the creative juices flowing again.
Article by Dana O. Crandell