Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Eye Exercises

Heading out into the weather with a camera in hand? Here's five practical tips to keep in mind...

Tip #1: Remember the "Rule of Thirds"

This is a classic guideline for composition. Imagine that your frame/viewfinder/LCD screen is divided into thirds horizontally and vertically, and try to put the focus of your picture in one of the intersections, or place a line (of objects, a horizon, a tree) along one of the imaginary lines.

Most modern cameras put their focus mechanism right in the center of the picture, which might encourage you to take all center-framed shots of your beloved, badly-drawn cat Fluffy. Resist the temptation! It's usually possible to lock the focus on a subject by pressing the button halfway down, then re-frame the shot as you hold down the button and then fire the shutter.

Photo tip #1: The Rule of Thirds

Tip #2: Survey the Frame

As you're setting up the shot, look all the way around the frame. Sure, Fluffy is adorable, but that garbage can behind him is decidedly less so. Best scoot over a bit and take the shot from a different angle. How many times have you see tree-branch antlers growing out of someone's head in a photograph? Just say "no" to turning your relatives into jackalopes with this simple step.

Photo tip #2: Survey the Frame

Tip #3: Count your Subjects

Humans are natural sorters and pattern-recognizers. Taking a photo of two subjects (especially similar ones) automatically invites comparisons between the two, and tends to make the picture "stable" to look at. With three subjects, though, the eye and brain hop around among them. Odd numbers of subjects in a photo generally make it more dynamic to look at.

Photo tip #3: Count Your Subjects

Tip #4: Film is Cheap!

If you're on a once-in-a-lifetime trip, don't squander the film. The cost of having a second, third, or fifth shot developed is far less than the cost of trying to recreate that moment in time. Take your "postcard shot" of landmarks, and then move around and get a few more angles. And when you're taking portraits, always get "one for luck" in there. (More if you're photographing kids.) Afterwards: edit, edit, edit. I shot something like seven rolls of film in a week at Disneyland, just to get about 30 "good" shots.

Photo tip #4: Film is Cheap!

Tip #5: Break the Rules!

Anyone who tells you there's only one way to shoot, or one brand of camera to use, or is zealously in the film-is-dead or digital-is-evil camp and can see nothing else is not worth your time. Photography is about keeping your eyes open, getting a perspective on the world, and documenting it for yourself or others to enjoy. Anyone that's making it less enjoyable for you is a bum. None of these tips or any of the hundreds of other bits of advice out there are must-dos, so do what you like, discover what works for you, and go shoot something.


Alex said...

What a nice post, and so whimsically illistrated. I frequently break all these rules when I'm taking photos. I almost never take more than one shot. I love the poorly chosen moments, the mistakes, the imperfections in a photograph.

Thanks for a good read and good tips.

Strikethru said...

Love the drawings. I tweeted this post, it's very helpful.

mpclemens said...

@Alex: thanks for the comments. Thanks to sharing sites like flickr, a lot more like-minded photogs can connect and don't have to suffer the slings and arrows of stodgy critics who know "the real way" to take photos. I'm enjoying the unexpected surprises coming from my little keychain cam. There's simply no one way to do it.

@Strikethru: glad you enjoyed it, though poor Fluffy suffered for my lack of artistic skillz. I took a page from your book and went all mixed-media blogger.