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If there’s a mantra that you could print out or turn into a screensaver to help you become a better photographer it’s this – make interesting photos.
But how do you tell if a photo is boring and how do you make it interesting?
It helps if you look at the following factors on a spectrum:
A boring subject <—————> An interesting subject
No thought gone into the composition <—————> Inspired composition
Poor use of light <—————> Beautiful use of light
No emotional impact <—————> Lots of emotional impact
In other words, you’ll make an interesting photo if you can find an interesting subject in beautiful light, compose it well and find ways of adding emotional impact.
Let’s take a closer look at each of these ideas.
1. Interesting photos come from interesting subjects
One of the biggest challenges for photographers is finding interesting subjects to photograph. Even more so today as the pandemic has affected most of us in one way or another by the current pandemic. It limits opportunities to meet new people or travel to different places.
One idea that may help is to think about themes and projects.
For example, let’s say you have the idea of making photos of people’s hands. Do you know anybody who has a career or a hobby that uses their hands? Then why not ask them if you can make some photos?
Explain that you have a photo project and ask if they’d like to take part. Offering a print in exchange, or at least copies of the best photos, is a good way to make sure they get something from it as well.
Keep in mind the fact the photos are part of a set. I developed the photos you see above in black and white, and used the Texture slider in Lightroom Classic to bring out the texture of the skin. The stylistic similarity helps the photos work as a series.
Another approach is to use color as a theme. What happens if you look for photos dominated by the color yellow, for example? Again, once you’ve built up a body of work you can present them as a series, add them to an online portfolio or even make a photo book.
2. Interesting photos have interesting composition
It’s easy to create boring compositions. All you have to do is compose all your photos using the rule of thirds. The result will be repetitive and formulaic and will keep anybody who likes boring photos very happy!
That’s a tongue in cheek comment but the truth is (as regular readers will know) that there’s much more to photographic composition than the rule of thirds. And any composition device becomes boring if you overuse it.
So, mix up your composition styles and try new ideas. But also, when you find an interesting subject, spend some time with it and work it as much as possible. Try shooting it with different focal lengths. Vary your compositions. Try different points of view. See what happens when you get closer. Mix it up. Don’t be afraid to try new things. Push yourself to see if you can find ways to make the composition more interesting.
3. Interesting photos have beautiful light
One of the key skills of photography is to match the light to the subject.
If you’re making photographs outdoors then the best light is usually found at either end of the day, during the golden hours. Many subjects also look great at dusk.
Whatever you’re photographing, ask yourself if you could shoot it in better light than what you have now. Let’s say you’re photographing your local neighborhood. Does it look better in the middle of a sunny day?
If you live in place like Burano, Italy, then hard midday light can help you bring out the saturated colors and hard geometric shapes.
But if you live in South Devon, like I do, then you’ll get better (and more interesting) results shooting at the end of the day in the golden hour.
4. Interesting photos have emotional impact
Out of these four ideas adding emotional impact is the hardest to do and the most difficult to judge if you’ve done it successfully. That’s because it comes from your heart. It’s about your empathy with other people and your sympathy for place. If your photos have mood, then you’re heading the right direction. If they evoke a sense of place, you’re getting there.
You can get these things by following the first three steps. If you have an interesting subject, photographed in beautiful light with strong composition then it’s hard for your photos not to have emotional impact. These tangible steps help you achieve a more intangible aim.
Interesting photos don’t just happen – you have to make them. The good news is that it isn’t too difficult if you follow the four steps in this tutorial. The hardest part is finding an interesting subject. Once you’ve cracked that the rest follows naturally.
Mastering Composition Book Three
My latest ebook Mastering Composition Book Three explores the ideas presented in this tutorial in depth. Click the link to take a closer look or buy.