Some pictures are simply impossible to describe. They yank us right out of our seats and force us to pay attention. The only thing we have left to say is “Wow! I didn’t think you could do that.” It is the photographer’s dream and ultimate goal to produce pictures like this, and even the best photographers will tell you it isn’t something that happens every day. While luck is definitely a factor, there are ways to increase your odds of creating a stunning image whenever you go out and shoot. Here are a few tips that will help you knock people to the floor with your photography.
Kill ‘em with composition
You will notice that the picture above is not perfectly centered. This actually makes it much more visually appealing. The eye is forced to follow the outline of the trees across the photo, giving it more of a feeling of flow. Consider the rule of thirds. If you divide your photo into thirds and do your best to put the interesting subject matter somewhere along the thirds lines, you will often end up with a nice composition. Notice how the sun in the above picture occurs at the top third, a point of interest. Even though the rule of thirds doesn’t apply all the time, it’s a good bet. And good bets are all we can hope for when it comes to crafting an amazing image.
Shoot when the light is right
The most interesting photos are oftentimes very colorful. The light just after sunrise and just before sunset is the best for capturing real photographic drama. You’re much more likely to find something interesting to shoot when your subjects are illuminated by less harsh light. Change your daily exercise routine so you’re out at sunrise and sunset every day with your camera. Bring a tripod along to keep your camera still for longer exposures (it's weight will help your running too!). Less light is available in the early morning and at dusk, so this is very important.
If you have an external flash, bring it along. The light in the early morning and at dusk shines to the sides of things. This means about half of your subjects will be in the shadows. You might need to throw some extra light on them in order to get the shot you want.
Try to find the right subjects at the right moments with the right weather
This is the part that constitutes most of the “luck” in photography. Nevertheless, you still have some degree of control. Look for things that stick out on their own. Finding an interesting subject in an interesting situation is one of the biggest challenges a photographer will face, and I only have one piece of advice. Go on a lot of walks and pay attention. Notice how the light hits a subject at 7:00 A.M., then at 7:15 A.M., and again at 7:30 A.M. Wait until the perfect moment, and take your shot.
Pay attention to the weather. Clouds can either ruin a photo or make it very dramatic. That’s why it is important get out and about a lot. You might just get lucky and find some interesting cloud formation that might never occur on any other day.
Consider alternate exposures and angles
I created the picture above using a telephoto lens at f8 with a very fast shutter speed. This is an ideal aperture and shutter speed setting for creating a silhouette shot. The fast shutter speed creates an orange glow while completely blacking out the tree. If I had chosen a slower shutter speed, I would have gotten a completely different photo. The front side of the tree would have been partially illuminated, and the light from the sun would have blown all of the color out of the picture.
There are a lot of different aperture and shutter speed combinations that yield different creative results. My best advice is to try all of them! You can use these combinations to create brilliant night time pictures, lush green landscapes, perfect portraits, and stunning silhouettes. There is a creatively correct exposure for each type of picture you take. Find them all!
Your lens is a very important instrument. Some subjects look really interesting close up while others look better from a telephoto lens. At the very least, try to have some basic lenses that cover the entire range between 18mm and 200mm. If you are shooting with a wideangle, get as close as you can to your subject so you can give it a real presence in the picture.
Learn how to color correct and sharpen your images
It’s the secret the pros don’t tell you. There are ways to bump up colors and to make your subjects stand out like never before. If they aren’t overdone, color correction and sharpening techniques are a must for almost every photo. In fact, the above photo was enhanced very slightly in Photoshop Elements. Try out these techniques, and you’ll see the difference.
The best pictures happen when all of the right factors come together in a moment that makes you run for your camera. This is not the kind of thing you have control over, so embrace it. Realize that if something around town is visually interesting at 8 A.M. every day, every photographer in town probably has dozens of great pictures of it. I once lived in a town with a lone tree in the lake. You could find 300 or so high quality pictures of the tree just by googling the name of the town. Don’t add another tree to the pile. Do your own thing.
Do you have any other suggestions for creating a 'wow' photo? Let me know in the comments below!
Until then, keep going on walks and capturing the most beautiful time of the day.
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