Photo Notes

August 10, 2010

Suggestions for Better Photographs

Filed under: Basic Photo Technique — John Siskin @ 12:18 pm

A couple of days ago Jim Miotke asked me for some short suggestions for photographers, I think he asked the other instructors at BetterPhoto also. Here are a couple I gave him:
Practice, test and evaluate. You can’t use a technique effectively until you are really familiar with it.
Practice, musicians do. It is difficult to keep a skill fresh if you don’t use it.
Look at books and prints of classic photographs, monitors make everything the same size and don’t show the artists intent as well as an original print. You need to look at what others have done to train your eye. It improves seeing.
Edit ruthlessly. Don’t show work with problems.
So, the first two are ways of saying the same thing: you need to treat your photography as passionately as a musician treats music: not just working at it when there is an audience, but also when you’re alone. There are several things you should do: practice with camera features you don’t normally use. So one day I practiced with the microphone that holds makes image notes on my camera. I still don’t use it. But I do use the exposure compensation controls, and I can find them with the camera at my eye. I practice with my lights. I just got a special new reflector for my portable Normans. I have photographed the pattern of the reflector in several ways. In the next few days I’ll shoot a model with the reflector to see how it works in practice. I won’t wait until I need it to use it. One more way to practice: when your walking around think about how you would frame photographs, what would you put in and what would you leave out?
I think the third suggestion is even more important. Everybody looks at photographs every day. We are part of an on going visual discussion, but we don’t pay attention. Great photographers not only had a lot to say in the conversation, but they were conscious of how their photographs worked. So  I look at images by Edward Weston, Edward Steichen, Alfred Stiegiltz, Margaret Bourke-White, Annie Liebovitz, Ansel Adams, Linda Butler, Eliot Porter, Jerry Ulesmann…. I wish I could afford original prints from all these photographers, but I can afford their books. Books that were designed with the artists’ active participation, so that they represent the way the artist wants to present their work. Looking at great work gives me higher goals and improves the way I look at my subjects.
Finally, editing. People see your work as you show it to them. If you show an image with a long explanation about where your were, or how you took the picture, you will generally bore the audience. If an image pleases you, because of the circumstances of its creation that’s fine, but you shouldn’t show it unless it will really interest the audience. I’ve attached several images made with my microscopes. I hope you find them interesting.
I teach a class in commercial photography , as well as classes in lighting and portraiture at BetterPhoto.com. I hope you will check out the classes soon. My first book: Understanding and Controlling Strobe Lighting: A Guide for Digital Photographers will be published in the fall you can pre-order it. I have a new magazine article coming out in September about strobe power. You can see it in Photo Technique Magazine.
Thanks, John
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