“How to Take A Decent Picture”

I recommended that Melissa keep her subjects off-center. This image doesn't exactly tell a story, but it does suggest where she is.

I recommended that Melissa keep her subjects off-center. This image doesn’t exactly tell a story, but it does suggest that she is in a garden on a nice day. Yeah, our offices are lovely.

I was honored to see that a coworker scheduled a meeting wherein I would teach her “how to take a decent picture.” She wants to contribute more to our online magazine, as she spends more time than most of us in the field, so she wanted the editor (me) to show her how to make better images.

I talk the talk better than I walk the walk, so the images below are for illustration purposes only.

Here are the fundamentals we worked on today.

  1. Each photo on our site should complement the story and tell a story of its own. One of the reasons photojournalists often work with wide-angle lenses is because they can get very close to the subject while still showing context.
  2. A photo is more compelling if it shows the viewer something he or she would not necessarily have seen. This is why I am fond of high and low angles. I’ve often said my knees are my chief photographic tools, because I’m always dropping to the ground for a more dramatic angle. For our purposes, I’d rather have an interesting image than a perfectly exposed, perfectly focused, perfectly balanced one.
  3. I shared Bob Krist‘s idea that a successful photo has great light, great composition, and a sense of moment.

So, my basic advice was to start out by using a wide-angle setting on her camera, get low and close, look for interesting light, use fill flash outdoors and  window light indoors, seek simple backgrounds, and if you’re getting low and close with a wide angle lens to photograph a person, make sure they lean toward you a bit.

Immediately after the frame at the top of this post, I lowered the camera near the table for this low angle shot. It's not a great photo, but it's more interesting than the first shot, and it includes her camera, which is very much a part of the story...

Immediately after the frame at the top of this post, I lowered the camera to the table for this low angle shot. It’s not a great photo, but it’s more interesting than the first shot, suggests a sense of moment, and it includes her camera, which is very much a part of the story…

To demonstrate the utility of fill-flash, we stepped into the bright day and snapped this one without flash.

To demonstrate the utility of fill-flash, we stepped into the bright day and snapped this one without flash. My camera has a lot more dynamic range than hers, so this isn’t terrible, but…

…fill flash makes a BIG difference in this scenario.

…look at those eyes! Fill flash makes a BIG difference in a backlit scenario.

We also talked about establishing shots…

…and detail shots.

…and detail shots.

What a wonderful exercise this turned out to be for me! I had to really think about “how to take a decent picture,” and articulate the fundamentals to someone who is not a photographic hobbyist. Best of all, the things I determined were most important to a decent photo for our magazine apply equally to her pocket camera and my DSLR – the picture is made behind the viewfinder, not in the camera.

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Filed under Camera Gear, Composition, Lighting

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