Do you want to take better pictures?

Cell phones are ubiquitous (I’ve waited a long time to use that word!). When cameras were first embedded in cell phones all those years ago, there were tech experts out there who proclaimed, “That’s a stupid idea”. Recent data suggests that almost 2 billion digital pictures are taken every day around the world and the great majority of those are captured on cell phones. It should be no surprise then that over 350 million digital images are uploaded to Facebook very day.

The type of images that interest people the most are...people. After that, pets, animals, landscapes and nature trail behind. Cell phone photography has changed the world. So much for experts. Cell phone imaging technology is also pushing the entire area of digital photography forward.

All this praise for cell phone photography coming from a guy who still shoots on a 4x5 field camera. You know the kind of old fashioned camera where you throw a hood over your head and the bellows camera so you can focus an image on a sheet of ground glass; where the picture is captured on a sheet of film that is 4 inches x 5 inches wide. Just look at my logo bellow.

I use a 4x5 camera because there is greater control over things like “aperture”, “depth of field”, “shutter speed” and “image perspective”. You’re probably hearing me say … blah blah blah… and reading this thinking, so what. You could be right. But what 4x5 large format photography has tough me are lessons that apply to all photography, i.e. …how to take better images regardless of what type of camera you use, cell phone, digital SLR or 4x5.

Let’s look at the process of taking pictures of landscapes and nature.  My 4x5 camera equipment was carried in a backpack and took about 15 minutes to set up before I clicked the camera shutter and took my first picture. As you can guess, someone going through that process would give some thought to the quality of the final picture before unpacking all that stuff and packing it all back up later. It taught me to visually explore that thing I wanted to take a picture of before deciding if it was worth the effort. With cell phone and DSLR photography, we point and shot several shots and hope for the best. We usually let the camera’s program decide what shutter speed to use or how large an aperture to use (how much light to let in). We quickly review our captured images and see what we got. Don’t you just love getting to see what you shot right then and there? Usually, some are good, and some aren’t so good. Well at least that’s how it is when I use my cell phone camera. We can all take better pictures with just a few tips.

The first tip is to explore your environment before taking a picture. So many times, I walked around my subject to view it from every possible angle before deciding the spot I wanted to shoot from. It can make all the difference between a nice picture and a great picture. When I shot Abrams Falls, (click the link to see the final image) I didn’t set up to take the picture until after almost half an hour of walking around the entire area before deciding what I wanted to shot and from what location I wanted to shot from. The spot I chose allowed me to identify what was interesting about the scene and what I wanted to show the viewer. The placement in the image of the rock outcropping in the foreground helps to tell the story. It anchors the image. Without it, it’s a different photograph.

The next tip is to determine, in your mind, what’s interesting about this scene…to you. Do you need to include all the people mulling about or the distracting elements in the background or big expansive blue skies? In a word, simplify. In the landscape titled, Buttermilk Falls (click it to link back to the image), the milky color of the water, the rocks that the water flowed over and the fallen autumn leaves hanging precariously as the flow of the waterfall tries the free each leaf are pictured amid this tightly cropped images. This image says all that; as a close-up. A wider angled shot, bringing in more of the landscape, would not have achieved the story I wanted to tell with this unique interpretation of Buttermilk Falls. These three elements are what I found interesting and what I found when I explored the scene before clicking the camera shutter.

The final tip in this blog post on how to take better photos, (as there are certainly many more tips than I can cover in one blog) is to consider the quality of the light. We all love a nice sunset but go beyond just the setting sun as your subject. The strength of light changes as the sun sets and the color of light can change as it approaches and dips below the horizon. Turn your camera away from the setting sun and look behind you to see what it’s “lighting up”. The light falling on a nearby landscape may be much more interesting than the setting sun falling below the horizon. In the landscape titled, Big Sur Pounding Surf, (click the link to view), I turned my camera away from the setting sun and saw the richly colored cliffs of the idyllic California Big Sur coast. The colors in this landscape were only temporary and this elegant landscape was a different less interesting picture, just moments before.

You can up your game and be proud to share your best pictures with these simple tips. Feel free to share your thought with this link to offer your comments.

Stay tuned, more tips to follow in blogs to come…