Warning: These Tips Are Strictly For Beginner Photographers
Updated: Jul 8
Article and Photos by Joshua Van Lare
"...a far greater factor contributing to the creation of images that are both interesting and visually appealing is the decisions the photographer makes. By the way, yes you are a photographer."
Ok, now that we’ve scared away all of the pros with their fancy terminology and intimidating equipment, we can get to the business of elevating your photography with a few simple tips you can try next time you have a camera in hand. The first thing you must know is that your camera is good enough. Whatever make, model, year and price point camera you have, embrace it! It’s all about you, the photographer, rather than the words and numbers written on that hunk of metal, glass and plastic in your hand. Don’t buy into the flawed construct that you, your ideas, or your work is inferior because of how much money you spent (obviously I’m talking about cameras, but it also applies to clothes, cars, food and anything else people use as a marker to feel superior or inferior).
Of course every camera has its limitations, I’m not delusional. What I’m saying is that a far greater factor contributing to the creation of images that are interesting and visually appealing is the decisions the photographer makes. By the way, yes you are a photographer. You have a camera and the willingness to practice and improve, so you’re a photographer. How do I know this? The simple fact that you’re reading this article screams, I’m into this and want to get better at it.
So if it’s all about the decisions a photographer makes, then how does one become more decisive? The first thing that could help is to answer the following question each time you raise the viewfinder to your eye: what is my subject? In other words, what are you making a photo of? This simple distinction forces the photographer to consider not only the what, but also the why. Additionally, it helps to avoid those photos of ‘nothing’ people often take when for some reason a scene looks impressive to the naked eye but doesn't translate into an interesting or beautiful photo. Although it sounds utterly simple, the acts of considering what you are making a photo of and contemplating why you are making a photo of that subject will begin to elevate your images. At that point, you are consciously choosing rather than snapping randomly. This is important because once you know what the subject is, you can make further decisions about light and composition.
One of the most important decisions you’ll make as a photographer is where to place the subject within the frame. Regardless of your subject, how you compose the image plays a major role in its level of visual appeal. For some, a departure away from placing the subject in the middle of the frame will be a challenging transition, but undoubtedly one that has the potential to improve the visual appeal of your photos. There are many ‘rules of composition’ one can use to add visual appeal. For example, framing is when the photographer frames the subject with some element(s), as in through a window or doorway. Another example is called leading lines, when some feature within the image leads the viewer's eyes to the subject. Perhaps one of the most visually interesting and common rules of composition is called rule of thirds, which typically involves placing the subject at the intersection of two lines on an imaginary, tic-tac-toe like grid.
Pro Tip: By using several rules of composition concurrently, a photographer can often elevate the image's visual appeal.
Another obvious element photographers make decisions about is light. Some considerations are: the source (natural vs. artificial), intensity (direct vs. diffused) color (cool vs. warm) and angle (overhead, underneath, behind, etc.). At first, just noticing where the light is coming from is a major accomplishment. Later, you can think about how the light hits your subject, which elements are left in the shadows, and how that transforms when you change position. Obviously it depends on what your subject is, but if possible, one of the most valuable exercises is to move around your subject. As you move, change angle and position, both to discover how the light changes as well as to alter the composition.
This practice is going to be one of your secret weapons in the war to defeat that beginner photographer in you. I guarantee that you already know what looks good. Most of us consume thousands of images in a single day and therefore many people know when they see an image that stands above the rest. We may not always know why one is more visually appealing than another, but we generally know it when we see it. By shooting a multitude of photos of the same subject, you begin to gain insight into what looks good. By continuing this practice you will steadily become more decisive and can learn to envision the final image. This is how you'll begin to see like a photographer and ultimately to make photos that you're proud of.