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Tips for Better Pictures

Today's e-tip:

Begin with the End in Mind

Visualize: Begin with the end in mind

How should we decide WHAT images to take?
Before you take a picture, you need to think about the moment when you will be deciding: should I keep this one or throw it away. You should decide if you will want to keep it BEFORE you take it.

In the old days of film, shooting a lot of pictures cost a lot of money. Film and processing wasn’t cheap. You were restricted by "cost" to shooting fewer images. You had to pick-and-choose what you were going to shoot. This forced you to take fewer, but better, pictures.

In digital photography, you can shoot to your heart’s content – digital media IS cheap – and pressing the shutter only costs a shutter actuation (camera shutters do eventually die!) and a little temporary memory.

So, should you shoot a LOT of pictures? The answer is more complex than the question.

You’ve probably seen the stereo-typical tourist with a camera that turns the camera on every object they see to take a picture? In the age of digital photography, that’s not very costly, except for the time it takes to decide which images to keep and which to discard. But, it's a wasteful activity, and not very productive in improving your photography. Granted, there is something gratifying about pressing the shutter button. We get a strange sense of accomplishment - after all, we're not doing much, the camera is. Later, when we review our images, we may lose that sense of accomplishment if we didn’t get the images we expected.

So, how do we take images that will give us a sense of accomplishment, even after we’ve had time to review them?

My philosophy

I don’t shoot a lot of subjects. What I do, is shoot a lot of what I do shoot. Quite simply: I limit WHAT I take pictures of. But when I find a something I really like, I shoot A LOT images of it.

I try not to think about the moment that I’m in, but the moment I WILL be in - later, when I’m viewing my images. One of the “7 Habits of Highly Effective People” (by Steven R. Covey) is to "Begin with the End in Mind". This is exactly what you need to do when you’re taking pictures. You need to think about the moment when you will be deciding: should I keep this one or throw it away. You need to decide if you will want to keep it BEFORE you take it.

Developing your philosophy
Photography isn’t an exact science or art. Unfortunately you won’t always know what the final image will look like. Cameras "see” very differently than our we do. We have the ability to see detail and color the way it is; our cameras don't. Your camera must be told what the colors should look like, what should be sharp (and what shouldn't), where you want to be able to see detail - in the shadows or highlights (you can't have both), etc. If you're not telling your camera these things, you're relying on it to make arbitrary decisions for you - not a good thing, but that's a subject for another eTip.

So, you have to use a bit of flexibility in your "end" vision, but by fine-tuning your skills at trying to visualize the end product, you can improve your images.

What I find that helps is to review your own pictures that you've taken previously BEFORE you go out shooting. You will see what you like in your images, and what you don't like in them. This will help you form your "end vision" while you're out shooting.

Imagine the image before you to out to take it.
Use the best photography tool you have - and it's not your camera!
One of the best, and least reported, features of shooting with a tripod, is that it provides you with more "think" time. A tripod forces you to think about the image your about to take, as you can't just aim-and-shoot. This is one of the reasons that pictures taken with a tripod are often better images than those taken by hand-holding your camera. Sure, taking a picture where your camera is steady helps - but, you'll tend to take better pictures as well because you'll be taking more time to think. Your brain is your best photography tool, and a tripod allows you the time to use it.

Ansel Adams took one of his most famous images when he went out with only one sheet of film (he shot with sheet film). In the book "Ansel Adams, an Autobiography" he said that he had only one plate left and he "visualized" the effect of the final image. This is what we all need to do in order to improve our images: Begin with the visualized end in mind.

Before you leave to shoot, try to imagine what kind of picture you're looking for. When you get to where you'll be shooting, try to take that picture.

When should you take a LOT of pictures?
For me, it’s more about being selective about what shots I take. I only want to shoot subjects that I find interesting and/or are in good light - subjects I know that I’ll want to see a month or a year from now. And, when I take those subjects, I take a LOT of pictures of them. I don’t just take one picture and move on, I try to get different angles, use different focal lengths, use a smaller aperture (more depth of field) and a larger aperture (less depth of field). Use a slower shutter speed and a faster shutter speed. I try different options as EVERY one of those pictures will be very different. I can then choose the one I like best later.

One of the biggest issues that people have with their pictures is blurring. Very often, blurry pictures are caused by the camera selecting a shutter speed that is too slow for the focal length you are using. One way around that is to take a LOT of pictures when using long focal lengths (e.g., "telephoto"). The idea being, that hopefully at least ONE image won't be blurry.

So, be selective about WHAT you take - but take multiple images of those subjects you really like. Begin with the end in mind.


Happy shooting!!

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