Being a Better Photographer; Not Always the Camera that Makes the Good Image

As a freelance photographer with over 36 years of experience behind many different cameras, I’m always told the images I create are beautiful simply because I have a “big professional” camera. People normally take one look at my reflex camera with a long zoom, and believe a great camera is the tool that creates great pictures. I often overhear this comment too, even in spanish as I reside in southern Spain on the Atlantic side of Andalucia; when I hear that statement uttered behind me, I stop and turn to the people and tell them that “no, the camera is only a tool and it’s the person behind the camera that creates the image”.

I don’t believe that the camera creates the great picture everyone loves, and that the camera is only a tool that adds only 25% to the creation of a great image- it is up to the photographer to give it that extra impact.

With a lot of experience behind the camera, you too can create a wonderful image no matter whhat type of camera you have, but it is having a vision of what you want to create, and also knowing your camera for its abilities and limitations which will greatly add to the results. That you have a fairly “professional” camera doesn’t matter, as I have used simple no zoom film and digital cameras to create outstanding images in the past.

Knowing what you want to create will help you in creating that perfect picture. If you think taking a long sequence of a hundred or more pictures and hoping one of those sequences will work for you is the answer, then it’s time you looked for a new profession. In this digital age of shooting and “deleting” the bad ones, that still doesn’t help to build a reputation as a good photographer. You need to know what you will photograph and when is the best time to capture it, irregardless of whether it’s a portrait of a person, a travel image for an article, a baby at rest, or a horse walking through a field, you need to know when and how to present your image beforehand in order to accurately record your scene.

Like a movie director who creates a storyboard to allow him to see his scenes build his movie, a photographer also needs to see in advance the scenes and how he wants to capture these scenes to get the desired results.

While this can be done mentally by experienced photographers, those with less vision might want to research the subject of his camera in order to build the scene and its results. No matter because the results will be the same, the goal being to get the right picture results.

Let’s use for example a nice landscape you see everyday and want to capture it draped in fog. How would you prepare to capture this scene?

I suggest the following steps:

  1. Research the subject! Find out when the sun rises or sets, depending on when you want to photograph. The different light will create different moods. Find out through weather reports how the weather will be so you can count on having that fog.
  1. Prepare your camera! Your camera should be prepped as much as possible to provide you with the tools to create your picture. Is it clean? Are the batteries charged? How about an extra battery in case of a malfunction or the cold zaps the power? Which lens will you take for the perspective you want? Where is the best place to get the picture you want?
  1. Prepare yourself! Do you need to dress warmly? Will there be a cloud of gnats to keep you busy and require bug spray? Is there parking nearby or is there considerable walking involved? Walking or hiking shoes necessary? Will you fill your camelback with water or carry a lunch for a nice long leisurely walk through the fields?
  1. Is your car as ready as your camera? Do you need gas? Are your tires capable of arriving at the spot you will leave it, whether it’s a dirt stony road or a paved access road? Will you need permissions to access the location? Will you need permissions from park authorities to get to the area and take pictures?

Other things to consider also are how the sky will be. While many photographers prefer a clear sky, I enjoy clouds of any sort to add something to an otherwise empty sky. When possible, I also attempt to capture flying birds – it adds a nice personal touch to a scene, especially with sunsets and landscapes.

Are you a film photographer? Get the right low speed film to capture the details and color? Is it a cloudy day and have switched to medium-speed film to use for the slower shutter speeds?

Shooting digital? Be sure your camera sensor chip is clean; you can do this by taking a full-frame picture of a white wall or sheet, or even up at the clear blue sky. You’ll see if your sensor is dirty or not if the resulting image displays some soft dark spots anywhere on the picture. In the case you do see these, be sure that you clean the sensor chip in accordance with your camera manufacturer’s instructions, plus keep this in mind for general camera use: when changing lens on a digital camera, always turn the camera OFF. The sensors are a magnet for dust and even when off will attract dirt of any type! Be sure when switching lenses that the camera is OFF, and that both lens are aligned and ready to be swapped in the quickest method possible, to allow the camera body lens mount to be exposed to the open air as little as possible. Clean your camera’s sensor on a regular basis, and even more often depending on your living and working situation.

To be sure I don’t miss a thing at my location, I try to find people I can talk with, asking if there’s any particular details I might not have known about, or added since my last visit. To give you an idea, perhaps there’s a landmark you didn’t know about, or a better access road might have been added, and even the location of streams or waterfalls always make a good photo subject. For personal safety reasons, if hunting season is on, that might affect your “shooting”. On that same subject, perhaps it’s a time when migrating birds are due, and catching these can also be an interesting theme.

When you are finally ready to capture your subject, be sure to take control. You need to know what to do in case something happens. What if it rains while on location? Do you stay or leave? Will the return hike/drive be uneventful or dangerous? What to do if people walk into your picture. These are examples of some of the many things that can possibly happen. Plan ahead to avoid possible problems!

Now, you’re walking through the undergrowth and haven’t yet arrived at your particular spot to begin shooting. Do you just set up your tripod and other gear and start, or do you walk about to see the complete area and change possibly your exact location to get a new, creative outlook for your scene?? This is something experience will help you immensely in such a situation.

When you are shooting, look for natural things such as trees that can help you frame your subject. Look for creative angles to get the most impact in your pictures. Think before you press the shutter release: How can this photo be better? Is this how I want the resulting image to be? If I saw this picture in a magazine, how could I improve upon it?

Now, go out and take that outstanding photo and share it with the world!!

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