Well-known landscape photographer Thomas Heaton has said of photography:
“It’s not about taking the picture. Technically that’s easy. It’s the seeing that’s difficult”.
I believe that Thomas Heaton is making the point that there is more to photography than knowing about exposure, settings, and so on.
Photography is essentially a creative process, an aesthetic process in which the photographer’s vision is paramount.
But realising that vision can be difficult.
If you want to compose interesting images rather than simply capture pretty views, then you need to become more creative with your photography.
And this involves more than just knowing the technical side of photography. It involves seeing, thinking about the image, making decisions and actively composing according to how we see.
Photograph vs Snapshot
I recently spoke to a landscape photographer who said he often gets so excited about the big picture in front of him that he forgets to include a foreground in his image, something he always regrets later.
This got me thinking about creativity in photography and how it can be easy as beginner photographers to always try to capture the pretty view rather than look for a more compelling composition.
Of course, it’s good to capture the obvious photo first, the pretty view, just to have it in the bag, but we can then go in search of the less obvious images and try and become a little more creative with our photography.
After all, we won’t improve as photographers if we just take the obvious, ’easy’ images all the time.
So, how do you become more creative with your photography?
I would suggest you begin by asking yourself why you want to take photographs.
Do you take photos to try and capture the emotion you feel when you visit a location?
Do you want to capture certain elements that convey a real sense of the place?
Do you want others to know, by looking at your photos, what it is like to be in this place?
If these are the reasons that you engage in photography, then you’ll be interested in doing more than just capturing the ‘big vista’, the postcard image of the place.
You’ll want to go deeper; you’ll want to explore the area, get a feel for the place, experience the different elements that make up this location that you have chosen to photograph.
To do this, there are a few accepted techniques that you will want to follow; a few composition tips that will help you create a photo that will capture the essence of the place in a way that is personal to you.
Your images will not look like images taken by other people, they will be uniquely yours.
What are the techniques that will give us a more creative, personal image?
The image below is a nice image, but it has been taken hundreds of times. You step out of your car and there it is, ready to be captured.
When you stand in front of the vista, with the mountain looming over the water below, there is a real sense of emotion at the beauty of the place.
Yet this emotion is not conveyed in the image.
Even with top of the range camera gear the image will be flat and lacking the 3-dimensional element that the eye sees in reality.
A look around the location reveals other aspects of the place that can help us create a more personal, thoughtful image.
In the image below I thought about composition.
I found this lone tree and placed it to one side of the image with the mountain behind. I experimented with how to place the tree to get the most pleasing look.
I also moved around to try to position the tree so that it could be clearly seen.
To me, this thinking element, the deliberate positioning of a subject with another subject, or with a foreground or background, is what is meant by creating an image.
It involves consideration and decision making.
When I take a photo such as the first image above, I rarely think about the subject. The beautiful view is just there, created by nature with no input from me.
When I am creating an image, on the other hand. I have to think about the subject, the ‘main character’ of the image, decide where I want to place that subject in my frame, and think about the ‘supporting actors’ – smaller subjects, foreground, mid-ground and background elements, light, and so on.
Light is often a main player in your composition even if it is not the actual subject. There are many different types of light and light can add drama, interest, beauty or emotion to your image. Paying attention to light, deliberately choosing certain light conditions to achieve a certain effect, is part of the art of creating an image. If we follow the light, it will often dictate where we will point the camera.
I was fortunate on this occasion to be close to the coast during a spell of sunny weather.
The sunsets were almost guaranteed!
I made a few images in this location. Several elements came together in the image above. My main subject was the distant boats, but I also wanted to include the pier as a subject. I deliberately came out at sunset to capture some colour in the sky, which adds to the story of the image.
Adding a foreground
Getting close to the rocks in the foreground gives a different perspective to the photo above. Adding a foreground also adds depth to an image as our eye is led into the back of the frame. In this image I tried to balance the rock in the foreground with the small boat on the left, creating a diagonal line.
In this image I liked the rock- it seemed to resemble a head- but wanted to set it in context of the sea and land so I added a foreground element of grasses while the sea is the mid-ground element with the sunset over the distant mountains creating the background.
Use of space
We don’t always have to fill the entire frame in our photographs. Negative space is a technique that can be used to add some creativity to our images and to create interest for the viewer.
The negative space on the right side of the frame ensures that the viewer’s eye is drawn to the trees on the left.
In this image there is a lot of water and sky in the frame, and they are a similar colour. To me this gives a sense of the solitude of the lone boatman.
Rule of Thirds
Until I started studying composition and learning about compositional techniques in photography I wouldn’t have realised that I was using the rule of thirds, yet instinctively my eye found images using this ‘rule’ more pleasing than images where the subject was placed centrally.
It is generally understood that when people look at images their eyes are drawn by default to the parts of the image that correspond to the intersection of the lines in the 3x3 grid rather than to the centre of the image.
The ‘rule of thirds’ is something I find myself naturally , though not slavishly, following as I personally feel drawn to composing an image in this way.
That said, there are times when I feel that a subject placed centrally can also be visually pleasing. I always check visually and place my subject accordingly.
When you include the horizon in your image it can seem natural to position it centrally in the frame. However, the rule of thirds suggests that to place the horizon along one of the two horizontal lines in the 3x3 grid is more effective in terms of a pleasing image.
Sometimes the sky will determine which line is best to use. If the sky has no interest, it might be best to place the horizon close to the top horizontal line, whereas if the sky has dramatic clouds or intense colour it may take up two thirds of your image, to give it prominence.
In this sunrise image, all of the drama was in the sky so I gave it prominence. I deliberately kept the buildings and trees as silhouettes to accentuate the dramatic clouds.
A technique often used by photographers is the creative use of leading lines to draw the viewer’s eye into the frame.
Anything that forms a line can be used; a road, path, shoreline, hedge, railway line, wall, and the line can be straight, winding, curved or s shaped. In fact, the more creative you can be in finding and using leading lines, the more pleasing will be your resulting image.
Lines will often lead to a main subject, but they can also be used to create mystery as the viewer wonders where the line leads. In this image the dry stone wall leads to the top of the hill and beyond. It makes me wonder what is on the other side.
Often, finding a natural way to frame a photograph adds interest to the image and increases its effectiveness in attracting the eye of the viewer.
Frames can be trees or branches of trees, walls, arches, indeed anything which provides a frame with which to surround the main subject.
I composed the image then waited until a person walked into the frame.
This technique can be overdone yet used sparingly it can be a good way to add something extra to what might otherwise be a banal image.
While you may want to capture some of the iconic images of places you visit, as a beginning photographer who wants to improve at your craft you will also want to go deeper, to expand your creations so that they express your own vision, rather than simply reproduce the creations of others.
The words of Thomas Heaton quoted at the beginning of the post are very true. It is technically easy to take a photograph, but the easy photograph won’t necessarily express the vision of the photographer; it won’t offer anything different, anything unique.
It is when we start to see, which is what Heaton says is the difficult part of photography, that we really begin to create images.
I hope these suggestions have given you some ideas as to how you can become more creative with your photography, and produce more personal, unique images.
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