I’ve been seeing a lot of photographic advice lately on blogs but most doesn’t speak to the heart of taking a good photograph. If you want to take great photographs take an art class. There are many inexpensive places to take an art class like community colleges and Adult Ed centers. Taking a good photo has nothing to do with your camera. You can take great pictures with disposable camera from the drug store. I have a Nikon FM and 35mm film (although without Kodachrome 25 there is no point in using it.) and while I dearly adore it I prefer the portability and freedom of my Sony with its Zeiss lens.
Photography is about how you see things and the best way to learn to see is in an Art class. You learn about seeing the shadows and if you see the shadow you have the light. One of the best exercises we ever did was to make ink portraits of people while only painting all the shadows. My only focusing on the shadows we created some of the best portraits and not once did we focus on the person sitting there. There was no need.
You learn about visual rhythm and how to use and see colour. We learned about perspective and the rules governing it. We learn about the rule of odds, (some call it the rule of three,). The eye prefers odd numbers to even numbers in most cases. We learned how to fill the frame and how to frame.
The rules of composition are the building blocks of any visual art. Line, or how your eye moves. Shape, specific areas in your photo defined by their edges, ie: cylinder, circle, square, etc. Colour, yes, it does change things which is why most formal class work starts in black and white and if you are lucky you can add colour in your second year. Texture, surface and surface illusions. Form, width and depth. Value, how form is expressed and lastly, space, both negative and positive.
When you take Photography courses, and I have a minor in it, our professor told us to take art classes. Photography classes were for praxis and mechanics of photography. Although the professor did sic me on one guy with too much money and camera for his own good to try and teach him how to “see” didn’t work. He still took snapshots and tourists pics but Lordy, Lordy, I tried.
There are some things you need to learn especially if you use a manual camera setting like I do even on my point and shoot. (I bought one of the few they make with manual settings.) Always take at least 3 shots. The one before, the one in the middle and a last shot, the one in the middle will probably be the one you want but not necessarily. And since you have a digital most probably, not as expensive as when I learned with film. Sometimes cameras can be slow, The first shot may have metering problems and it may have focusing problems so by taking more than one you have a better chance of getting what you want.
BE PATIENT. Sometimes you have to wait for the right moment. Don’t just shoot blindly. Wait for what you want. This is true of shooting people or nature. You want to wait to people relax and drop the walls. You want to get their essence in the photo not what they want to project. You will get a better smile or the light in their eyes and they will like the picture better.
FYI, the reason people don’t like most pictures is because a photo isn’t how they are used to seeing themselves. Most people unconsciously expect what they see in the mirror and a photograph is the flip or opposite of the mirror so it reads “wrong” to people. Hence, most people hate photos of themselves.
Nature is all about waiting for what you want whether it’s an animal doing something or that perfect moment when the sun starts to rise or it dips beneath the horizon. Someday I’m going to catch the mythical green spark!
There are ways and reasons to break all composition rules BUT you have to learn what those rules are first before you can break them, unless, of course, you don’t mind taking snapshots and tourist pics.