Matt's Handy Photo Guide -- The Artistic Stuff

Cole's Home Page The Technical Stuff

The Technical Stuff on the other side of this piece of paper is the easy part. You can learn that stuff thoroughly in a weekend with a good teacher. The tough part of this whole game is the aesthetic part--"developing an eye", as artsy photographers earnestly call it late at night with a bellyful of wine. The piece of paper won't teach you to develop an eye, bit it will give you a few simple guidelines which might help you start.

First, and absolutely foremost, before you read the rest of this, simply pay attention. Pay attention to what you see around you, and in the viewfinder. When you see a picture that you really like, pay attention to how it looks and see if you can say why you like it. Is it the composition? The expression on someone's face? The light direction? The light color? It can be many things. Now, with an admonition not to cut off anyone's feet in your photos, here is some more specific advice.

Horizontal/Vertical Pictures: The 35mm format is 1.5 times as wide as it is high. Many people will take exclusively horizontal pictures. Some subjects, however, work better when photographed vertically. As an example, when taking a picture of another person, get closer and turn the camera sideways--you'll have a better view of the person and less clutter around the subject.

Same Altitude Syndrome: The vast majority of snapshots are taken from eye-level by a standing adult. Vary this. Kneel down to take pictures of people--it gives them more stature and looks better. Stand on fences and chairs, lie in the grass, photograph from below and above and behind and over there, try different perspectives. The results may not be spectacular, but they will proably be pleasing and refreshing. Along the same lines, you'll find that just a lot of pictures in this world are taken from 8-12 feet from the subject. Get closer, get farther away, vary your distance from your subjects.

Rule of Thirds: Calling it a rule makes it sound set in granite; it's not quite that firm. If you divide your viewfinder into thirds both vertically and horizontally, placing the subject at one of the intersections of the lines will give a more powerful composition than placing the subject dead center (just because that's where they stuck the split-image focusing aid doesn't mean that's where you have to put the subject!). The same goes for horizons--put them along the lower third (to emphasize the sky) or the upper third (to emphasize the foreground) to give more power than a dead-center horizon.

Framing: Use stuff in the foreground to "frame" stuff in the background--perhaps a church framed by a tree, or a person standing in an archway.

Lousy Weather: What's that? It's cloudy out? Don't worry! The ideal condition under which to take pictures is bright cloudy weather, as long as you don't include too much sky. Lighting is flat, even and plentiful, colours stand out, there are no nasty harsh shadows to deal with. Probably the worst light under which to photograph is high noon on a cloudless day--wicked shadows, washed-out colours, and squinty people. Blech. Late afternoon, early morning, rainy days, clouds, even after sunset--a lot of pleasing photographs get taken under less-than-premier lighting. (Photograph some flowers on both sunny and cloudy days--you'll see). The tripod's a life saver in really shitty light.

Pay attention to what you see. Remember these guidelines, and learn to trust your own judgement. Experiment. Don't be afraid to take (easy!) and throw out (hard!) lots of pictures--if you're content with your work as it is, your standards simply aren't high enough. Think. Watch. Enjoy. by Matthew Cole/Christian Photo

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