All photographers aim to capture the perfect frame but if you truly want to create unique work, the kind that stands out and sells, then merely documenting with your camera is just not enough.
The first thing a new photographer does naturally is work on their subject selection and framing, pointing their camera at subjects that catch their eye and making considered decisions about what to include and what to crop out. With a bit more confidence they might start noticing and capturing light and moving around for better composition. Then they start to experiment with their settings little by little to understand how exposure works which leads to exploring the benefits of aperture to control depth and shutter speed to capture movement.
Now most of us go through this process by capturing subjects exactly as they are. Something draws our eye and we think, hey that could make an interesting photo. But very rarely are we taking control of what we’re capturing by creating or constructing the subject ourselves. And this is perfectly understandable – we’ve already got so much to think about. But it does, unfortunately, train us into the habit of documenting, rather than creating. And unfortunately I see photographers get stuck at this point all the time. They take their camera on excursions and photograph points of interest but ultimately there’s rarely anything interesting or thought provoking about their images. If this is you, you may be suffering from the average photo syndrome. Beginning to wonder what the point is as your computer becomes clogged with photos that have no real purpose beyond the result of practice and you find yourself reaching for the camera less and less.
And that’s because the next stage of photography improvement doesn’t come naturally, particularly after we’ve trained ourselves into another habit entirely. And that is to make, not take which ultimately means staging our own scenes. So, for example, a macro photographer might place a piece of white card behind a flower to cut the clutter. A street photographer may spot an interesting urban location and ask a stranger to stand there for them. A portrait photographer uses posing prompts such as getting couples to whisper words into each others ears to provoke specific reactions from their subjects. They all intentionally orchestrate the arrangement of their photos rather than waiting for the elements to perfectly align. And because of this they always end up with results that are unique because they’ve created something rather than capturing something as is, and their work is more impactful because they’re purposely chosen what they want to convey.
This extra effort can be a bit daunting at first. It changes our relationship with photography from a passive hobby into an active one and sometimes puts us outside our comfort zones. But you don’t need to start by crafting involved scenes. The best way to start is asking these two questions of every photo you take:
1. What is my subject
2. What story am I telling about this subject
These two questions stop you from triggering your camera at random and makes you more mindfully consider why your subject is even interesting and what elements you can add or even remove to show that subject in the most impactful way. While these two questions are the most important you’ll also find a list of creativity provoking questions in Creative Photo Folk’s freebie library that will help you consider ways to improve every subject. You can access this by subscribing to our newsletter below.
The second thing you can do to put yourself into a making mindset is to purposely learn a few go-to creative techniques. Our Creative Photo Folk membership is specifically designed to teach people dozens of different creative techniques but there’s lots of places to learn a few to keep up your sleeve. Even just take a scroll through Instagram and pinpoint a few images that capture your interest so you can work out what technique they’ve used and replicate it.
These steps will stop you from being a documenter and transform you into a creator! And ideally each technique you try will also teach you something new about the wonderful world of photography. It’s such an incredible hobby because you can never be bored. And if you are? Then there’s something wrong and an opportunity to change things up.
This creative approach also makes photography fun! When you know you’re not merely pointing your camera at something but creatively crafting what you’re capturing it brings a whole new level of artistry to photography. Creativity and curiosity are the greatest traits we have as humans because it causes us to ask ‘what if’ as we explore and experiment, bring things into existence and improve things we already have, which certainly keeps life interesting.
So how does this actually look in a practical sense? Well let’s take a look at the two most common types of photography – landscapes and portraits.
So how does a landscape photographer make not take? Well, the world’s best landscape photographers put a lot of research into their locations. They use apps to find the best positions and are sure to arrive at a time of day when the weather and light are ideal. They move around the scene to consider the strongest compositions. They use editing techniques such as HDR, focus stacking and perspective blending to ensure the most impactful results. And they will often position something in the foreground, not just for compositional purposes to draw the eye into the scene, but also to tell a story. This might be an iceberg, a sprinkling of flowers, an interesting rock or even something manmade such as a chair to tell a particular story about that location.
What about portrait photographers? As mentioned earlier they may use posing prompts but even on a very basic level they’re thinking about how to best arrange the people, they add light to separate the subjects from their backgrounds or shoot at a particular time of day to avoid unflattering light. They might introduce props to give their subjects something to interact with and put them at ease. They play music to create mood. They may even use creative techniques such as shooting through an on object to create a frame or using a reflective item such as a prism to block out a distraction. They certainly use the benefits of wide apertures to turn everyday environments into pleasant looking scenery. And of course they take great lengths to travel around scouting the perfect locations to feature their subjects.
So if you’ve not yet graduated to the wonderful making stage of photography then I hope you can see now why it’s such a crucial component of every successful photographer’s process. It’s time to break that curse of the average photo and become the impactful photographer you long to be.
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