As an amateur photographer, I sometimes get compliments on the photos I take. Here’s my secret:
- I own a nice camera. The reason: It’s harder to take stunning photos and video with a smartphone or point and shoot than with an SLR. I bought my first “nice camera” in 2007, four years too late (i.e. the last six years of my marriage are a lot more memorable than the first four sans SLR). As such, this has been one of the most joyful and long-lasting investments I’ve ever made. It’s worth the added cost and hassle of lugging it around. I never go on an adventure without it and always try to capture any remotely interesting moment with it.
- I think faces are the most interesting subjects. If there’s one thing humans like looking at, it’s faces. Full body shots positioned at a distance in front of landmarks make for boring and worthless keepsakes. So move closer to your subjects. Take tighter shots and instruct strangers shooting you to do the same. Furthermore, get eye-level with your subjects, even if you have to lay down, and keep iconic landmarks in the background where they belong because your camera isn’t good enough to take a postcard shot anyways. Don’t worry about blurry backgrounds, they make your subjects pop more and still impress when positioned behind interesting faces. For instance, a close-up I took several years ago of my wife and daughter smiling at Grande Staircase was good enough to encourage a colleague to book a trip there. “Where is that place?” she asked, despite the blur. “I gotta go there!” And it was a close up of a face that got her there, not an amateur shot of the draw itself.
- I never use flash. Why? It makes human faces look ghostly, artificial, plastic, and weird. It’s the worst invention in the history of photography. Let the sun or ambient lighting with a slow shutter speed do the work for you. You’ll take better photos as a result.
- I never take portrait photos. You know, the tall ones. Why? They’re boring and look funny on wide screen computers and televisions. That and they’re not as flattering as wide shots, since human eyes are side by side. Of the 19,000 family photos in my gallery, less than 1% are portraits, and even that’s too many. Again, it’s better to sacrifice a tall structure in favor of a widescreen close up of a face.
- I avoid composing copycat photos. For instance, I don’t take cliche photos at iconic places. I try to capture a humans in a new way at iconic places, like this. More than anything, original ideas ensure your photography stays interesting while increasing the chances of capturing something someone has never seen before, which makes for a more memorable viewing experience, which is the point of photography.
Obviously there are exceptions to these rules. But the only ones capable of effectively breaking them are true photographers. And I’m not that so I stick to the basics, keep my camera set on AV (the best auto setting for SLRs) and hope for the best.
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