Bones of the Sky I noticed this great sky and just shot straight up with my iPhone. View on 500px

A photograph is light shining on a surface inside your camera.

Most people take photos, but when they see the photos of the “greats” they assume they could never produce such results. I’m not great, but I’ve been trying for some years now to systematically improve my shots and based on the feedback I get I’m getting better. Here is some of the best advice I’ve received.

Make photographs, don’t take them

You don’t take a photograph, you make it. — Ansel Adams

For some reason we “make” paintings but we “take” photographs. But photography is much like painting. It may be faster to snap the shutter, but the greatest photographers don’t produce any more masterpieces than the greatest painters. Making a good photograph takes time, patience, skill, talent. That’s why I agree with Rockwell that we should see photography as a creative art.

Move around

One of the easiest ways to identify a serious photographer is to spot them moving around as they try to find the right shot. They crouch low down, they stand on chairs, they move around the room. But why?

Most people, myself included, tend to take photos from where they are standing. They swivel left and right, pan up and down, zoom in and out, but don’t move from their position. This is a mistake. By staying in one spot, one is missing out on a whole three-dimensional universe of possibilities for a shot.

Presentation audience I was all over the room trying to find this shot. View on 500px

Consider moving closer to the subject. A camera has a limited ability to produce a good quality image when it’s zoomed in. Most cameras have dramatically less light reaching the sensor as they zoom in. The farther the zoom, the less light makes it through. That makes the image grainy, pixelated, or blurs the image as the shutter gets slower to compensate. By comparison, if one simply moves towards the subject, one can achieve the exact same result without degrading the image at all.

Moving around from left to right can completely change the photo. If the light is coming from one direction, it could change your subject from front-list with hard shadows, to back-lit with soft light on their face. It could change between a profile and front image. It could dramatically improve the background, by simplifying it or adding some interesting object or person.

More reading

If you’re still interested after reading this, I recommend looking at all of Ken Rockwell’s articles. He’s not a world-leading photographer, but he knows how to teach, and his articles are entertaining and easy to follow. Here are a couple more good ones:

The next article in this series will have more basic Ken Rockwell-inspired tips. Stay tuned.