5 ways to improve your photographic vision

These days, with everybody wielding expensive professional photography gear it is easy to think that in order to make better images you’ve got to have better gear. If you think this way you would be far from the truth. For as long as photographers have been shooting, the eye for a great shot, the understanding of finer details as to what makes a shot stand out from the average ones has remained the benchmark of good photography. Better gear comes a long way after. You can replace expensive gear with cheap cameras and still manage to get good images. But if you don’t have photographic vision, you will never make great images; regardless of the gear you own.

So, how can one create better images? In other words how does one acquire the power to envision an image? Here are five tips that should help you – 

1.     Pick one lens and make it an extension of your eye

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This is easier said than done and takes a considerable amount of practice. When you hear a professional photographer speak about developing your vision, what s/he invariably suggests is to know how to make unique images of a scene using your tools, until that becomes your signature style. Great photographers such as Ansel Adams, Josef Koudelka, Robert Capa and Fan Ho all have their own signature styles. A significant part of that style is attributed to using a single lens and seeing the world as it unfurls through it. When used over a period of time, like the memorable combination of a Leica 35mm and 50mm prime used by Henri Cartier-Bresson, the lens becomes an extension of your eyes.

2.     Use the element of negative space in your image

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Look at the above image. The partially open window is placed towards one corner while the rest of the image is dominated by an empty space. This empty space is known as negative space. Invariably when you look at the image your eyes tend to roam around the vast emptiness and then come back to be fixated on the window. You may even start to look for details, the three potted plants, and the crochet work on the white curtains. This a clever way to focus attention of the viewer to the important aspect of an image which the photographer wants to highlight. Negative space simply helps him to achieve that more easily.

3.     Shoot or post-process in black & white

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Some compositions are best expressed in monochrome. Devoid of colors an image lacks the elements that sometimes be distracting. You can shoot in color and then post-process in black and white which gives you a greater tonal range. Black and white compositions have often been found to be more powerful than color. Back in the early days of photography when film was the dominant format for shooting, everybody had to shoot in black and white. Color film came much later. Photographers in those days relied heavily on compositional aspects to convey depth and dimension. Sadly, these days, the brilliance of colors often hide poor compositions.

4.     Incorporate repeating patterns in your image

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Repeating patterns and or shapes help you create a sort of order in an image. The human brain can perceive repeating patterns and shapes as something that makes sense. That is why repeating patterns in music create rhythm; and rhythm is harmony. In photography, when that same harmony is broken it becomes a point of interest in an image. 

5.     Incorporate lines in your images

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Lines, be it straight, crooked or curved has an effect on your images. I have already discussed the importance of using leading lines in a previous article on this website. Leading lines tend to draw the attention of the viewer towards the main point of interest in an image. Diagonal lines, especially those which travel from the bottom left of the image to the top right add an interesting dynamics to an image. I had discussed perfectly straight horizon lines in an earlier image. Such perfectly straight horizon lines can induce a sense of tranquility to an image. Lines which seem to be falling over adds a bit of tension in a composition. E.g.; a tall building shot with a slight tilt induces tension in the image. Curved lines on the other hand are frequently used as leading lines in composition.

The above tips are just a few ways to improve your photographic vision. Photography, however, is more about the practice than theory. What you learn on the internet or at a workshop has to be put into use to refine and then to adapt. Your style evolves over time as you shoot more and learn to make better images.

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How to improve your travel photos by including people

While photography is being more and more accessible to everyone it has never been so important to take unique photos with an unusual perspective. With everyone shooting from a similar ‘view point’ everyone’s image is going to look alike. Hence, it becomes imperative to scout for rare locations to create unique images. In the 21st century, as a photographer, the biggest challenge is no longer how to make an image but how to stand out from the crowd by making distinctive images.

Vacations happen to be a time when the long lost camera all of a sudden becomes our best companion. They are cleaned, charged and primed for action. But more than half of the images shot on a vacation turn out disappointing. Poor composition is the primary reason. But it can also be bad lighting and incorrect exposure settings. The following tips will help you to realize some of your composition mistakes even before you make them and that way help you make better travel photos.

Include people to express scale

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Scale means when you have something in the photo that gives you a comparative reference of how big or small the scene / subject is. Let’s say you are photographing a beautiful landscape. It’s beautiful as it is and everything is perfect but without a point of reference the viewer has absolutely no idea how big the place is. What you need to do is allow someone to walk into the shot, just so that you can use that person as a point of reference. As a matter of fact, that individual will also become what is known in photography as the focal point or point of interest. The sweeping landscape and everything around that person simply converts into negative space. The viewer’s eye will invariably wander around and then get fixated onto the individual.

Images are just clicks if they don’t tell a story

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If you hear a National Geographic photo editor describe what makes a great photo worth publishing on their magazine, you would invariably hear him/her say that the picture must tell a story. Random captures often don’t have the value and depth in them which can capture the imagination of the viewer for long. Only when you go above and beyond and is prepared to go the extra mile in order to capture an unfolding moment will you ever achieve that in your photos. Sometimes the difference between a god photo and a great photo is simply is simply to include people.

Catch them in the act

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One way of capturing people, and this is only for those who would love to go the extra mile to capture a sense of the place they are visiting, would be in the act they are. I make it a point to visit the local market whenever I go to a new place. The market happens to be the most authentic place where you can really feel the pulse of the place. People buying essential supplies, busy going about their daily routine, vegetable sellers, fruit sellers, cyclists, pedestrians, sign-boards - it is a treasure-trove for those who love shooting street photos. I am not an ardent street photographer, but I have seen markets are one of the best places I can practice a bit of street photography and in the process capture off-beat images of the destination I am in.

Ask for permission

Photographing people at close quarters can be a problem in some places. Additionally, if you are like me it is a disconcerting thing for the first time. If you are unsure approach the person and ask whether you can take a photo of him/her. Explain that you are a photographer and you found him/her interesting and would like to take a picture for your collection. If you are just a casual travel photographer, which most likely you are, you can explain yourself and the reason you are taking the picture and most of the time it would be fine. It is all in the approach. A threatening and aggressive approach or a creepy approach would definitely be met with resistance. A smiling face can often mitigate the reason to worry.

Be aware of the local customs and practices

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Albeit what has been said above be aware of the local customs and practices. In some cultures aiming your camera at people is considered rude. In most western countries you are fine photographing anyone as long as you are standing on public ground and the person you are photographing is also on public ground. But always be careful photographing children. In any case, you don’t always need someone to be facing the camera to be included in the shot. This is especially when all you need is just a point of reference. A person sitting facing away from you is just as fine.

Next time when you are out snapping photos, pause for a moment and think if adding a human element would add to your composition.

If you enjoyed reading this article and would like to know more about another photography theme, please feel free to let us know here >

Alternatively, you may subscribe to my newsletter for receiving weekly news from the blog in addition to keeping you updated with my courses' availability.


Additional Readings