I’ve been involved with photography for over 30 years, and even with all the modern technology of digital cameras, editing programs, and all of the information that can be found on the Internet there are still some issues with photography that have been with us for years. One of the top 10 questions I get asked by my photography student’s has nothing to do with camera operation, but has everything to do with getting an amazing picture and that question starts with ” How can I make my pictures look better?”
A lot of people are disappointed in what their pictures look like, their pictures just don’t have that extra special quality that they see on the Internet or in books. Many students want me to tell them what the secret is to get these amazing photos, some think the secret is in the camera body that you use, others think it is in the lenses. We’ll really there’s only one secret and that is to shoot, shoot and shoot and to shoot in the lighting conditions that will enhance your images. If you are just a weekend photographer that takes one or two pictures when it is convenient to you you’ll never improve your photography and get those amazing images. Likewise if you’re one of those photographers that only shoots during the afternoon when you have some extra time, your pictures will never have that amazing lighting to set them apart from the average everyday pictures. The biggest thing that any photographer can do to improve their images is to take more images when the light is outstanding and to look at what the light does to enhance the images.
I often tell the story of National Geographic photographers and how they would get the amazing pictures that filled their magazine for years. These photographers would show up at a location days, weeks or even months before they’re actually going to take the image. They would scout out the location, they would learn about their subject, they would check out the lighting, and they would take test shots to see when the best time was to take the images. Only after all of this research would the photographer actually take the image that would appear in the magazine. Today many photographers, including myself, try rushing through taking an image. We will drive someplace and see something that we find interesting, stop the car and take what we hope will be an amazing picture. So many times after taking the image we are disappointed because the lighting just does not do anything to enhance the photo, and many times will do a lot to destroy the image that we saw in our mind. So what should we do to improve our photography? Well it is very simple we need to take time to check out a location and to see what the light does to that location to make it look amazing, and only after checking the location thoroughly we should take our images. Yes this takes time, yes this takes commitment but only by doing so will we ever improve our photography. So next time you’re driving around and see that amazing picture take a minute to figure out what makes it so amazing. Is it the actual light that is striking the subject at that minute, or is it your mind telling you that this could be an amazing subject if the lighting was a little different?
The above image of the Prince of Wales Hotel in Waterton is one of those images that many people photograph, but not a lot of people are really happy with. I have driven by this hotel tens of thousands of times. I must have photographed it hundreds of times. Each time it just did not have the look that I was looking for. It was either backlit, flat lit or just plain did not look right. I knew the lighting that I was looking for, and many times I tried getting there to capture the perfect lighting and many times I failed. Then one day I was driving back to my campsite after photographing some elk early in the morning and I saw the perfect light just starting to light up the hotel. At the time I was more interested in getting something to eat than getting a picture of the hotel but I knew that after so many attempts I better take the opportunity to stop and get the picture that I’ve been looking for. I stopped and shot 100 or so images before the light softened and ruined the look that I wanted and the look that I saw in my mind so many times. I’m so happy that I took that opportunity, since that date I’ve not seen the exact lighting on this hotel that I wanted so those few minutes worked for me to get the perfect image that I wanted.
So next time you want to take some amazing pictures make sure that you’re getting out when the light is working for you. A little planning and a little luck and you will be able to take your images from the everyday to the amazing!