Can we trust our perception when taking photographs? Maybe. Maybe not. I’ll share tips for checking your perception and getting better shots.
You’ve landed on one of 28 posts about photography and how to improve your skills. If you’re a creative, blogger, or photography enthusiast, you’ve landed in the right spot!
A Rookie Mistake
“Here it is!” I slapped the neatly typed feature article down on the Collegian editor’s desk. “On time, and photo included.”
“Good work,” he said, and started to glance through the article.
I couldn’t decide if the words I’d written or the photo I’d taken brought me the most joy. I’d interviewed an inspirational community member who started running in his early fifties. Now, at 70, he ran his birthday years in miles each year, and regularly participated in ultra-marathon events.
Since I had enrolled in both a journalism class and a photography class, I thought offering up my services to our college newspaper would give me valuable experience. It didn’t hurt that my good friend acted as news editor.
“So, you took this picture?” his question interrupted my thoughts.
“Yep. Mr. Kagey is a cool old dude.”
“Pretty proud of it, are you?”
I looked at the photo, then at my friend. The smirk on his face should have clued me in. “It’s the best shot I got of him. You did want a head and shoulders shot, didn’t you? Mr. Kagey’s face has such character.”
“His face has character, all right,” my friend said, “but I’m not too sure about the tree coming out of his head!”
Aghast, I stared at the photo. A photo I had taken and developed from film cannister to finished portrait. Sure enough. Mr. Kagey had an unsightly pine tree protruding from the back of his head.
How to Check Your Perception Before You Take the Shot
Why had this happened? I had let my perception—that I had the camera focused and my subject had a nice smile on his face—assure me I had the perfect shot. But I had failed to look through the lens at what surrounded my subject.
Most of the time, we concentrate on the subject of our photos, and don’t give the surroundings much thought. We do that in life sometimes, too. Our perception of a lazy student may change when we realize the student struggles with depression. Sometimes a simple shift in our point of view will make our photos (or our relationships) turn out better.
Our perceptions can lie to us because we forget to look at the whole picture.
Use these tips to help you check your perception before you snap the shot.
- Do a quick background check in the view finder for trees (or other objects) coming out of your subject’s head.
2. Check the sides of your photos, too. Do you see unsightly edges of buildings or does anything cause your lighting to look wonky? Move closer or ask your subjects to move.
3. Do a foot check. If you want a full-body shot, do you see your subject’s entire body? I’ve chopped off the legs of a moose before. Miss Moose stood in a field of long grasses and flowers, and I shot the photo of the parts I could see—forgetting she’d look stunted without space beneath where her legs hid in the grass.
4. Change your depth-of-field (open your aperture up to a small f-stop such as 1.2, 2.8, 4, or 5.6). This will help blur out unsightly background objects.
5. Take a test shot and check the results on your screen—not a luxury we had 30 years ago. You can compare your perception of what you shot to the actual shot and make adjustments on the spot.
6. People can move, wildlife will, too.
If your subjects have two legs and no feathers, you can easily use your thumb and your voice to direct them to move in one direction or the other. Wildlife doesn’t usually cooperate this way. Just have patience. Wildlife will move, and if your luck holds, you’ll get a better shot.
7. Use frames. Not actual photo frames but look for objects to naturally frame your shots.
Look through your folders of photos (either on your phone or your computer) and check your perception. Do you need to practice one of these tips for improving your photos? Did you discover messy backgrounds, trees growing out of people’s heads, or footless subjects?
Pick one flaw you see over and over (for me, I struggle with leaving the feet on my subjects) and make a conscious effort to eliminate it the next time you go out shooting.
Come Back Tomorrow
Tomorrow I’ll share the tips I’ve learned about photographing people and the need to keep up a persistent conversation.