How To: Take a Photograph

(Three simple tips for upping your photography game.)

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Everyone has a digital SLR these days. Mostly because people think that buying a big camera will make you take better photos. That’s like saying buying a bigger more expensive car will make you a better driver. It won’t, you will just fall in to the same habits and ultimately have a thinner wallet. You don’t need to buy a better camera. 60% of the photos I take on this website are taken with an iphone (gasp!). It’s not the camera, it’s the photographer. You know what it really takes to become a great photographer? Me neither, but let me know if you find out.

Here are 3 tips for taking a better photograph:

1. GET CLOSER
One super simple explanation for better photos is to figure out what you want your subject to be and then eliminate all other distracting elements. Fill your subject in the frame and eliminate any crumpled napkins, overhead powerlines, or ugly people in the background. Be mindful of your entire frame. Ever notice than when you ask someone to take a photo of you and your boyfriend/girlfriend in front of the Grand Canyon that they will always stand in the exact same place of where you hand them the camera? Don’t be afraid to get closer and approach your subject from different angles to eliminate distractions. The worst thing that is going to happen is people are going to think you are weird (which i’m pretty used to). Make your subject the subject of the photo.

2. USE NATURAL LIGHT
The “magic hour” is a term used by photographers for the hour that surrounds sunrise and sunset, when the “softest” ambient light for photography is found. Photos taken around noon will generally have the “hardest” light. This means it will draw attention to skin flaws (wrinkles, pimples, and Sarah Jessica Parkers) on the face. Also, since the light is directly overhead it will create shadows underneath the eyes and nose and possibly cause your subject to squint.
This also means that you should ditch your flash (or permanently turn it off like me). Nothing is more hideous than hard on-camera flash. It removes the viewer from your art and makes them subconsciously think “I am looking at a photograph”. I rarely write any foodlatio posts on the places I go for dinner because the lighting is generally too dim and I refuse to use flash (unfortunately this means I have never been able to tell you my reviews of places like Jar, Rustic Canyon, or Sugarfish). Photography is all about the quality of light so try to increase your chances for natural light. Sit by a window or stick to shooting in the early morning or late afternoon hours.

3. RULE OF THIRDS
Imagine the viewfinder/screen on your camera to be a rectangle. Now inside that rectangle visualize a tic-tac-toe pattern (for the kids, tic-tac-toe was a game old people used to play before TV was invented). Now, try to place the subject of your photo where those lines intersect. For example, when taking a picture of a landscape try to make the photo either 1/3 sky and 2/3 land OR 2/3 sky and 1/3 land. Why is this visually appealing to the human eye? There are various theories (that i’m too lazy to look up) but the fact is, it does.

The one thing that will advance your photography the most is to just get out there and take photos. In this digital 140 character instant gratification world we tend to just snap away and not truly think about our art or what we are doing. I am guilty of this myself at times so have gone back to a completely manual camera. Take your time with your art just like you take your time savoring that filet mignon, playing with your kids, or enjoying a sunset at the beach.

To see my photography and world travel: JohnnyMoxie.com

[Photo: My camera at Johnny Moxie Studios in Los Angeles]

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2 responses to “How To: Take a Photograph

  1. Great post! You’re right, the not the camera, it’s the photographer. I dont know why people automatically think just because they bought a new fancy dslr it suddenly makes them a photographer. I’ve taken great photos on my iPhone or a disposable camera and makes no difference. This is actually funny because yesterday a guy came up to me and my husband as he saw my husband shooting and asked, “oh, is that a mark ii 5d and you’re using a 50mm 1.4?” to his reply, yes, but it’s not my camera, it’s my wife’s. The guy then asked me if I owned any L Series lens. It made me laugh because he obviously assumed if you don’t have an L series you’re not taking quality photos.

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