A couple of questions from an absolute beginner...

Started Jul 1, 2013 | Discussions thread
jbf
jbf
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Re: A couple of questions from an absolute beginner...
In reply to steveabraham, Jul 2, 2013

steveabraham wrote:

I'm wondering if some of you would be good enough to comment on the following, I'd love to hear your advice.

A bit of background...
I've dabbled with cameras over the years and I'm comfortable (though by no means proficient) with the technical aspects of photography. I currently own a decent DSLR and a small collection of lenses that cover pretty much anything I'll need in any given situation.

Steve,

I looked at your 500px.com photos. I think you're significantly underrating yourself. Your photos are very good. I've seen other posts from people who use the 500px site asking why they don't get noticed more. I don't use that site but I'm guessing that it's very difficult to get noticed there. Your photos are mostly of flowers and animals. Those common subjects make it even more difficult to stand out. Your question isn't about getting recognition, but that may affect your level of confidence.

My first question is to do with composition/framing/a good eye/etc. I look at some of the photos from people I follow on Flickr/500px/etc such as Thomas Leuthard and I'm in awe of the results achieved from very simple scenes, he clearly has a very good eye for what makes a good photograph. Can this be learned in time and with practice, or are some people just wired the right way and the rest of us are doomed to mediocrity?

I took a quick look at Thomas Leuthard's page. You're right, his photos are very good. I wouldn't necessarily pick him as creative inspiration simply because there are many street photographers who take very similar photos. There are a few things that he does extremely well that you are probably picking up on whether you realize it or not.

First and most importantly, Leuthard uses light to add drama and direct the viewer's eye. Go through his photos and look at all the interesting ways he uses light and shadows, how the light and also the contrast between light and dark areas makes the subject stand out. It helps that most of the photos are black & white. I find that converting my photos to B&W helps me see what the light is doing in my photos much better than seeing them in color. Even if the end product is going to be a color photo, I almost always at least temporarily convert to B&W just to check out the light in the photo. One of my favorite photography quotes was from a street photographer (I can't remember his name) who when asked what he does replied, "I hunt for light." Try removing the color from your photos and look at the light. If you have Photoshop, the best method is to add a black fill layer and change its blend mode to "Color". That removes the color in a non-destructive way without affecting brightness or contrast.

Another very basic thing Leuthard does is he moves the subject off center, and if the subject is in motion, he puts space in front of it. There are a couple of exceptions. He centers the subject if it fills the frame or if he is intentionally bringing out the symmetry of the scene. Moving the subject off center makes the photo more dynamic. With the subject off center, there should be something on the opposite side providing balance. Leuthard has some good and some not so good examples of balance. There are times to break the balance rule and make the viewer feel unbalanced, but it's good to understand balance so you know how and when to use it. If you're very bored and want to go incredibly deep into balance, check out this online book:

http://books.google.com/ebooks/reader?id=1HZTAAAAMAAJ&printsec=frontcover&output=reader&pg=GBS.PA25

One more thing that's great about Leuthard's work is his use of lines. Almost all of his photos have long lines in them. My favorites are the ones where the lines lead the eye back into the depth of the image. In many of his photos, he has strong lines in two or more directions that work very well together.

The other question I have is to do with inspiration. I live in a small-ish town (it calls itself a city, but it's really still just a small town), the weather is more often than not very dull, so I really struggle to find interesting subjects. Any advice on finding inspiration? I know I don't shoot enough at the moment, and the lack of inspiration is part of the problem.

Inverness!!! Really!!! You can't find anything to shoot in Inverness!!! I apologize for all of the exclamation points, but seriously, Inverness is a stunning place. It's been a while since I've been there. I wish I could travel there now and help you see it through my eyes. It's funny, I live in a pretty stunning area in the mountains and people from out of town make fun of me for how little I notice the mountains since I see them every day. Take a few minutes to think about where you are and how it's different from other places before you shoot. Something else that helps me a lot is listening to music. It adds mood to photographs. If you're really stuck, look at some of the old Challenges on this site (or new Challenges for that matter) and use them as inspiration. There was a challenge the other day about telling a story just by photographing a person's hands that I thought might be fun to try.

Hope this helps,

jbf

Thanks for reading!
~Steve.

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