With smart phones almost always at the ready, we're all photographers of sorts these days. You're likely posting several photos a week on social media that you've taken yourself, and you may have discovered that you have a growing interest in improving the quality of your images. After all, you've got a guaranteed audience who will see them, so why not make the most of what you present to the world? Your photographs say a lot about you, not only through their content, but in the way that you craft them.
First, there's a big difference between taking a photograph and making one. Once you understand what this means, you'll be on your way to evolving into a more creative photographer. Although great pictures can certainly be made on smart phones, it usually takes shooting experience on a traditional camera, whether it be a film model, DSLR or the increasingly popular mirrorless camera, to get there. This comes down to understanding how a picture is properly exposed and composed, using aperture, shutter speed and ISO, rather than relying on auto settings on your phone or point and shoot compact camera to make the decisions for you. Composing your shots this way is a big part of what allows you creative scope in your image making, in addition to having a firm grasp on compositional elements and rules (and how to break them), thus taking your photography to a whole new level.
Here are some easy tips that will help you become a more thoughtful, and ultimately a better, photographer, whichever camera you're using:
Say No to Filters
There are endless options for filters that will transform your photos with one click. For some, that will always be ok and that's fine. The problem for the more discerning shooter is that filters indiscriminately apply a set of preset adjustments to your photo, offering no consideration to the placement and intensity of these edits, and whether they are even necessary in the first place. There's a certain look of conformity to these filters that gives away the fact that you've used them. It's ok not to care about this, but if you want to improve your photography, challenge yourself to make those editing decisions independently. Use editing software that allows you to make the picture into exactly what you want it to be; it may need very little adjustment to achieve this, or maybe layers of edits are required to get the look and feel you're after. The way you shoot your subject or scene is the first part of creating your own style, and you can fine tune that with thoughtful, effective editing to create a photographic aesthetic that is unique to you.
Try Different Vantage Points
If you look at most phone snaps posted on social media, the compositions are pretty much the same, shot from wherever the shooter happens to be standing. You see something you like and click. It all happens instantaneously. And it shows. Make your photos stand out by moving closer to your subject, crouch down, get up on top of a scene, look for that angle or something in your environment that isn't obvious to all of the other people around you. That's when you start creating more interesting pictures. Maybe you're travelling and find yourself standing in front of a world famous landmark, and all of the other tourists have their cameras out, pointed in the same direction. That's a signal to turn around. What's the scene behind you? Don't look for the obvious, but the action happening in the periphery that everyone else is oblivious to because they're not paying attention to anything but the attraction. Step away from the formula shot and show everyone something they haven't seen before. That's what gets the viewer to stop and think about your picture. And it will instantly make you a better photographer.
Experiment With Composition and Cropping
In terms of cropping, some of our living legends say that you should always compose the shot in-camera, while others throw that rule right out the window. While it's good practice to be able to compose meaningful pictures in the moment that require no cutting away of the frame, there's a whole world of creative possibilities that post-cropping offers. Some of the greatest images we know are crops from a larger scene. And sometimes you don't know what you've captured until you see the photo after it's processed and you want to emphasise a specific part of the picture by isolating it. This is also a valuable technique for portrait photography, particularly with extreme close ups (hint: it's ok to cut off the top of the head when the composition is balanced accordingly). Effective, creative cropping can turn the right image into art, you just need to learn what makes it work through experimentation and studying successful, unconventional compositions to open your mind to the possibilities. Doing this will also help you to compose creatively in-camera by training your eye to look beyond the traditional arrangements, which is the ideal way to make a photograph. And when you get it, it's very exciting!
You can try any of these techniques right now, and if you like what you see, keep learning and shooting - there's no end to how far you can grow as a creative photographer!