Hunting for The Perfect Photo

5 rules for taking extraordinary pictures
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Do you often find yourself looking at an extraordinary photo and wondering how pictures like that are created? How did the photographer manage to pick out this exact detail from the countless visual possibilities and then capture it in the picture? Do some people just naturally have a photographers eye? Is it simple talent, or are there techniques which can help you nurture this instinct for photography?

This article gives you the answers to all these questions. Follow these guidelines and you can develop your own photographers eye. So have fun experimenting with different techniques and try out different approaches – and most of all, take your time!

The 5 rules...

  • Everything starts with you...
  • Find your own inspiration – and inspired photos will follow...
  • There’s more to great photos than great technology...
  • Learn from the masters...
  • Get out there and get started...

1. Everything starts with you...

It’s not what’s going on in front of the camera that matters most, but who’s behind it. Namely you! It’s you who perceives the world in your unique and individual way, you who can interpret the world visually and capture it in a picture.

So it's not the photo image in itself that's extraordinary, it's you. You use that image to express your unique vision. That might sound daunting – but it’s important to appreciate your own photographic talent, whatever your current level of practical expertise. Having a positive approach to your own abilities helps you to look at your work in a positive way, and gives you the right attitude as you start to get an eye for the essentials.

2. Find your own inspiration – and inspired photos will follow...

Before we use any techniques, what comes first is inspiration. Taking inspired photos means getting in touch with what inspires us to do this work at all. What moves you to take pictures? Are you enchanted by the beauty of nature, or by the spontaneous scenes that play out on our streets? Family snapshots, romantic sunsets on the beach? Get a sense of what inspires you, what attracts your eye – become an expert on your own aesthetic feelings. Because a subject that’s close to your heart will naturally attract your gaze and inspire you to focus on it. Also, when different photos deal with a similar theme, it’s easier to compare them and see which work and which don’t – a process that will help you refine your photographer’s eye. You’ll soon pick up a sense of the different qualities in the different images, and an understanding of why you prefer one to another. Just remember – as Helmut Newton said, "The first 10,000 photos are the worst."

You can look for subjects in the botanical gardens, or on the streets of your city. It can be your dog, leaves on the ground that you’ve noticed for the first time, or classic cars out for the weekend.

3. There’s more to great photos than great technology...

And one more thing – let the technology do its job. If what you’re trying to do is train your eye, then leave the technical aspects to one side for now. Fortunately, today this is easier than ever. Every camera has an automatic setting, every smartphone’s designed to achieve great exposure automatically. And with each click, you get one picture further away from simply taking snaps and one picture closer to real photography.

4. Learn from the masters...

All photographers have followed a similar learning path, and the work they leave behind gives us a glimpse into how they developed. You can progress more quickly yourself by studying pictures taken by the masters old and new, the classic works and the innovative approaches of today. Anything’s allowed if it appeals to you. Take some time to examine a photo properly and think about why you like it. As master of photography Andreas Feininger says, "Knowing how is meaningless unless you also know why."

There are more than enough image sources in our media-saturated world. Whether it's Instagram or a professional photo-sharing platform like 500px, whether a magazine like GEO, a daily paper or a photography blog like this one, conscious engagement with images will sharpen and train your gaze.

Our first look at a picture always brings out sheer emotion and aesthetic pleasure. It’s only at the second glance that we get a more analytical understanding of why we like it. As the saying goes: we see what we know. And we come by this knowledge through learning the theory of composition and the rules of design. These rules are complex enough that even experienced photographers are always learning new things and broadening their repertoire.

Here are some fundamental rules that can help you take aesthetically satisfying photographs: Rule of Thirds: This rule is so well established that camera manufacturers have started to incorporate it into their products. The field of the viewfinder is divided up by two horizontal and two vertical lines so that four intersections appear. Make sure the most interesting details of your image are positioned at these intersections and you can expect a pleasingly composed photo.

Golden Ratio: The most famous ratio of all; approximately 8:13. This ratio, which is the basis for classical ideals of beauty and harmony – in nature as well as in architecture – is known to us from Leonardo da Vinci‘s drawing "Vitruvian Man". Here the human body itself is displayed in the classic ratio of 8:13, a model of perfection in classical aesthetics. When applied to photography, the golden ratio is similar to the rule of thirds, and gives us the basis for a harmonious, pleasingly composed image.

Leading Lines: Our eyesight is designed to process each visual impression as quickly as possible. In the three-dimensional world, this is important for coping with everyday challenges. And in the two-dimensional world of images, we use the same natural economy of perception. This is how we can quickly interpret the lines of an image and get a sense of depth, direction, perspective and motion. As photographers we can make use of this natural ability in our audience by providing them with so-called leading lines, helping them to get a quick understanding of the image so that their aesthetic pleasure is as immediate as possible. These lines can be symmetrical, diagonal, horizontal or vertical – or lines of perspective.

Lighting: Without light, there’s nothing. Alongside picture composition, it’s the most important element for any photo artist. But today we’re concerned with cultivating a photographer’s gaze – something that’s necessary even in fog or at dusk, and whether the subject is backlit or in dissipated light. So light brings the elements of your picture to life, but first you need a good eye so you can pick these elements out. We’ll talk some more about light in a future post...

5. Get out there and get started...

Once you’ve studied and understood, it’s time to get working! Take your camera, give yourself ample time, and go out hunting for photos. Apply these rules that you’ve taken on board, then just let your unique photographer’s eye seek out new subjects to capture in your pictures. Now you know the theory, try it out in the real world. It’s better to get a few thoughtfully created photos than to take a huge number of snaps and hope a good photo turns up somewhere among them. Remember that you’ll learn much more quickly if your subjects are chosen consciously. Over time you’ll get a sense of what you can leave out of a picture so as to make a bolder statement. And you’ll start to notice when the rules of composition are restricting you and when it’s better to follow your own instincts.

When you’ve finished working, ask your most important critics – your partner and children – what they like about your work. Or what they don’t like. This will keep you on the right path to developing your own photographer’s eye. Then you can make Personalised Wall Prints of your most beautiful works and turn the walls of your home into a gallery, providing a beautiful demonstration of how your photography has matured.

Have fun!

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