Chuck Kirchner | Photography: Culture, Ritual, and Spirit | 6 Tips to Make You a Better Photographer

6 Tips to Make You a Better Photographer

March 12, 2016  •  Leave a Comment

In a Time magazine article, Eric Barker has a piece entitled "6 Tips from a Harvard Linguist to Make You a Better Writer." Not being a Harvard grad or a linguist or a writer, I still thought it was an interesting concept (and had some good tips!) worth translating into tips for a photographer.  So, here goes:

1. Be Visual and Conversational. Yes, this is exactly the first tip from the linguist, but also applies equally well to photographers. If a third of the brain is focused on the visual, it certainly fires on most cylinders for photographers. And, when we share our photographic creations, we're entering into a visual dialogue, or conversations, with the viewer. Sometimes we get feedback (hopefully positive, or at least constructive), sometimes we get asked questions. And sometimes we never hear but even that's alright. Putting our work (and our selves) out there is our way of communicating through our art.

2. Be Careful about Knowing Too Much. This is a paraphrase of Eric's second point. In photographic terms, don't get too hung up on technical matters and fancy equipment that you "miss the shot." Yes, there is a scientific basis for aperture, ISO's, shutter speeds, etc. And its good to have a basic knowledge of each and their importance in turning your vision into a photograph. But, your vision remains the key, and if your iPhone is what you have available when the vision inspires you, don't kick yourself for not being in a situation to create the perfect shot, but compose and take the photo! 

3. Don't Hide the Subject. Another paraphrase into photo-speak. Your eyes see the subject clearly; your lens and digital sensor (or film) see everything its aimed at. The subject of your photo needs to be clear. That orca is so wonderful. Too bad its so tiny and almost lost when its observed and photographed from 500' with a wide angle lens.  Know what your equipment is capable of and select subjects that fit within that capability, at least for great photographs. On the other hand, as a reminder shot of the orca that got away, tiny might be alright.

4. Know the Rules and How/When to Break Them. This paraphrasing really works!  The rules of photographic composition are there for a reason. Slightly slanted horizon lines, faces dead center, adjacent color on the color wheel - all can be jarring visually. But sometimes a photograph begs to be perfectly centered, or for the horizon line to be totally askew, or for subjects to be leaving the frame in order to convey emotions or the vision of the photographer. 

5. Look at Other's Photographs. Just as authors tend to be well read, photographers should study the works of other photographers. This is not to duplicate what others have done but to see what has worked for others and how that insight may influence your own work. "How To" books have their place (usually on a back shelf somewhere), but books of photographers by photographers you admire (or even not) can help you broader or define your own photographic vision.

And 6, yet another paraphrase. Great photography means Editing!!!  Especially with digital, where a day's work may result in 500+ images, editing is a most critical (in more ways than one) effort to locate that photograph or two that hits all of the marks, conveys your vision, and is worth sharing. Getting the image as close to your vision in camera is the first step, then lightly (hopefully) edit using photo software, will help you reach your goal of a work worth sharing or even printing! 

Six tips for photographers. I'm sure there are many more, but these are a good start.  And if you're also a writer, check our Eric's writing tips at:


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