How To See Photos

[Update: At 12:39 in the video the Ultimate Beginners Course has been replaced by A Masterclass In Photography]

“I’m pretty good with my camera - but how do I see photos?” I’ve been asked this one a lot and I sympathise because when I was learning, seeing and then composing photos was something I had to work hard at - and a lot of my students do too. Seeing a photo and composing a photo are like cousins. They’re related, but they’re not the same thing. Not to begin with anyway.

I bet there are occasions when you’ve seen something that interests you, but later when looking at the image it’s not fulfilling and doesn’t live up to expectations. It could be the subject was interesting but the light or composition wasn't great and spoilt it. Learn to stop looking at the subject for a moment and look at the whole picture and ask yourself if that’s the most pleasing way to align all the elements and is the light working for it? If not ask yourself what you can do about it...

Great Chefs say. “If it’s on the plate it’s a part of the dish. If you’re not meant to eat it - it has no place being there.”

Same with photography. If there’s something in your viewfinder that’s distracting from the experience of the image, it doesn’t belong there and it’s your job to find a way to do something about it. Maybe a different angle, different focal length and distance to subject…

It’s also possible to have a great composition, but the subject is boring. This one is most likely to appear when you look at the image after shooting it. There are times when we think we've got something interesting, then change our minds later. One of my mentors jokingly called it ‘subject failure’. A subject can’t fail - our interpretation of it on the other hand, can. I guess this is another way to say we all have ‘binners’ and ‘keepers’.

A moment or two ago I mentioned changing angles, focal lengths and distance to subject and as you become more experienced with changing the way you look at things you’ll begin to pre-visualise, to see how something will look with in your head - before you change how you’re looking at it. Imagine having that ability for a moment. You’d be truly seeing photos, not only out in the real world, but inside your head and if you know how to utilise camera angles, focal length and distance to subject you’ll be able to capture them with ease.   

“Change the way you look at something and the thing you’re looking at changes.”

Totally inspiring, so easy and it’ll push your images several notches up the scale. You just have to work through it and take the time to do it - to begin with anyway. The more you practise it, the quicker you become at it.

One of the biggest culprits is inappropriate light for the subject. I didn’t say ‘bad’ light because what’s ‘bad’ for one thing might be fan-bloody-tastic for something else. It’s appropriate light you’re looking for and as you become more experienced recognising appropriate light and being able to work with it becomes part of the seeing process. I didn’t go into that in the video because A: I didn’t want to bring too many complex concepts into it all at once. And B: I like to keep something back for you because you are here on my site reading this blog post and therefore supporting me. It’s a little extra Thank You…

Feeling excited and inspired makes a big impact on your images. You can’t see images and be creative when you’re feeling bored, distracted, confused by camera settings etc. You might be thinking. “It’s OK for you to say that but I live in a boring place with nothing worth shooting.” Well go somewhere that does then. Hop on a bus,train, in the car, invest in a super exciting workshop somewhere overflowing with photos.

If camera settings or appropriate light confuses you, invest in some of my online courses and get un-confused. They’re a lot cheaper than the new lens you’re lusting after and probably don’t need. I mostly use a bog standard 18-55mm for everything.

Once you've found your photos, composition and focal length are best mates. Understanding how to use it will help you find ways to make them photos pop.

Until next time…

Mike signature

PS: These are all 18-55mm 'kit lens' images.

Yellow boats on calm lake with misty sky and mountains beyondWoman and man wearing hats kissing in street in ZurichSunset over house and lone palm tree amongst black volcanic rocks on LanzaroteWindmill sculpture and rippled sand dunes on a bright sunny dayFemale photographer standing on wet sand checking her camera at sunset, Famara Beach, LanzaroteSt Finbarr church surrounded by trees and misty mountain behind reflected in lake at Gougane Barra in Irelandthree chairs on a sea wall surrounded by musical instruments with storm clouds over sea and island in the distanceYoung smiling Muslim girl wearing red hijab with shelves and tea kettle on leaning shelves behind her in a cave in the Todra Gorge, MoroccoMoroccan man wearing striped djellaba and white head scarf looking out over sand dunes in Sahara Desert at Merzouga in MoroccoNewly wedded couple looking at each other in front of a large wall mirror with reflection of a chandelierDetails of a bride\'s dress and flowers as she holds her father\'s armFemale photographer photographing a cactus silhouetted against hazy orange sunset with distant mountainswoman wearing coat scarf and wolly hat staring out to sea on a windy day

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3 Landscape Tips

vietnam-txt-streamLandscape photography is one of those areas where patience, thinking it through and taking your time pays dividends.  We have all seen a scene we want to capture but sadly we’re in a hurry, so we leap out the car and just grab a shot without giving it too much thought.

This may or may not result in a great shot. But have you thought to ask yourself if there’s more to be had from a location than the obvious? You have to build upon an initial idea. Explore possibilities.

I was in Vietnam driving through the mountains when we came upon this amazing view of rice terraces. We stopped so the film crew could shoot some aerial shots with their drone so Simon and I took the opportunity to look around and shoot this video.

As we drove up the hill I’d noticed one of the little paths that wind their way through the paddies so we went for a walk to see what it would yield.

Almost straight away we came upon some greenery we could use as foreground, which can frame a scene and give it more depth. In some cases just finding a bit of foreground can make or break an image.

But don’t forget to look around you. It’s all to easy to miss a beautiful detail of the landscape that’s right next to you because you’re absorbed by what’s in front.

You have to concentrate and really look at a scene. In the first shot of the last scenario there’s a stick poking up on the left. I didn’t really notice it to begin with. It wasn’t until I checked the shot in the LCD it became apparent.

So how do we remove it? Well obviously there’s Photoshop but I’m lazy. A few steps to the side will change the geometry of the image. It makes things align differently so you can lose unwanted clutter from the composition.

So besides making sure the light is appropriate for the scene, here are 3 landscape photography tips to consider.

  1. Take time – think of other possibilities for the location
  2. Find some foreground. It could make a world of difference
  3. Look to the side as well as in front. You might have missed something

These things are not functions of your camera. They are functions of you thinking like a photographer.


3 Landscape Tips

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