Photo tip: Give your photos more impact

24th November 2008
Robert Capa one of the leading photo journalists of the 20th Century once said, “If your pictures aren't good enough, you aren't close enough.” This is coming from a man who photographed the D-day landings at Omaha Beach; so if he was prepared to get a bit closer on a day like that, you should be able to pluck up the courage to take 3 steps nearer your relatives. Here's my uncle up close and personal, for example:

Too often the main subject of a photo has a large border of unnecessary and distracting elements. Do the traffic lights and advertising hoarding add any value to your picture of the Eiffel Tower, for example? Did you really need the half eaten cheesecake and a duffle coat in the background of your wedding photo? Step closer until all the objects in the image are helping to tell the story your photo is trying to convey.

KISS (Keep it simple stupid!) is an acronym used in many situations and it applies here too. Normally the simplest photos with the least clutter have the most impact. This is a good example of a very basic composition that still grabs your attention:

If you are photographing smiling bride and groom, you need to be close enough to see the smiles clearly. If you want a picture of your pet cat it’s likely you’ll want to get those hypnotic eyes big and bold in the frame. Like this:

Of course you will often want to give the subject a sense of place – a bride outside the church, if you’re not too bored of the wedding analogies yet! Here I've zoomed out a touch to show the happy couple in their beautiful surroundings:

Perhaps you want to show your dog galloping through a poppy field and need to zoom out, or step back to take in the field and the dog. That’s fine, but look out for other distracting elements. Perhaps the poppy field has a pylon in the background, or maybe your own shadow is facing into the picture.

You can compare photography with advertising and copywriting in many ways:

- Just like adverts, photographs need to capture your attention and interest immediately. With some pictures you see new things each time you look, but they are generally still compelling at first glance too.

- If you were writing sales copy you would avoid waffling, so you could call all the non-essential elements in your photos ‘photographic waffle’. Hmm, I might have to copyright that one!

- And finally your advert, article or sales copy should tell a story, or carry a message – a photo is no different. A picture is meant to tell a thousand words after all.

Before you press the shutter, survey the scene in front of you. What attracted you to the landscape, model, animal etc? If it’s the trees in the landscape that attracted you then think about why they caught your eye. Was it the shape of the branches or the colour of the leaves? Keep asking yourself these questions until you have discovered the real focus of your image and that will dictate how you compose your photo. In this photo I wanted to zoom in close because if I had taken in all the scenery you wouldn't have appreciated the reflections coming off the water, which helps give this image it's impact.

So the next time you take a photo think about:

a). Whether you’re close enough to get your message across.

b). What do you want the viewer to think or feel when they see the photo.

c). What attracted you to the scene in the first place.

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