The thought of a new year is always an exciting one for a photographer. A fantastic aspect of photography is that there are a wondrously varied range of opportunities for experimentation throughout the entire 12 months of the year, with each season bringing new creative possibilities. Every month the light changes, colours shift, the hours of daylight transition, and the characteristics and behaviour of wildlife vary. This provides the chance to hone your existing skills and train yourself in new ones, widening your repertoire in the process.
With this promise of creative fulfilment comes the pressure to improve, and to produce better images than ever before. Whether this is in a professional capacity, with the goal of giving clients images they’ll never forget, or merely for your own satisfaction, the process is the same. A new year brings the artistic motivation, but in order to succeed you need to know where the best points of focus should be, and to recognise where your weaknesses are before you can target them and overcome your personal challenges.
Here we take a look at four different genre of photography, plus editing, with some of the top professionals in the industry offering advice on how you can capture better images. We’ve compiled a list of 25 key tips that, although discussed here in the context of specific genres, can be considered key to helping you become a better photographer in the year ahead, whatever you’re shooting.
British photographer Rory Lewis is recognised internationally for his iconic fine-art celebrity portraits, inspired by the Renaissance masters. He has won many awards and features in multiple galleries, including the National Portrait Gallery.
Iranian-born Erez is an expert in landscape and nature photography. He’s a regular writer for www.DPReview.com and has been published in a wide range of media, including National Geographic calendars and books.
Jeff is an editorial and commercial photographer with over 20 years’ experience. While working with Press Association he developed a passion for editorial photography, and in 1996 joined The Daily Telegraph, covering assignments worldwide.
Chris is based in the Netherlands and is a Ricoh-Pentax ambassador. He specialises in nature photography, especially macro. He has seen success in multiple competitions, and runs his own workshops and lectures.
Rory Lewis explains his process for capturing portraits with emotion
Portrait photography offers the most personal journey for viewers, since the connection with the subject is unlike any other genre. A portrait should inspire emotions through a close connection between the subject and audience, so for shots to be successful the photographer needs to understand the main reasons why some images fail, and how best to establish and maintain the emotional link.
As with any photo there’s a dimensional barrier – you’re reducing a three-dimensional subject down to two dimensions, which introduces a lack of perceived realism. With a landscape you can use perspective to imply depth, reintroducing the natural multilayered feel of a location.
With a portrait, however, there’s more than physical depth to consider. The ability of a photo to convey the personality of the subject can’t be easily defined, since every subject is different. They must also be willing to open up to the camera. Here’s how to make that happen.
01 BREAK THE ICE
Be patient, and allow your subject to feel comfortable before pointing an intimidating lens at them. You can achieve a great deal with a cup of coffee and a conversation before your portrait sitting. This will enable you to put the subject at ease, as with this shoot with talk show host Pete Price. When at ease, Pete opened up to the lens with great solemnity.
IMPROVE PORTRAITS CONTINUED
02 LOOK TO FINE ART FOR INSPIRATION
Renaissance portraiture and the use of chiaroscuro by the masters has been an immense inspiration to my style. Chiaroscuro is an oil painting technique that uses strong tonal contrasts. The paint brush was around hundreds of years before the camera, so take a look at fine art and you’ll find gold in Titian, Ribera, Caravaggio, Bacon and others.
03 GIVE DIRECTION
Creating energy in portraiture is very important if you want images to stand out. The eyes are everything – I direct my subjects to gaze into or to either side of the lens, as this creates electricity. Deploying inventive scenarios on my subjects, I’m able to create varied emotions and feelings. Ask your subjects to visualise a happy moment or a vivid event in their lives.
04 FIND COMPELLING SUBJECTS
If you think that capturing images of people is easy, think again. There are tricks and a certain finesse to creating compelling portraits, and it definitely takes more than simply pointing and shooting. You are nothing without a compelling subject, and I encourage photographers to find interesting people to photograph – perhaps creating a theme or project. This could be a member of the family who has a story to tell, or someone in the community, World War II veterans, members of a local campaign – the list is endless.
For myself, Deborah Penny springs to mind. Deborah served 30 years in the British Army’s Royal Logistic Corps as a bomb-disposal expert, and made Army history as the first transgender soldier to serve in the front line. This portrait went on to be acquired by the National Portrait Gallery,and won the Portrait of Britain Prize in 2018.
05. KEEP LIGHTING SIMPLE
Studio lighting can seem daunting if you’ve never tried it before. However, it’s not nearly as scary as most people think. To me it’s all about keeping things simple. Most of my portrait sittings utilise one or two lights. Try a simple setup yourself; position one flash head with a shoot-through umbrella at a 45-degree angle to the model at about two metres high. This creates a strong, hard, direct light from the side and above. Work with this light and you will be able to create vivid results.
SHOOT BETTER LANDSCAPES
Erez Marom gives his top tips for producing landscape images that have greater originality and commercial appeal
Landscape is one of the most popular genres of photography, and many of us will be looking forward to capturing stunning scenics in 2021. However, as always with this area, the sheer volume of people turning their cameras on landscape scenes means that keeping portfolios fresh and unique is a challenge.
A key aspect that sets apart professional photographers’ imagery is their ability to make an otherwise static scene seem alive, exaggerating movement within the frame and highlighting the living features, such as foliage, animals using the environment as their habitat, or moss and algae introducing colourful blooms.
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