Quite often when I show my pictures to somebody, I get a “Oh! What a nice picture! You must have a good camera!”. Every time I hear this, I would like to take this fellow to a restaurant and order what I consider to be a nice plate, a specialty of this restaurant. After enjoying it (the plate, not the restaurant…), I would take this fellow with me to the kitchen and let him/her effusively congratulate the… pots used to cook the food!
Excuse me? The pots? What about the cook himself/herself that combined the raw ingredients into pots, then applied some amount of experience to handle the stove to cook the food? What about the passion of the cook for cooking? And that touch of art to finally arrange the food on the plate?
It is obvious that the pots, the oven, the ingredients and the environment, all contribute but they do not do anything unless someone goes there and applies some sort of procedure to transform the raw materials into the final delicacy.
The same applies to Photography. The gear, the scene, the technique, they are all there waiting for someone to apply a little magic to materialize a nice picture. Needless to say that the magician is yourself!
You, and only you, are the vehicle for this transformation.
In shorter, one might to take these factors into account that contribute to taking better pictures:
Let by a good camera, tripods, lenses, filters and a long array of gear indeed helps but I have seen (and taken) very nice shots with a Kodak Easyshare with 3 megapixels and seen (and taken) horrendous pictures with very good DSLRs. There is a significant co-relation between a good camera and a better picture quality but that is all. The following picture was taken with a simple Canon Point and Shot camera with no bells and whistles;
There is a established set of rules applied to Photography like the rule of thirds, the white balance, the perspective, the light, etc, all help you that may help to produce better pictures although rules do exist to be broken. Get yourself acquainted with them and check when they can be applied (or not);
There are two types of photographers: the one that occasionally presses the shutter of the camera and the one that studies the best angle, wakes up early to take advantage of the light, compares his/her own pictures with others looking for improvements… In essence, the latter has passion and put whatever effort it takes to take the nicest shot;
Every single photograph should be considered a piece of art just like a sculpture, a song, a painting, a book, a delicious plate… to name a few pieces of art. It is indeed much easier to take a picture than writing a book, for instance; however, good photographers select only one stunning pictures among hundreds. If it would be as easy to produce a nice picture as to press the shutter of the camera, everybody would be a National Geographic photographer, would have pictures published and exposed in galleries, etc;
Good photographers do not go on a photography mission expecting to bring back tons of nice pictures without actually envisioning what to accomplish in the mission. By mission, I understand any “operation” that requires taking pictures like going to a specific place, a specific event, etc. In other words, there is a purpose in taking the pictures even if you are just going to a near by river because, depending on the weather and the time of the day, the results can be totally different from expected;
Sometimes, it just happens that lightning struck motivating you to take that picture that becomes the one above all. Luck explains it and luck does happen once in a while. But, do not count on luck on a daily basis unless you are one of those guys that get everything fallen at your feet (in which case, probably, you would not be a photographer anyway…);
There is a time for everything, including Photography. There are Golden Hours (at Sunrise and at Sunset), there is Noon and there is the right time for the people as well (for instance, a wedding ceremony requires you to take the pictures during the ceremony itself and not before or after). Also, take your time to take a picture; check the light, the ambiance, your ideas and then press the shutter;
Although there are places that greatly contribute to a nice picture, a great photographer is capable of finding the right angle almost anywhere in the world. A friend of mine, a great photographer, sometimes used this trick at the end of his Photography classes: he would ask all participants to take the cameras and spend 10 minutes locked in the bathroom to get as many pictures as possible, provided they would be accepted by others. That is, you might take 100 pictures in 10 minutes but if they would not be accepted by your peers, they would not count. It is amazing how some photographers use their creativity in a such small space to produce something really good;
One in a thousand pictures I take presents the situation where I say to myself: “What I can I do here? It is so perfect that if I would change it, it would not do any good to it”. Every single picture needs tweaking, from the white balance, alignment, contrast, cropping, sharpening, etc, all need some degree of touching. Depending on the seriousness of your passion for Photography, the post-processing could range from a simple tweaks with Picasa until the heavy profissionalism provided by Photoshop;
Without taking thousands and thousands and thousands of pictures of all kinds, automatic, manual, night, day, landscapes, portraits… all sorts of pictures using different types of cameras, we cannot be considered be good photographers, unless you are a little genius that take a camera from your friend, take a single shot and everybody instantly recognize you as the new guru in Photography. Fat chance!
Praise yourself about your pictures and let me know what you think about it!