Breaking Old Habits in Photography
Text & Photography b y J. Dennis Thomas, as published in Shooting |
It’s very easy to develop habits and get stuck in a photographic rut. This process can be so gradual that you may not even realize or notice that you’re stagnating creatively. Your pictures can look perfectly fine, but you may have stopped growing and advancing as a photographer without even knowing it.
The key to keep growing as a photographer is not only to learn new methods of taking photographs, but also to be careful not to use the techniques that you already know excessively. You don’t need to completely stop using the techniques that you like—sometimes using your favorite techniques with more subtlety is all that needs to be done.
I’ve picked out a few of the most common methods of shooting that I’ve noticed many photographers have become locked into using, from the newest amateurs to seasoned professionals (including myself). Identifying these habits and trying something new will lead to a much more diversified body of work.
HABIT: SIMILAR SUBJECT MATTER
Some folks like to photograph f lowers, some prefer birds, portraits, landscapes, macro, sports, architecture, and on and on.
TRY THIS: SOMETHING NEW
Get out there and challenge yourself by expanding your horizons. Changing up your subject matter can open up your mind to new and possibly more inventive techniques that may also be applicable to your preferred subject matter.
HABIT: SHOOTING WIDE OPEN (AT THE LENS’ LARGEST APERTURE)
This is, by far, the most overused method of shooting that I’ve noticed in the past few years. Many photographers discover fast primes and go crazy with the “bokeh” photos.
TRY THIS: STOP DOWN
While a sharp subject and a nebulously out-of-focus background may look great for many subjects, try stopping down and getting more into focus. Look for and pay attention to background details; they can help tell a story in your photo.
Adding a vignette to the edges of the image when postprocessing is an easy way to draw the viewer’s eye to the center of the frame. Unfortunately, your subject isn’t always in the center of the frame. One mistake I commonly see is the heavy-handed use of vignette that overlays the subject. This can obscure important parts of the image, making them appear dull and gray.
TRY THIS: USE A LIGHTER TOUCH
If the subject is off-center, use a “dodging and burning” technique instead. I use the Radial filter in Lightroom 5 to make a subject pop, as opposed to the Vignette slider in the Effects panel. This gives you the same effect as a vignette, but it’s centered on your subject, not just the edges of the frame.
HABIT: THE RULE OF THIRDS
This is a great rule of composition that can also turn into a photographic cage. Neophytes tend to stick their subjects smack-dab in the middle of the frame, so one of the first things they’re taught is to use the Rule of Thirds to make the composition more interesting, and it works. One thing to watch for is always placing the subject in the exact same off-center spot.
TRY THIS: COMPOSE THE SUBJECTS IN DIFFERENT AREAS OF THE FRAME
Another option is to compose outside the thirds. And don’t forget: Sometimes placing the subject right in the middle works perfectly. Visualize the entire frame when considering the Rule of Thirds.
HABIT: RELYING ON WIDE-ANGLE LENSES
Wide and fisheye lenses can add a great effect to many images, especially when used creatively, but when used for a majority of shots, the impact of the perspective distortion can become dull and monotonous.
TRY THIS: EXPERIMENT WITH LONGER FOCAL LENGHTS
Try using normal to long focal lengths for added variety. This creates different perspectives to your images. Conversely, if you find yourself using longer focal lengths most of the time, grab a wide-angle to mix it up.
HABIT: OVERSATURATED COLORS
Sometimes, in an attempt to make an image stand out, there’s a tendency to oversaturate the colors so that they’re very bright and seem to “pop” from the screen. This can work, but it can also lead to your images looking garish and gaudy.
TRY THIS: TAKE IT EASY
Many times, more natural colors are better for the image. Adding color to make the image stand out doesn’t necessarily make for a better image. Or, try this technique: Desaturate the image a bit to lighten the tones and create an almost pastel look.