What about the idea of going about places and looking at the shapes? Or the colors? Lots of photographers these days start out by being self taught–and if you just embrace some of the more principle pillars of art, you’ll see just how much extra potential your images have.
One of the most basic things that they teach in photography school is to look at basic geometric shapes and find a way to work with them. Ever heard the term “Leading lines?” Well that’s where it comes from.
Other artists like architects spend days and days obsessing over things like these–so do people in fashion, urban planning, etc. They’re all very carefully done in the world and looking at the way that shapes interact with one another is one way to move beyond simply shooting for the heck of it.
One of the most famous photographers cared lots about geometry: Henri Cartier-Bresson! You can obviously see it in a lot of his work in the ways that he makes likes, curves and various shapes all work together within the frame’s composition.
As these shapes play into colors and light, they tend to become more or less interesting in varying degrees.
Take a look at the image above and figure out what the dominant colors in the scene are. They’re black, pink (sort of, let’s call it pink) and a brown from the bag on the side. There’s a touch of blue and silver but not a whole lot of it.
This image is effective because there are fewer colors used in a way that contrasts just enough to not confuse a viewer. Too many colors in a scene can sometimes lessen its effective nature.
Here’s an image that’s more complicated with just the right amount of complication to make your eye go all over the scene and yet come back to the main element of the scene. These colors and the way that they’re arranged lead your eye to something in particular.
To that end, this is a combination of leading lines and colors.
Photographer Steve McCurry tries to use minimal colors in his photographs. If you take a look at many of his portraits, what you’ll see are the person’s skin color, pieces of wardrobe and an otherwise neutral background.
If you’re out and about trying to create portraits, it’s an effective tactic to do in order to make your subject stand out more from the scene.
Another photographer to look at: Mary Ellen Mark. Her images work effectively in both black and white or color if you can find colorized versions of her photos.
Light and Shadows
Call it framing if you’d like, but the amount of light in a scene can completely change the way that a scene looks and feels. Above is one variation of a photo. It surely has a special feel.
Here’s the same image: brightened accordingly and giving the piece a totally different feeling. When you combine this with both colors and lines, you can create whole different feelings in your images.
Sounds like the basic laws of exposure, right? Lots of people shoot in manual mode just to try to get the little blinky marker in the center of the light meter instead of experimenting and seeing what’s possible. It’s the difference between capturing an image of a landscape in the middle of the day and during the golden hour. Even further, it’s the difference between a flattering image of someone and an unflattering one. If you want something more visually interesting, try experimenting with the light and seeing how it changes the way that lines and colors are perceived.
Applying all of these ideas together involves quite honestly slowing down and looking at the work of so many other photographers out there. When you do that, you can start to think more critically about the images and what kind of feeling they give off or could have given off. Light and shadow is honestly the toughest one to master since we all go around the world simply seeing but not thinking a bit about what we’re actually seeing.