by guest author and photographer Ted Dayton
My previous “kitchen table” tip, ‘Camera in Auto, Brain in Manual’, implored you to think more about the scene you are aiming toward – out there. At the heart of that and other commentaries of mine is my desire to help people make better pictures right away – by doing specific things that always improve a photograph, and by not doing things that nearly always hurt it. This wisdom comes from years of slow progress, but I sometimes feel that slow is not good. (You’ll see what I mean in a moment.)
Great images possess qualities that live in the content. No matter how great the technical execution, something great has got to be going on in the frame. Yes, some of the great images of this digital age are composites of several images, seeming to defy the idea that greatness happens in the camera.
But please allow me to argue. A successful composite image works for the same reason a single frame image works: the content is good. A good, single frame image works because of the convergence of elements I call “vision”. A multi-frame digital composition works for the same reasons: the maker has vision.
I am not so old-school as to believe that a good image can only be made when greatness happens at 125th of a second. But no amount of digital trickery can make a weak image strong. You just have to have good content and you have to refine it and give it subtlety.
How do you do that?
Simplify your approach (the big stuff) so you can refine the subtleties (the small stuff). This is where the shots are that makes people say “Wow!, Ah!, Ooh! Dude! Love it! Awesome. That rocks. Do you accept American Express?”
Here is a simple exercise that might help. Even just reading this will make enough sense.
Take a simple portrait of a friend. Shoot lots of pictures, of course, but think of a new way to go about this. Shooting lots of frames does not guarantee that you will have lots of good shots to select from.
Instead, pay close attention to the frames that seem best while you’re shooting and refine those. When something isn’t working during the session, ditch it.
If it is working – a smile or a pose or some subtle change to the lighting, stick with it for five extra frames. If it gets better during those five frames, shoot five more.
Make a point of raising your chances for a great image – not just a good image – by making tiny adjustments to whatever seems to be working. Do this instead of trying anything and everything, thinking you’re allowing your inner creative genius to fly free. Your ICG will fly home with lots of bad pictures and you will be unhappy. Trust me on that.
This approach breaks segments of your portrait session into individual processes, each one its own separate creative effort – giving each one a greater chance for success.
Instead of getting a few good frames and maybe one very good one from an entire session, you will begin to see many more good frames from several parts, or segments, of the session. Eventually, you’ll see a few outstanding shots from each of those segments. You will also spend less time shooting weak images because “you’ll know ‘em when you see ‘em.”
And this will make you happy.
See more of Ted Dayton’s work on his web site.
And remember: we have a workshop coming up on December 15, Getting the Most out of your Desktop Inkjet Printer.