Tips to improve your photography using what you’ve got

We constantly find excuses to justify the purchase of new, more expensive camera gear. However, it is important to remind ourselves from time to time that simply upgrading  gear does not improve our photography. The greatest weapon a photographer possesses is their vision – how they see the world around them, with their unique artistic sense and perspective.

There are many advanced tips, tricks and hacks available if you are curious enough to look it up on Google – information has never been easier to access than it is today. However, photography basics can’t be skipped and there is no shortcut. The crucial components that produce great photographs such as composition, lighting and basic control of the camera must be learned and applied thoroughly.

The following 5 tips are simple, easy and straightforward with no rocket science involved!

1. Lower your camera as a lower perspective can create dramatic images. Low angle shots work well in several situations, and I employ this often in my street photography. We often shoot through the viewfinder of the camera which, being at our eye level, produces very natural looking, realistic images. Every one sees the world that way, and it can appear too ordinary and plain. By forcing the perspective away from the eye level, and lowering it to the waist level or even lower, the composition can be a lot more dramatic. This won’t work all the time, but why not give it a try and see how it can change the look and feel of your image? This is also where cameras with tilt screens, or swivel screens come in handy. If you don’t have one, just lie down on the floor and get dirty! A little dirt is easier than spending thousands of dollars on upgrading gear. In the above image, by lowering the camera to the ground, I could include the KLCC Twin Towers in the frame, creating a more compelling image.

2.  Find reflections. I always keep an eye out for reflections. Mirroring a subject, or adding a reflection of another subject into the image can always create beautiful images, if composed carefully. Reflections can be easily found if you are shooting in an urban environment, with plenty of glass, or reflective materials such as car surfaces, metal panes, or even glossy walls and floors. Reflections can also be found in puddles of water, which is abundant after rain.

3.  You don’t need to show everything. Partially visible subjects and some ambiguity can add a lot of interest to an image. It’s in our nature to want to capture as much as possible, and try to fit everything in our frame. Unless you’re a photojournalist (who needs to tell the truth and report the news),  you can choose what to show and what to hide. Intentionally hiding a part of the subject forces the imagination of the people who view your photographs. Adding that mystery can make for a more interesting photograph. Remember, sometimes less is more.

 4. Capture motion. Add dynamic energy into your images. I’ve talked about slowing shutter speed down to capture motion for more interesting shots. Who says photographs can’t show motion? Motion blur can add energy into an otherwise, static and plain shot. To do this, I simply turn the mode dial of the camera to “S” and set a low enough shutter speed (the exact shutter speed will depend on your subject, activity and how much motion blur you’d like capture). A little bit of motion can turn an ordinary looking photograph into something else entirely! There are several tutorials available online that also talk about panning to introduce motion blur.

5.  Repetition. Find recurring patterns. Being a street photographer has taught me to be very observant and pay attention to contradictions between subjects and backgrounds, or between subjects. Besides the juxtaposition (which is the usual approach to isolating the subject), finding similarities and composing for them can also be interesting.

Same shirt and similar walking patterns

There you go, a few easy to remember and apply tips on getting a better shot. These can be universally used for a wide range of photography subjects.

I acknowledge that many of you (people who have been dabbling in photography for a while) may have used most of the tips I have shown you, but it doesn’t hurt repeating and there are also newcomers in the audience who may benefit from this. I am doing my best to share simple and practical knowledge, and I have my own photographs to illustrate my sharing. I personally practice these straightforward steps and I find them useful for my own shutter therapy session.

__________________

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Images and content copyright Robin Wong 2017 onwards. All rights reserved

Comments

  1. Kristian Wannebo says:

    Photo #5 intreagued me, but at first I didn’t see why…
    I think this photo catches the essentials of parent-child-love.
    The child can look so openly and intently at the world outside
    only from within the shelter ot a parents love.

  2. Kristian Wannebo says:

    And
    #6 Humour … which you (intentionally?) not mentioned but nicely included in the last two photos!
    – – –

    To #1:
    >> Why don’t ALL cameras have a fully articulated screen?! <<
    (An added 90° viewfinder helps, but only partly.)

    • Robin Wong says:

      I personally prefer the tilt screen (E-M1, E-M10) over the full articulated swivel screen. The tilt screen is easier to use on the street! I do admit the articulated screen is much better for video shooting.

      • Kristian Wannebo says:

        “On the street..” Yes I see.

        Me, I often shoot in nature in portrait orientation from ground level…
        [ Consider a double hinge on an “L”.
        The long end hinged along the top of the camera,
        the short end vertical on the left side hinged to the screen.
        Gives both worlds, except: Above eye level in landscape mode gets more complex.]

  3. I thoroughly enjoyed this clear reminder of how to use what’s available and create a captivating photo, great photos!

  4. Jorge Balarin says:

    Nice post. Thank you !

  5. Brilliant in it’s simplicity; your “gentle” reminder of some basic concepts of great photography is appreciated.

  6. On point and simple to understand.
    Will keep reminding myself about GAS.

  7. Simple, clear, concise. Good points to remember. Thanks!

  8. Great writing as always! Thanks for the tips 🙂

  9. Rich Southgate says:

    Nice tips Robin, and some excellent shots to demonstrate them!

  10. Thank you for taking the time to share your tips. Being new to all of this, I will find every bit of information useful.

  11. Robin — Right on target comments supported with some very nice images. Thanks!

  12. olsenucsyd says:

    Very useful tips Robin!

  13. Matti Mäkijärvi says:

    Robin, the last motion-picture with swirling what-ever-it-is is great. The motion hurts my eyes, but I just have to look around the image many times and still remain baffled. Great!
    Nothing to complain about the other images , either….
    Your work has inspired me for since I found them in WWW. Both Your eye and timing as well as your image processing.
    Love them!

    Best regards,

    Matti Mäkijärvi

    • Robin Wong says:

      Thanks so much for the kind words. I was using very slow shutter speed to capture the motion blur in the last image, hence the blurriness.

  14. Good points raised. I especially like the lower perspective images.

  15. Who,s the ugly bugger in the last pic

  16. jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

    I haven’t been able to stop laughing, since I read the first paragraph of your article, Robin! 🙂 So true – and even in groups which have articles professing to tell us all NOT to succumb to GAS, but to get better at using what gear we already have, I STILL find other members of the group drooling because Sony or Nikon or Leica or whoever has just released yet another new camera.

    It is beginning to remind me of the golf club manufacturer in the US – each time they released a new driver, their publicity claimed it would add another 10 yards/metres/whatever to your drive. Even Nike backed them, financially and with joint publicity. Then some bright person in the audience said – “You’ve been claiming that for 20 years – am I now supposed to be belting the golf ball 500 yards?” And the whole thing fell into a screaming heap, Nike withdrew its support, golfers turned to other brands and the company ended up in liquidation.

    Every time a manufacturer claims to have increased the ISO range to some fabulous new high – to have added so many pixels to the sensor that you could photograph fly spots on the moon – or whatever else. Every time I see those claims, now, I shudder, and wonder how it will all end.

    I never print larger than A3 – I’ve had large format cams during the analogue era, I know what the differences are, and if I wanted to make larger prints, I’d buy a Hasselblad too. But I have just finished post processing the shots I took on my last trip, and I am astounded by the quality of the images. There is no more equipment that I “need”, with the possible exception of one more flood for micro stuff & food photography. My task is simply to use what I have, and focus on using it “better”.

    Your tips are great – after nearly 70 years, I’ve adopted them all into my photography – and a couple more, that I’m sure you’d agree with.

    “Study the light” – after all, photography IS a study of light – and with this, all sorts of frontiers have opened, all sorts of opportunities have begun to stare me in the face. (Example – practically everyone drools over sunset shots – but look north, or south, or east, while the sun is setting – because they also have amazing effects of light and colour at that time of day. Do the same with shadows – track them, on familiar scenes or surfaces, over the course of a single day or several days – they reveal so much, if you open your eyes).

    “Find the right spot” – with zooms and tele lenses and w/angles, people get lazy – stand in one spot, and let the glass do the walking for them. But it’s so wrong, because almost invariably they’d find if they tried harder that there was a muchu better spot to shoot the photo from. And finding that spot can make or break the photo.

    • Robin Wong says:

      I must admit, myself too, sometimes am easily susceptible to GAS, like everyone else. I too drool over anything new and shiny.

      Nonetheless, MT has elaborated very clearly on his point on sufficiency, and how most gear these days are more than sufficient to get the job done.

      Thanks for adding the two extra tips, though I did not include them in the list (for the sake of keeping it not too long, and still readable), they are valid and important in any shooting conditions.

  17. Nice tips Robin!

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