Seven Ways To Improve Your Photographic
By Scott Bourne
Why does one photographer walk by an opportunity that
someone else turns into a magazine cover? How can you
learn to see creatively? Your camera manual won't answer
these questions. But with the right tools and process,
you can improve your photographic vision.
The tools that help photographers to creatively see
include patience, positive attitude and an open mind.
While most people possess these traits to some degree,
they usually lack the process that pulls it all
together. On your next photo shoot, use these steps to
improve your photographic vision.
1. Elimination. Most photographers identify their
subject using a logical pattern. They usually eliminate
items from the foreground and background until something
catches their eye and they make the photograph.
Unfortunately, most shooters eliminate things until only
the most obvious choice remains. Then they fire away at
the subject without thinking about other options.
Photographers who see creatively establish routines that
lead them to see other ways to frame a subject. A
photography teacher unknowingly taught me this very
point when he opined, "Look up, look down and then look
all around." He was trying to get me to see the same
subject in many ways. To this day I practice his
2. Evolution. Try raising your camera in six-inch
increments from the ground to your tripod's maximum
height. Look carefully at the subject on every level.
This incremental approach to making different
photographs of the same subject is a perfect example of
evolutionary creative seeing. Make many small
refinements to your composition for the best chance to
see the best shots. This approach is especially valuable
when photographing familiar subjects.
3. Reinvention. In the late 1800s, the head of the U.S.
Patent Office advised Congress that the Patent Office
should be closed to save money. He decided that
everything worth inventing had already been invented! I
once heard a photographer say that he would not
photograph national parks because they'd "already been
done." This is the opposite of creative thinking. There
is always a different or better way to shoot what has
been photographed before. You just have to "see" it.
Do it your way without regard for how it has been done
in the past. Reinvent the shot.
4. Revolution. As photographers we need to approach our
photographic subjects from the inside / out perspective
if we want to see creatively. Turn the problem (or
subject) around. After the paper clip was invented,
someone created the staple gun. This lesson can be
applied to photography. For instance, when you are
trying to shape light for a portrait, instead of using
strobes for the usual three to one ratio with a main and
fill, try subtracting light altogether with scrims. Or
try making your next landscape both horizontally and
vertically. Which is better?
5. Synthesis. Think of this as the multiple exposure
method to seeing creatively. Combine multiple ideas
(seemingly related or not) to make one image. Ansel
Adams did this by always trying to put an interesting
object into both the foreground and the background.
Think of things like audio books, dinner theatres and
drive-in movies. These were all invented as the result
of synthetic thinking. How can you apply this form of
thinking to your image making? How about putting a canoe
in a field of wheat to illustrate "amber waves of
grain?" Or juxtapose two things that don't seemingly
belong together. Try putting a uniformed basketball team
in the swimming pool for the team portrait.
6. Starting Over. Use things that were invented for one
purpose, and maybe even discarded, for a brand new
purpose. Throw out all the rules and see what you can
see. Maybe you will photograph your next subject while
lying on your back. Perhaps it would be a good idea to
shoot slide film in a situation that normally calls for
prints. This kind of thinking led to surges in
cross-processing, selective focus and toning of color
rather than just monotone photographs. All are now very
popular with the magazines but out in left field when
they were first applied. Other possibilities include the
more traditional techniques like iteration, use of color
as subject, use of line, shape or form to draw the
viewer's eye to the subject.
7. New Directions. Try a brand-new angle, both literally
and figuratively. Try all your lenses. Shoot from
different perspectives. Change formats. Maybe your shot
would look good as a panoramic? Shoot with a Hasselblad
503 as if it were round or rectangular rather than a
square format. Focus your complete attention on the
opportunity. Let the process take care of itself. Don't
approach your composition as if the solution is more
important than the result. For example, a friend and I
went to make waterfall pictures. He broke out his trusty
polarizing filter saying that all waterfall shots should
be polarized. I decided to try some new directions and
used the fish net of my photo jacket as a diffuser to
get a nice soft look to my image.
BREAK THE RULES
Creative photographers refuse to conform. They see
opportunities where others see problems. They always
look for more than one "right" answer. While you may not
always be rewarded for seeing or thinking creatively
(just look at what happened to Galileo), go for it
anyway. Be willing to fail until you get the result you
want. In order to see creatively, focus less on the
science of photography and more on learning to see
things in a new way.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Scott Bourne is a professional photographer, author,
teacher and pioneer in the digital imaging field. His
career started in the early 70s as a stringer covering
motor sports for Associated Press in Indiana. Since
then, he has shot commercial, portrait, wedding,
magazine and fine art assignments. His new passion is
Scott is the author of "88 Secrets to Selling &
Publishing Your Photography" and "88 Secrets to
Photoshop for Photographers." Both are available from
Olympic Mountain School Press,
His work has also appeared in books, magazines,
galleries, calendars, on greeting cards, web sites and
Scott regularly lectures on a variety of photo and
media-related subjects. He's appeared on national
television and radio programs and has written columns
for several national magazines. He is the publisher of
Photofocus.com, an online magazine for serious
photographers and also serves as the executive director
of the Olympic Mountain School of Photography in Gig