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How to Improve your Photography

As photographers, whether beginner, aspiring professional or professional, we are always looking to capture images, scenes, subjects that inspire us. To create a powerful image that tells the viewer a story of the scene, but also of you as a photographer. To capture that moment that we envision so clearly, to push ourselves in a creative sense and explore the freedom photography provides as we search for the bigger story.

Initially, pressing buttons and getting an image with your newly purchased gear was something that excited us as we were still in our euphoric state of going out and capturing moments around us. As we start looking for that ‘something more’, pressing buttons is not enough.

Composition is as important to an image as the technical side of photography, if not even more so. There are many compositional aspects that you can use to improve your photography and create more powerful and striking images.

It’s time to start creating.

© Penny Robartes, South Africa

How to improve your photography using Visual Mass

There are certain objects, colours, visual elements and subjects in life that pulls our attention to it before we consider anything else.

Have you ever wondered why? Why your gaze is directed toward a specific colour? Why when you look at a photograph, you look at a specific place first, and usually land back there after your eye has moved around the frame?

What initially grabbed your attention within the frame is said to have visual mass. Visual mass is an aspect of composition where the principle is that certain visual elements attract the eye more than others.

Close your eyes for 3 seconds, and then open them.

Great Grey Owl (Strix nebulosa) in Lappland, Finland

© Ole Jørgen Liodden, Finland

Where does your eye first land on in this image? Where your gaze was attracted to has more visual mass than other elements in the frame.

Remember, photography is about creating the story you envision. Ideally your subject is what should have the most visual mass within the frame, as you want it to draw your viewer’s gaze first and foremost.

Here is a simplified list of visual elements that you can use as a guideline:

How to improve your photography using Colour

Colour has a lot of visual mass. It easily captures the attention of the viewer’s gaze, whether intentionally or not.

Bright, saturated colours draw your eye to it like a magnet, while dark and dull colours have less of an instant effect.

As I mentioned above, colours have a lot of visual mass, so be aware of how you incorporate bright colours into you frame. If there is unintentional colour in your image, it can easily distract the viewer away from you story and subject. If used correctly, it can be a powerful tool!

© Marius Coetzee, South Asia

How to improve your photography using People and Familiar Shapes

People in your frame will always attract a viewer’s gaze. Including eye contact will intensify the visual mass if even more as we it is how we connect with one.

They are the windows to the soul.

When we look at an image, we subconsciously search for elements we can relate to, or identify with.

If you have a shape of a heart within your frame, it will have a strong visual mass as it is an element that is easily identifiable and its meaning is globally acknowledged.

© Dale Morris, Africa

How to improve your photography using different tones (Light Tones versus Dark Tones)

Light areas within a frame encourage the gaze to be pulled towards it, while dark tones encourage the eye to move away from it. Therefore, if you have bright highlights in the background of your image, it is a distracting element as it moves your gaze away from the subject.

The opposite applies as well; if there are dark tones around your subject, your eye is directed towards the subject and kept within the frame.

Polar Bear (Ursus maritimus) foraging for birds eggs on rocky island, Spitsbergen

© Elliott Neep, Svalbard

How to improve your photography using different areas of the focus (Sharp areas versus Out-of-focus areas)

The viewer’s gaze will always be pulled to sharp areas than areas that are not in focus.

This is very important in wildlife photography as your subject should always be sharp and in focus. You are telling your viewer that it is of importance, while the elements that aren’t sharp and in focus are not as important.

This is important to consider in wildlife photography when you are portraying eye-contact with your subject. As we are pulled towards eyes, keeping them sharp and in focus further accentuates their importance and allows the viewer to connect with the subject. If they are out of focus, we will still go to the eyes but move away from them to find what is sharp, and therefore of ‘importance’.

© Dale Morris, Ethiopia

As I mentioned earlier, these are simple guidelines on visual mass for you to think about next time you compose an image. Consider how certain elements either attract or distract the viewer. Your job is to figure out how these elements and others work together in order to make your image’s story easy to understand and simple, while still creating a powerful and thought-out image. Don’t let distracting elements lessen the power of your image or confuse the viewer about what you are trying to show/tell.

Play and explore with your images and see what you create. Look at the different elements of your image and see if your story comes across in a direct manner. If you cannot see what your image is meant to portraying, or it is diluted by distracting elements, then I can guarantee that it will be harder for your viewers to do so.

For more information on how you can start finding your own photographic style, take a look at my previous post Connect with Photography.

Stay Passionate!

Penny Robartes

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