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Category: New Questions

Photography Question 
Carrie J. McDonnell

My pictures tend to look like snapshots

I do mostly studio pictures and they are fine, but I would like to expand into natural light photography. Every time I try my pictures tend to look like snapshots. Is there any suggestions on how to improve on this? Thank you very much in advance for any help!

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7/9/2007 4:57:24 AM

Craig m. Zacarelli
BetterPhoto Member Since: 2/3/2005
  Hi Carrie, can you post an example? I dont know what oyu mean by snap shot? Image Quality of just over all, like a typical snap with little or no thought to composition and such? Natural lighting is tuff as it can sometimes work with you or for you!

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7/9/2007 8:42:40 AM

Bob Cammarata
BetterPhoto Member Since: 7/17/2003
  Typical outdoor "snapshot" are taken at mid-day.

Shooting early and late when the sun is lower will bring more "life" to natural light.

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7/9/2007 10:01:11 AM

Carrie J. McDonnell   I will try to post some pics but my internet connection is slow I might not be able to.

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7/11/2007 1:09:27 PM

Pete H
BetterPhoto Member Since: 8/9/2005
  Hello Carrie,

The difference between a "snap" shot and a decent photo encompasses many areas, technical AND compositional.

BOTH; are subjective in nature..Meaning to one, they feel it is a great shot; to another it may just be "so-so."

Case in point: I personally do not find Rembrandt's all that appealing; to me.
Does that mean Rembrandt is a poor painter? Hardly. It just means his work does nothing for me.

In my opinion, composition is everything! Coming in at a close 2nd would be lighting. The latter is NOT easy to master nor is it easy to understand. LOL Photogs have studied light for a lifetime and still could learn more.

"Light" is like snowflakes..No two alike. It changes moment to moment, day to day. Top shooters will sit and wait for "The Moment" to shoot a scene. Sometimes it doesn't come, so we come back tomorrow.

Many will say mid day sun is not good for photography. This statement is completely false. It is true if you are shooting outdoor portraits of people. NOT true if you are doing a shadow study on rocks, a building, a stair case etc...

Learning the behavior of light is only the beginning. HOW the camera sees that light is another new concept a photographer must understand if he/she wishes to improve. The camera does NOT see as your eye sees. Further; the fragrance of a field of flowers is not recorded in a photo, nor are the sounds or the heat or cool of the day.

Compositionally and exposure wise, we as photogs need to learn HOW to convey those feelings or senses in a photograph.
Ever see a photo and say to yourself "Wow, I can almost feel the cold fresh water in this pic of a stream" "I can (hear) the water"
" I want to scoop out some of that water and drink it!"
Now that is a photo!

A good photo should either tell a story or evoke a emotional response..without those criteria, guess what you have? Ya..a (snap shot)

Digital in my opinion has stifled creativity for many, in that we bang off shot after shot with no regard to film cost...many just HOPE they will get a great shot if they shoot a zillion shots. Sorry, but that rarely happens.

Here is a neat little excercise I have counseled many to try..It usually works.

If you are going to do some shooting this coming week, tell yourself you will ONLY shoot 5..Yep..5 shots a day!

You just might find yourself (thinking) about the shot more.
Shoot the same subject if you wish...but only 5 times. 5 different angles, 5 different times of day...5 different exposures...5 different depth of fields...5 different filters....and on and on Carrie. I hope you see the point of this excercise.

You could come with me on a shoot and shoot the exact same f stop, shutter speed, angle, field of view etc..but what would you have learned? Nothing really.

YOU need to be happy with your one else. YOU are your best and worst critic; and that's a good thing.

Basic exposure and composition can be taught or read in a book. No prob there..and it IS a good place to start.

Olympic runners were pretty fast before they had coaches. After coaching however, they became faster. They learned technique..and they mastered the basics FIRST!

This was a pretty long answer and probably not what you wanted exactly.. photography is like baking a cake in that ALL the ingredients need to be in it to be good. The ingredients come with only ONE VERY needed element...TIME!

All the best,


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7/11/2007 8:26:55 PM

Carolyn  M. Fletcher
BetterPhoto Member Since: 10/6/2001
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  Listen to Pete! That was an excellent answer!

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7/12/2007 2:51:58 AM

Todd Bennett
BetterPhoto Member Since: 11/8/2004
  Excellent answer Pete.

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7/12/2007 6:15:11 AM

Suzanne Colson
BetterPhoto Member Since: 7/31/2006
  I have to also add what a fantastic answer Pete!! It is a shame we can't bookmark this within the forum so we can just shoot this one of the next time this question is asked.

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7/12/2007 11:20:58 AM

Bob Cammarata
BetterPhoto Member Since: 7/17/2003
  Pete's response eloquently echos what goes through the minds of many as they busily assemble their gear, affix a carefully chosen lens to their camera, check the angle of illumination and extend those tripod legs.

"What story will this photograph tell?"
"Will my viewers get the message or will I need to explain to them what they are seeing?"
"Does the available light add or detract from what I'm attempting to convey...and what can I do to to make it work for me?"

Limiting exposures is indeed an excellent excercise for training yourself to really think about a scene that you see through your viewfinder.
You are creating an image after all!

(...anyone can take a picture.)

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7/12/2007 2:27:52 PM

Jerry Frazier   The only thing I can add to Pete's excellent answer is along with only allowing 5 shots in a day, also do not allow yourself to zoom. So, if you have a fixed lens, use it. If you don't, pick a point with your zoom, and then you are not allowed to zoom it at all.

Zooms have completely ruined people's ability to gain an understanding of what composition means. If your focal length is fixed, you have to work harder to make the composition. It just makes you think harder about why you want to make the image.

By the way, we don't "take" photos. We make images. Sometimes just changing the way you say what you are doing can make you think a little bit differently about what you are doing.

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7/12/2007 4:21:20 PM

John G. Clifford Jr
BetterPhoto Member Since: 8/18/2005
  "A good picture should either tell a story or evoke an emotional response." - Pete Herman

I agree with that quote wholeheartedly. But I'm going to be a little contrarian here and argue with the fellow who forbids you to use your zoom lens as the manufacturer intended.

The best advice I can give to beginning photographers is to stop looking through the viewfinder and start looking AT the viewfinder. Treat the viewfinder image as a picture in a frame, and you will stop centering people's head in the center of the viewfinder at the focus spot. You'll stop cutting off feet. You'll pay attention to branches 'growing' out of people's heads. You'll ask yourself if what you see is actually pleasing to the eye. Looking at the viewfinder should be akin to holding a picture frame up and moving it in and out to get the composition you want.

"Do not zoom!" is fine, if it is intended to make beginners understand that moving in and out, not zooming in and out, is what changes perspective. However, you can do both! Move around to find the perspective you want, and then zoom in or out to get the framing and composition you want. Just like walking around with that picture frame, holding it up, and moving it in and out until you see something that pleases you.

Finally, remember that cameras don't capture a scene, they capture the light bouncing off that scene. Cameras capture light, and the difference between ho-hum pictures and evocative photographs is the quality of the light. Think the golden hours of early morning and late afternoon for landscapes. Think different light levels and angles in portraiture to produce shading and textures. Think contrast and variety in tones, textures, and colors... the multitudes of different shades of grey and the textures captured by large format film are what brought Ansel Adam's landscapes to life. Try to make your images tickle the viewer's eye, and remember that your eye should be tickled first.

Good luck, and good shooting!

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8/8/2007 12:17:35 AM

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