Guest Post: Taking a Better Photograph

Photography By Mac Bouchere

Image by Mac Bouchere


You're unlikely to stumble on a great image on the way to the corner shop. When you go out to take photos, you need to know what you're going to shoot, where and how. Not precisely, and not in every detail, but enough so that, like a hunter, you've identified your quarry, know where to find it and how you're going to deal with it when you find it. Having the right gear, the knowledge and the experience to use it well.

Light is everything. Without light there are no images and it's the quality of light that makes the difference between mundane and magic. Light can give an image texture and shape and it can even be the element that gives your image its emotion. Be a student of light.

You need to know how to "see" photographic images. You must identify the things in your field of view that contribute to the image and those that don't. Learning to see is the hardest part of photography and one that can't be easily taught. It can be learned though and looking at images – paintings, drawings and especially the great photography of others – is the best method. Study images that you feel really work and try to analyse what it is that makes them work, and why you are drawn to them. This will help you develop your perception and you can then see images in the views in front of you.

Whatever type of photo you enjoy most, especially landscape, location is of the utmost importance. You may have heard the old saying, "f8 and be there". F8 is in the planning phase; you need to have the right gear, knowledge and experience. The "be there" part means you have to go to where the images, the one's you want, are to be found. They are rarely to be stumbled upon in your lounge, in your camera bag or on the way to the shops. If you want good images you invariably have to get out there and find them.

In the days when film reigned supreme, it was often said that if you got one good image from a film (average 30 shots) then that was a good ratio. We all probably take many more images now using digital so the ratio is now likely to be even greater. But the principle is still appropriate. We cannot expect to take the occasional photo and each of them end up as show stoppers. Be prepared to try different ideas, in different light, from different angles and even on different days or in different weather conditions, to refine and improve your final image.

In practice, actually deciding on the image to capture is often not easy. Until you have mastered the skill of selecting using only your eyes and imagination, use an aid to help you to see as the camera will. I used to find an empty 35mm slide mount helpful, now, if you don't want to be continually looking at everything through the camera, try a simple piece of card with a rectangle cut out to the same format as your camera. If you struggle to "see" in mono, try using a sepia or orange filter to simulate a reduced colour range on an image. If you need help imagining how a scene will appear if underexposed, partly close your eyelid to reduce the light getting in to your eye. Probably one of the most important things suggested to me was to "look in all four corners of the viewfinder" before you press the shutter. Developing your previewing skills helps reduce the dozens of trial and error shots you may need to trawl through and saves a lot of cropping or fiddling with Photoshop after.

We often hear the person who produces a cracking image being referred to as "lucky". "Lucky" with the weather, the light, their gear, even lucky that their partner at home lets them go out and take photos whenever they want. I think my favourite response to this is "it's funny but the more I go out looking for and taking photos, the luckier I get". I didn't create that thought but for me that just about sums it up.

So: take stock of yourself, the kit you have and how to use it, learn how to really "see", confirm the images you want and go get them. Then share them with other people and go and take even better ones.