Sometimes people ask me for advice on taking photos. They somehow believe that I have the book expertise that they are looking for. In fact, I was almost asked to teach a class for a day at a university. It is probably fortunate for me (and the students) that the opportunity fell through.
I have never taken a photography class, but after some years of working in photography, I have read about the official rules and guidelines one is supposed to follow. Unfortunately (or fortunately?), I took none of it to heart.
I feel that in many ways I am someone who loves the ocean first and a photographer second. The closest thing I can think of to compare capturing the perfect shot to is being in love. When you’re in love, can you really describe the shape of your beloved’s eyes, or how they move their hands in the simplest ways? I find amazing, mesmerizing beauty in the curl of a wave, the stretch of foam, or the way the rocks and the sea come together, and I just take a picture of what I see and feel.
I often lose track of time taking pictures. One day, I was out driving with a friend and saw a view that I just had to capture. My friend, understanding my obsession with the perfect shot, patiently waited in the car. I was sure that I had only been gone a few minutes, but the poor soul had waited in the car for me for well over an hour. I had completely forgotten the time while I made one enthralling discovery after another.
I also remember shooting beach pictures for a newlywed couple. Another photographer on the beach interjected to tell me I couldn’t shoot good photos with the sun at that angle. I don’t recall my polite response but I continued to just do as I felt. In the end, I think the shot came out pretty decent. For me, rules inhibit creativity and block that inner gut feeling for a perfect shot that comes when I just get lost in the moment.
It is hard to pass on wisdom on how to do something I don’t give much thought to. There are much better photographers than I who can give much better advice. My only advice is that when you find something you really love, just turn your camera and point it at that. It is a true gift that anyone can have within them, and will help you find your individual style as a photographer.
There are however some general rules of thumb I have developed that come naturally to me now – tidbits I have learned over the years by looking over good and bad photos I have taken. I guess I would classify them more as general pointers, and advise aspiring photographers to always use their best judgment.
1. Things may appear further away than they seem.
Have you ever seen a gorgeous sunset or amazing seascape vista that you just had to capture, but then when you got home the image just didn’t look the same? Most of the time, what your eyes see isn’t what the camera sees. Having a good zoom lens can help, but getting a bit closer than you think you need to can help capture the scene, especially if you’re using a cell phone or a camera without a zoom.
2. Keep the horizon straight.
Keeping your horizon line straight can make your pictures look more polished than shooting with the horizon on a slant, unless you are going for a supernatural effect. The first thing I try to remember to do when I take a seascape picture is line up the horizon. You can use a tripod to help with this. The best part? It doesn’t have to be perfect.
3. Paying attention to the sky.
If your sky is a plain blue, or the clouds aren’t that exciting, giving more space in your photo to the sand and shoreline instead of the sky can create a more dynamic picture.
However, if the sky is dramatically cloudy or giving off colors of light during a beautiful sunset, be sure to take advantage and capture the scene.
4. Try different angles
Sometimes you can capture a unique image by shooting from up high or setting your camera on the ground. Try taking pictures of your object from different, unexpected angles. Be creative and shoot whatever you feel is interesting to you, and don’t worry about how it will come out in the end. I love abstract images, and in fact, some of my favorite images wouldn’t be popular commercially. I enjoy them nonetheless. Remember what I said about falling in love? It’s all about finding the angle of the shot where the love comes through.
The image below is actually seaweed floating on top of the water. Shot from above, it creates an effect that makes the entire image look underwater.
5. Connect to your surroundings.
If you have trouble figuring out what to shoot, or what to do, try and really observe the scenery and what appeals to you visually. If you can connect to what you’re looking at, think of capturing the feeling of what your eyes see as beautiful.
How does the scenery make you feel?
What does it remind you of?
What is interesting to you?
What shape in the clouds looks most magical?
What part of a rocky coastline speaks to you and stands out?
The more you listen to your inner voice, the more you will find your most authentic style as a photographer. No two photographers will ever choose to capture the same landscape the same way, and that’s why it’s so hard to give concrete advice to another photographer. Get out there, play with your camera, and let the beauty of nature speak to you. It’s as simple as that.