One of the simplest to use and most powerful means of storytelling without text, is with a camera.

You may go from someone who takes a lot of snapshots or quick mobile photos to one who thinks more about composition, framing, and being more intentional with your photography. Even if you are a DSLR manual exposure maven, you can always get better by just trying new non-technical approaches with our cameras. And we find that people doing this unit’s work come away noticing the world around them in new ways, in more detail.

And why scour the web for someone else’s images to use, when you can get the most unique ones just by doing them yourself?

And you can do this with any photographic device. Do you know which is the best camera?

Anyone can take snapshots– the question is do you want to elevate your photography skills to produce perhaps more artful, more story-full photos?

Maybe the best way is just to notice photographs in things you read or see out in public (framed photos, billboards). What photos grab your attention or make you think? Which ones don’t why?

Some photography improvement suggestions below are borrowed from TEN: Ten Ways to Improve Your Craft. None of Them Involve Buying Gear a free ebook by David duChemin. It’s a valuable guide- here are some key points.

  • Get Pickier: Instead of using your camera like a rapid fire machine gun, spend more time pre-composing in your mind. As you get more practice, you can be more selective, and more deliberate. See if perhaps you can decide before taking a shot if it will be good.
  • Better Contrast Makes Better Stories: Contrast can be in terms of colors and lighting, but also elements and subjects in your photos- look for things that maybe do not belong together (juxtaposition). Look for near and far perspective. Try placing an object on a solid background for emphasis, maybe at a border or a corner. Or try taking pictures of things that are cluttered.
  • Change My Perspective By Changing Yours: Find different and unique points of view. Look down, up, lay down on the ground, anything different from your normal view of the world at head height. Seek perspectives of lines.
  • Create Depth: Look for ways to add dimension of visual depth in your 2 dimensional images- play with foreground, lines, use of wide angle lenses, use of dark backgrounds
  • Get Balanced: The rule of thirds is not only about placement on a grid; duChemin describes visual mass, elements that draw more attention in a photo and how to balance that effectively. “Becoming more intentional about creating and playing with balance in your images will help you create images that more intentionally express what you have to say.”
  • Pay Attention to the Moment: Sometimes it means slowing down, but also being more aware of the action in a scene, trying to anticipate the moment of something interesting before it happens e.g. watching a family at the table preparing for when baby might spill the glass of milk? at sporting events trying to be ready for the kick that scores the goal?
  • Look to the light: Probably the most key lesson- be aware of light that works and what does not. Knowing about shadows, directions, aiming for directions where light is strong (or not). Good light makes every photo. Learn how to sense when light is good (and when not, and you can skip lousy shots).
  • Use the Best Lens: If your camera uses different lenses, understand better what a wide angle does versus a telephoto not only in terms of what it can fit in a photo, but what effect it has one photos (squashing or expanding space). If your lens is fixed, understand what its limits are (how close you can get, what happens at severe angles).
  • Expose for Aesthetics: Learn how to use aperture, shutter speed, iso to control the image- what the effects of these all play on depth of field, motion freeze vs blurring. For fixed lens camera/mobile, at least understand what the level of light means for your photos (why are those low light photos are blurry?)
  • Put a Great Foreground in Front of a Great Background: Pay attention to the near and far. A landscape scene is dull without something in foreground to give depth and scale. Learn to avoid clutter and distracting elements.

These are very general guides. You get better as you look at your own and others photos. You get better when you think more before you press the shutter. You get better when you try new approaches. You get better when you break the rules. You get better when you try, reflect, try again.

See also how previous DS106 students applied these principles plus more resources in a web based collection in storify. Got more? Tweet @cogdog or leave a comment below.


Photo by Jennifer, Spring 2013UMW ds106 student, see http://ds106.livingwithouta.net/2013/02/17/no-rules-for-good-photographs/

Alan Levine
Alan Levine feels weird writing about himself in the third person. A 1990s pioneer on the web and early proponent of blogging, he shares his ideas at CogDogBlog.com. His interests include web storytelling (#ds106 #4life), mocking MOOCs, daily photography, bending WordPress, and randomly dipping into the infinite river of the internet. He and his dog enjoy the peace of a little home in Strawberry, Arizona.

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