How to take better photos by focusing on your subject and not on your camera
For a long time before understanding what photography was actually about, I thought that having the best camera, lenses and lights would have made of me a good photographer. What I did not realise back then, but I know now, is that the most valuable tool a photographer has in his arsenal, is his eye.
Years ago, we shared a studio and a model with another photographer. He had an old and battered camera while we were armed with some good Canons. However, when we compared the shots we took, I remained astonished by the sheer image quality his photos had. They were about “that moment”. Had they be out of focus, they would have still been better than mine.
Let us tell you how we make sure to use our eyes to focus on what matters: your subject.
The necessity of clicking away
With a digital camera in our hand and a vast amount of storage in our cards, we feel compelled to click the shutter every time we can; however, this is a path that leads to mediocrity in my opinion. I realised that the more the quality of our images grows, the more the number of images we shoot decreases. To capture ten fantastic photos we do not need a thousand photos, we need less than a hundred, and this has nothing to do with the equipment we use.
The urge to snap away merrily just after having composed a shoot is something that doesn’t do any good to your photography. Even with a camera capable of 5 frames per seconds, you will not be able to capture a unique and particular smile, you will simply play a game of chances: if you shoot thousands, sooner or later a frame will capture something good. In my experience, I believe that quality is a repeatable process, not a game of luck.
How did we stop being trigger happy?
Fabiana always told she love the images I take while walking the streets of London, the candid moment I am able to capture. It is something that comes natural to me, I see a scene developing, and I feel when something unique is going to happen. However the key point is that the natural instinct is nothing but observation. When I walk around I tend to focus on what people around me do, their behaviour and my instinct reacts together with my experience. When my eyes notice that something is going to happen, I raise the camera and take the shoot. Just One.
How come, then, that some of us take hundreds of images of the same model in the same pose? There are certainly two elements to this compulsion; the first is the fact that we are not focussed enough on our subject, and the second is that we don’t trust our skills enough. To stop being “trigger happy” we devote all our attention to the scene in front of us, and we trust what we are doing. How to do it?
Set your camera correctly and trust it
The main element that you want to remove from the photography equation when photographing someone is the technical side. You must be comfortable with your settings, knowing that they are right. Every time the light changes, every time you place your subject in a new pose, you just need to check that your camera is set up correctly.
Once and only once.
One shoot to confirm that your meter reading is correct will give you the confirmation that you are shooting with the right aperture, shutter speed and at the right ISO. One shoot for an entire set will suffice, not two, not ten, not one for every three images, not one every time you move your position. Just once!
Start anticipating your subject’s moves
When your settings are done and dusted you can look at what you have in front of you. You can frame the scene, you can decide what you will keep in your image and what will be hidden. At this point, you could feel the impulse of triggering the shutter; however, this is the moment to stop. What you have done is preparing the shoot, but you haven’t taken into consideration the human nature and how quickly a single moment can change and go. This moment divides the professional photographers from the happy snappers. This is the moment you can use to focus your attention to the details: is your subject placed in the correct pose? Is she relaxed? Are her hands gentle or do they carry the stress of being in front of a camera? This is the moment you can shape to create the right emotion, or just wait for the moment to evolve into the right one.
What is crucial to understand is that you need to be ready, but you do not need to feel compelled to take a picture. Or twenty for what it matters.
How to trust your skills and your images
Last, but not least, you have to understand that the image you just took, that single unique moment, is gone. If you truly need you can check the result in the back of your camera, but apart from astronomical and visible mistakes or blinks, you won’t be able to assess the quality of the image in few seconds. I say this because I’d rather keep focussed on my subject than checking what I photographed already. To me the next “moment” is more valuable than the one I should have in the bag already. Giving too much importance to your camera, its settings and spending too much time checking every single shoot behind your camera will break the rapport with your subject. You are not photographing her any longer, you have an affair with the photos you took of her.
Do you want a challenge that will push your photography forward?
If you want to focus on what makes an image truly unique, there is an exercise you can do that will push the boundaries and the quality of your photos into another realm. You need to take a black tape and make sure the back of your camera is not accessible for an entire session. Promising you won’t look at the screen will not suffice; you need to make sure that, for an entire photo shoot, you won’t be able to see what you are doing. This is the only way of forcing you to trust yourself as a photographer.
If you are anything like me, you will probably be scared to death to do it; however, there will come a time when practicing not to have a monitor on the back of your camera will give you the confidence to be a professional no matter what.