You are going to read this and find it so simple, but yet, it is a hard thing to get in the habit of doing. It is something I tell all my students to do when they first start out. Post procesing is important to your image, as is choosing the right gear and settings to make the shot. But probably the most important thing happens even before you pick up the camera.
“If something makes you stop and look, capture it!”
I know, right? Sounds pretty basic. But it is so true and is something that can be applied to any type of photography. I learned this when I first started doing urban photography. Every time I saw something that make me stop and go “cool” or “wow” or “interesting”, I would force myself to take a picture…. and sometimes 3-4 (tip #2 was all about that ). I walked the streets of Montreal last weekend and it was odd to see someone say “look at that!”, and even with their camera in their hands, they just kept walking.
I’m not saying that just taking the photo will net you a portfolio worthy shot or get you published in National Geographic, but it all starts with that mentality. If you find it interesting, shoot it. We are all shooting for ourselves, so you are the first and most important person to impress. Yes, you can have clients and you need an output, but if you are truly into your craft, they are hiring you for your vision and skill, not for your gear or because you are cheap. I’ve seen too many people just riffle off shots and then hope for the best image possible.
Here are a few examples of how I recently applied the “that’s cool, click” mentality:
The image on the left, taken at the Palais des Congres, is a favorite target for photographers on a sunny day. When I arrived, the one thing that hit me was the reflection of the coloured windows on the ground, so I angled my shot to ensure that it was more prominent in the frame.
The symmetrical buildings on the right are very typical Montreal Plateau. While walking the streets, I just loved how each building was painted different, but yet, they are like mirror images. So that became the focal point of what I wanted to capture.
So when you walk the streets, whatever makes you smile and (or) think, take that photo.
Whether it is a wonderful smirk you see your model have, attitude with a funky background, or when you can match their hair colour can be complimented by some background elements, their personality to the desired image is key. If you try and force something, instead of focusing on what makes them themselves, the image will look too posed and fake, not the style of photography I aim to do.
That is why getting to know your models ahead of time, chatting them up and learning who they are, all while paying attention to their expressions is key to finding that “wow” element you want to capture and bring out. Keeping a dialogue going while doing portraits is important. Not only does it get your model comfortable, it gives you an opportunity to see who they are.
This is where things get a little tricky, but the same logic applies. When you shoot models, you have time to direct… you don’t have that with live concerts. When you shoot urban scenes, you can stop and observe… observe too long and you miss the moment.
Billy Idol is known for his snarls, pretty much anyone slightly into music knows this. When you are shooting an artist that you don’t know, you have to watch the show as much as photograph it. It could be the way a guitar player stands during his solos, the way an EDM artist throws their hands in the air. Find what makes the artist themselves on stage, what makes you go “wow” when you see them. (his full show gallery is riiiight here).
Another element so key to live music are the lights. While they can be the bane of a concert photographer, looking at the patterns and finding the ones that you like. When you take it a step further, you are trying to mix both emotion and lights. Seeing the shapes and beams that just look cool, and then waiting for the moment with the most emotion. The Jessie J photo above was a moment that happened when I was shooting wider stage shots to capture the purple beams. I switch cameras to get in closer, and she belted out a note. Her full set can be seen here.
Just capturing someone on stage, standing there, is kind of boring. You need to look for that extra thing that makes you go “wow”. Use the colours to enhance your photo, don’t immediately go for black and white and don’t just shoot away. Think first, then capture. I much prefer galleries with 8-10 solid images than 30-40 that lack any sort of interest.
Is it the facial expressions? The lights? The pose? The crowd? How the band moves? What grabs your interest from a live act… think of it, capture it.
I could go on with other styles and moments that made me stop, but I think you get the idea. The first thing to capturing more compelling images starts between your ears. Photography is a craft that must be practiced, and the more you train yourself to see things that stick out AND photograph them, the more natural it will become.
So next time you go out and shoot, when you see something that makes you stop, do me a favor and take the photo. 🙂
Want to read some other tips? Here you go!