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3 Photography Instincts To Master

In photography as in art, sport or with any other discipline, there are certain instincts we have built in to us and perhaps that is why we are drawn towards our chosen area. Sometimes these instincts are helpful and other times a hindrance. Below is a list of 3 instincts to master that don’t always come naturally when it comes to photography and also 2 instincts to forget. Unfortunately these instincts better forgotten do come naturally to most of us and they can really hold us back from getting more out of our photography. This said, we can unlearn them and teach ourselves the correct ways to go about our photography, master those and make them instinctive.

Mastering good composition is key to a stronger image


3 Photography Instincts To Master

 1. Composition – Rule Of Thirds

Rule of Thirds

Arguably one of the most important instincts to master is composition. There are many ways to compose a photo however one of the most effective ways is to apply the rule of thirds. What this refers to is to divide our viewfinder or LCD screen up into 9 equal thirds. 3 across the top, 3 across the middle and 3 across the bottom of the image forming a grid. Some cameras have a grid setting that can be switched on to allow us to see this on the LCD screen. By placing our subject or main point of interest on one of the intersecting lines of the grid it creates a composition that is visually pleasing to the viewers eye. This technique can be applied to almost any form of photography to help make a stronger image.


2. Reading Light – Soft Light / Hard Light

Photography is all about light and capturing it. Broadly speaking there are two types of light, soft light and hard light. Regardless of the light source, light generally falls in to either one of these categories. By understanding light and how it affects the subject we can give a more three dimensional feel to the final photo. The trick is to know how to read what type of light it is and how it will affect the image we are trying to make.


Soft Light

Soft light is when our subject is evenly lit and there are no harsh shadows causing any great contrast. Soft light usually comes from a large light source or when the light source is close to the subject. In an outdoor environment, soft light could come from an overcast sky, or the shade of a tree. Anywhere that puts our subject in even light. This can also be created in a studio using a flash with an umbrella as close to the subject as possible. The larger the umbrella, the softer the light.



Sun Bakers

Hard Light

Hard light is when there is a lot of contrast on the subject. Harsh shadows are created with hard light. Hard light usually comes from a small light source or when the light source is far away from the subject. In an outdoor environment hard light is typical in the middle of a sunny day. Bright areas are really bright and washed out, dark areas are in dark shade. There is a lot of contrast and usually not the best time to take a photo. We can recreate hard light in the studio using a flash without an umbrella and have the flash further away from the subject. This style of photo can make a strong statement.



3. Manual Mode 


Manual mode (M) might sound a bit daunting at first, but it is the key to giving your photography a deeper creative dimension. Full manual mode allows us to control our exposures in a creative way by allowing us to take charge of the ISO, shutter speed and aperture. These three elements are called the exposure triangle.




Depth of field refers to the amount of the photo that appears in focus. A shallow depth of field allows us to focus on one important part of the photo while throwing the rest out of focus, like used in portrait photography, or a wide depth of field to allow everything to be in focus like used in landscape photography. Even by using full manual mode, most cameras will still let you know what the correct exposure should be. It is not to say the camera is right, but it gives us a guide and we can use our own creative taste to override the camera’s advice and change the settings to our liking.

Full manual mode can be a lot to think about when starting out with photography. May cameras these days have semi manual modes, like Shutter Priority (Tv  on a Canon or Pentax and S  on a Nikon or Sony) and Aperture Priority (Av  on a Canon or Pentax and A  on a Nikon or Sony) modes. These allow you almost as much freedom as full manual and can let the photographer to take really amazing photos without having to be slowed down by having to master full manual mode first.

By practicing and mastering these 3 elements: Composition, Reading Light and Manual Mode we have the capability of making photos with more creativity and develop our own photographic style. Photography is a two-dimensional art form, but by considering & combining composition, light and the exposure triangle we have the power to create images that take the viewer to another dimension.

2 Instincts To Forget

  1. Bad Composition

Bad composition is an instinct that seems to come naturally to most people. We are usually born with this one. For instance a lot of photographers when starting out feel the absolute need to place the main subject of what they are shooting right in the middle of the photo. When shooting a portrait the person goes in the middle, when shooting a landscape, the horizon goes in the middle. This rarely leads to an exciting image and is something we really need to unlearn.

As mentioned above with Instincts to Master, by simply applying the rule of thirds to most photos, we will see a huge improvement in the strength of our photos. Most cameras these days allow us to change the LCD screen to include a grid view. What we need to select is the 3 x 3 grid. This will give us an easy visual guide to the rule of thirds. This is helpful for not only placing our subject on an intersecting line therefore making it look in the right place, but it also helps us to see if we are holding the camera straight. For example when taking a landscape shot, line up either the top or bottom line with the horizon and take the shot. Simple.



2. Automatic Mode

Our cameras have the ability to work in full automatic mode, however as you might have noticed, the photos are only ever average and never say WOW! This is because the camera’s automatic settings give a general average reading of light and depth of field and allow the photographer to take general average photos. By switching over to manual or semi manual mode we can take control of what we see and have the chance to express ourselves.Auto

A lot of compact cameras these days have settings such as a portrait or landscape. These are still automatic, however can allow for better photos than on full auto mode. This is because when we are on Portrait mode the camera knows you probably want a shallower depth of field, so it only allows this to happen. The same idea on landscape mode, except with a wider depth of field allowing us to keep more of the image in focus. These settings are a step in the right direction, however we are still letting the camera have the last say on taking the photo.

If your camera allows for manual or semi manual, spend some time getting to know the settings as it is really something to consider the next time you are out taking a photo.

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