Here is something that may help beginners in their approach to take a better shot. It is not technical stuff but more a way of thinking. Many pros will agree that creative thinking or "thinking out of box" can sometimes be very difficult thing to do. We are thinking beings and we all have our habits, fears, attitudes and all other mental stuff that actually make our individual profile. Many times this "setup" stands between our idea and its execution.
I will share my experience. As I mentioned in some previous posts, I have some books on digital photography and my favorite author Bryan Peterson taught me a bit about approach to a good idea. Even technical issue of photography is a must, many of us beginners lack of creative sight. Sometimes we don't even have a clear idea, and when we eventually have it then our mental setup prevents us to execute it. You are safe only shooting objects in studio. Something you are even safe on street. But The best photos in public requires getting out of comfort zone. Lets start with some things to think at first.
One of my fellow photographers said that I must have image in mind even before I get to the field. In one word this is an idea. It is very possible that sometimes looking around gives you surprising idea, but hunting for photo is more intentional action. Like a real hunter, we should go on field with a goal. It is not "I am bored, I'll go out and shoot SOMETHING". Sometimes a good idea may wait in your mind for months because not all elements are satisfied, lighting is bad or some other circumstances stand against. Write down your ideas! You never know when it will became handy. Collection of ideas is something to check from time to time just to refresh your memory and if you are dedicated you will hear internal alarm - yes that's what I need. And of course, "I will take shoot of my grandmother" is not an idea, don't forget about motivation, intention, concept, time, conditions... Most amateurs (including me) go out with brand new camera and hope that good scene will find them. It is not completely bad and may serve as a training and getting familiar with camera. And sometimes you may get some accidental photo that rocks. But that's more luck then skill.
Another good advice that I heard was to ask myself a question before shooting: "Why I would want to take that photo?". If you can't answer that question thoroughly than you don't have an idea about that particular frame.
Another thing on idea subject is creative, "out of box" thinking. Specially if you shoot for stock photography. Here are we humans with our likes and dislikes. If you are getting on stock selling then it is not important if YOU like your concept but rather if BUYERS will like it. From my designer background i learned this hard way. Client is the boss. If you do something for money then you need to "tweak" your thinking to clients frequency. He pays for what he wants whether you like it or not. If dead rat is disgusting to you, go on if you client wants to pay for a closeup of it. That was just an extreme illustration. The point is that sometimes we miss excellent photo just because we don't like the subject, it is our nature and our own sense of right, wrong, good, bad, correct, incorrect etc... try to get rid of that limits we all have built in.
Ok, we got excellent idea, top seller. But we don't have this photo yet, there are few obstacles in between.
Very tough obstacle for many beginners is talking to unknown people. You may have excellent idea, you executed it well, but people are involved. DT will ask for that "darn model release". This is something that need practice. Maybe reading some books on self confidence may help. They offer many techniques how to improve your communication skills (if you are not natural in this). In general, you must get rid of fear, you have nothing to loose. There are many articles about other experiences with people that can be learned from real life. Start with friends and relatives, they are good for practicing. For unknown people it is important that you have the right attitude. Introduce yourself, explain what you are doing, tel them your idea and how and why they fit in it, offer them a free photo, take their address... talk with them about every day things. Bryan Peterson claims that majority of his subjects are satisfied with getting those nice photos in print.
Shooting in public is sometimes difficult to many. A photographer is exposed. You can not be hidden somewhere to get a good photo. While shooting don't think about what others think about you. You are doing your job just as they do. It can be in help if you have your gear bag with you if necessary, so people will see that you are "on duty" and even give you some credibility. There are some truths that you can say to people: I am shooting for world famous microstock company; I am on assignment for a large photography company and I need your cooperation (or help); Would you like to have a free photo? etc.
Don't let you mental "setup" stops you from executing good idea.
Working on subject
That is another part of blocks when we deal with our ideas. It is completely wrong that "capturing a moment" in your photo is one unique event, which cannot be repeated in history time line. Most beginners have this limit in mind, so many times the mayor excuse is "Dang, I was too late!". Get rid of it too as it is not true in all cases.
If sun drops bellow horizon your unique sunset session is over. It cannot be repeated or worked on. But on many occasions you may improve the scene just if you think of it. Photographing people is connected with the communication topic above.
Unknown person is coming down through a large stairs in front of city hall. You clearly see the frame filled with nice stairs pattern in golden hours lighting. The person breaks this pattern at the sweet spot, while his shadow is making interesting long line broken with the stairs pattern. But bummer! You have completely wrong camera setup and you image is underexposed crap. You need a few seconds to get it right but your perfect scene is gone. Person is at completely different spot, all magic is gone. Now you have an option: regret the missed moment or work on it. Use you communication skills, you may be lucky and convince person to get back and go down the stairs again, sign the papers and get a marvelous high resolution photo which he can frame on her wall.
In several occasions I did such "works", and I was surprised how good people react to it. Excuse me, can you please turn your head the way it was five second ago, yes, that's it, thank you!; Can you please rise your girl above your head again, it was great!;Can you please seat down again for a moment, your shirt color perfectly matches with those flowers in background.
When shooting scenes that are not involving people, you have many opportunities to work on subject. Wow, that was a great view of the church, only if that bottle wasn't in the corner of the frame. Well, move it, move yourself, do something...
If it is not forbidden or dangerous to move things around, work on it. Make your scene better to fit your idea. Don't take it "as is" if you feel it can be improved. Peterson has a nice example of shooting parrots in (through) a cage with very busy background. He simply asked for permission to put a clear red paper sheet in the background of the cage and shoot again. Difference was stunning, and not much work to do. I am emphasizing that this is different in studio conditions where you have everything in control. Dead nature is usually not problem, and has nothing much to do with our comfort zone except for eventually asking permission to move or rearrange something that doesn't belong to us, or get yourself dirty during the action (yes, I know someone that have problems with this too).
The basic photographing pose is to stand on your feet and shoot. Options are 360 degrees around, and a bit up and down elevation. How is this connected with our mental obstacles? When we are in public this is the most natural pose. Even holding camera is to much public exposure to someone. Behaving like "Don't look at me, I am just a tourist" is not the best way to a good photo, even it serves as most "nothing unusual" protection against our embarrassment. But the truth is that sometimes you must be "there". Shooting a public speaker in front of 3000 people? No way for someone. But if you want it good and close, for the moment everyone will see you. So what! Majority of them will not know that you were at the event at all.
The most distress situation is when our idea asks for getting out of your comfort zone. Would you ever lie down on your belly, to shoot reflection from a small water spot on the street? Would you even bend enough? Would you lie down in your own garden, with no one around, without feeling silly, or guilty for getting some dirt on your clothes? Would you hang on one hand from somewhere to get the right angle? Would you shoot during the rain, on cold weather? Would you wake up early to get the sunrise, or you will shoot this another day?
Many things depends on our characters and what we learned through our live. Our behavior is usually formal, in good manners. But It is not creative by default.
Thinking out of box requires our sight out of our own boundaries, and doing whatever it takes to get our creative idea done, even if it out of comfort zone. I am strongly on this principles, having my own troubles, and working hard to fix this up. You know yourself the best, find out if there are things that are blocking you to do something different.
Then try it, otherwise you will never know that your pet dog running through mud on a rainy day looks better from its height then from yours. While you will discovering this, other people will watch TV or sleep. But some of them will search DT for a perfect action image of pet dog.
Until next time - happy shooting!
Photo credits: Constantin Opris, Dmitrijs Dmitrijevs, Godfer, Pieter Snijder, Masta4650, Nikolaev, Patrick, Willeecole, Yanik Chauvin.