How to take and make better photographs

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photography course 001 photography course 002

Taking photographs is both childishly simple and dauntingly complex. Since the rise of digital photography, it seems difficult to take a 'bad' picture. But a technically 'correct' picture - one that is e.g. not overexposed - is of course not necessarily a good one. Even the reverse is true: a truly great photograph may perfectly be 'technically flawed'.

Let's start with the biggest secret of photography: it's called empathy.

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, the old saying goes, and how true that is. So the first commandment is: love, or at least be interested in what you see. Always.

'Here and now' is a highly subjective and fluid phenomenon. There are many images to brew from any given moment and situation. If you don't shift into a higher gear of awareness when you've got your camera in hand, forget it. You won't see it.

If you see it, you'll miss the right moment. Or you'll approach it from a wrong angle.

To catch the right glimpse in a man's eye takes a lot of patience, concentration - and looking beyond the surface. A musician will never play the perfect note or phrase if that music wasn't in her mind first. And a sculptor has to feel the sculpture in the raw block before he 'frees' it by chipping away the superfluous bits.

I'm sure you have already grasped the aim of the two pictures above. They were taken minutes apart. Which water looks really dangerous (or dangerously appealing)?

The course below can help you to see the technical and aesthetic differences between the two, and to handle your camera in such a way that you come away with the second picture instead of the first one. It can train your eye and skill. But the hardest part is to see the potential in the situation - and not to walk by the sign(s) in the first place. And that takes a lot of looking at and analysing good pictures, even more practice, and above all: empathy.
So, what are the characteristics of a great photograph, in order of decreasing importance?

  1. I'm in it.

    No, seriously: the choice of the subject is of course paramount. "The eye of the beholder" of course also refers to the person looking at the picture. Hence: we ourselves, our loved ones and our interests provide the best pictures in the universe. There's no theory to beat that, and rightly so. Still, you'll soon find a number of hints in this course about what to look out for - although the entire chapter remains to be written.

    To make the difference, you'll need the intuitive or theoretical knowledge of item 2 & 3 in this list, I'm afraid.

  2. It's aesthetic.

    There are a number of semi-universal aspects to a picture that makes it intuitively appealing to the eye. From Lascaux to Picasso, there's a set of principles that seems to make it every time again. That chapter starts on the next page.

  3. It's technically OK, or it uses technical devices to improve the image

    The nuts and bolts. (currently mostly in Dutch)