There are photographs that capture our attention, while others, even when taken at the same moment, don’t. Two people can spend the day walking in Prague and at the end of the day, one person has some pictures that are just ok, while the other one has stunning pictures, regardless that so many people have taken pictures in the same streets.
Let’s start first by defining what is a snapshot. Usually, a snapshot is taken at events like family gatherings, sports events, when traveling, or when we want to capture a beautiful scene. It’s a quick capture to document that moment, to save precious moments. Generally, a snapshot is an everyday photo that doesn’t trigger emotions. It might be an interesting photo, an image displaying a pleasing view or a beautiful child. But if it’s not different than any other similar images, then it is a snapshot. Perhaps a beautiful one, but still a snapshot that doesn’t really say anything about the subject.
On the other hand, a photograph is a well-thought and creatively executed image. You might be in a parade trying to get that special image, not the same trite shots taken in parades, when on the sidewalk, you see this distracted boy lost in his thoughts, away from the commotion of the parade. The image itself tells a story. And you take the picture.
Of course, there are many gray areas between a photograph and a snapshot, and a snapshot, taken at a moment without that much thought, can become a photograph. The photographer’s eye can select and create an image in an instant, as sometimes that is all you have, a split fraction of a second. A photograph has to be punchy enough to have an immediate impact. It should tell a story without any corroborative wording or enhance your text when it is used as a visual aid.
I believe the photographer’s eye is a learned way of seeing the world through a lens. It’s paying attention to the world around you. Someone with a photographer’s eye recognizes situations where the elements of art come together. Of course, there are people that might have an innate artistic bone, but most can learn techniques to boost the photographer’s eye inside himself or herself.
The rule of thirds distributes the space within the image, creating some lines and intersection points. Psychology and science state that the eyes will target some specific points in any image, whether it’s a painting, photograph, digital art…
One of the most common errors is placing the subject in the middle of the frame.
Centering the subject often contributes to a static and boring composition so try to place the point of interest away from the center of the frame. As you look through your viewfinder or examine the LCD screen, imagine two vertical and two horizontal lines creating a grid of nine rectangular boxes, like in the photo above. Try placing the point of interest, or other important elements, on or near the points where the lines intersect. For example, if you’re taking a portrait, the subject is the person’s face and the point of interest would be their eyes most of the times. In a landscape, the point of interest may be the sun setting on the beach, so place the sun on one of the intersections.
Another option when you are in a hurry and can’t work with the rule of thirds when taking the photograph, is to perform post-cropping with photo editing software like Photoshop. Nowadays, we all have the advantage of working with an image from beginning to end without having a photography dark room. Our instruments are the camera and a computer, where we download the photos we take, make the selection of the photos we want, and if necessary, edit the photos with the software of our preference. Another instrument is the scanner, as we can digitalize our old photos, negatives, and slides. We can customize our photographs to our preference (or the customer’s needs), cropping, enhancing colors, using filters… But you should always aim to have your best composition in the photograph you are taking with your camera, as another common error is depending too much on software like Photoshop. Our best instruments are the camera and our photographer’s eye.
Remember that the rule of thirds does not apply in all cases and anyway, rules are made to be broken on many occasions.
Of course, there are more elements that you need to consider when taking a photograph, like light, color, time of day… But most importantly remember that a photographer’s eye is a learned skill that you will acquire through studying, practice, observation, and more practice. So, go out and start shooting (with a camera)…
The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes.
~ Marcel Proust