How To Think Like A Photographer

by William Lulow

Many people have ideas about how they see things. They realize that they have certain “visions” of the world, but they often don’t know what to do with them. Having the ability to translate one’s visions to the two-dimensional world of photographs is a special skill. It is the skill of the seasoned photographer.

These days, anyone can take a picture. The digital world has made that part simple. But it’s the thought process involved that separates the picture TAKERS from the picture MAKERS.

Let’s say you were feeling sad and you wanted to make a photograph that would express that. What could you do? How do you depict an emotion? Well, one answer would be to think about what makes you sad and how you might photograph those things. It could be hunger, pain, boredom, dreariness or even loneliness. Then, think of ways that the emotions are often depicted. Pain can be shown by someone’s expression, as can most all of human emotions. Dreariness can be shown by rain, storms, clouds, etc. As you begin to think about the depiction, possibilities begin to arise.

When you think about it some more, you can then begin to think about whether the picture should be dark or light, whether you should include a person or just a scene. You can decide whether you would make a picture indoors or outside, whether it would be a close-up shot or a distant one. You can even decide whether to make it in color or black & white.

So, when you put in the thoughts, many choices can come to mind. At this point, once you’ve decided what kind of image to make, the photographic choices then present themselves. Here is where the photographic knowledge comes in. If you decide to make an indoor shot, the notion of what kind of lighting you should use arises. A sad picture is often a dark one. It is one that is maybe lit with only one light. And that light should be directional so that it will cast some shadows. A happy picture, on the other hand, is usually a bright one against a bright background.

The idea of making a photograph means that you want others to see what you are feeling or what your impression of a certain subject is. Or, maybe you don’t care about showing it to others, but you want to keep it for yourself to evoke the feeling in you as you remember it. That is a valid reason for making a picture.

You should think about trying to differentiate what you want to say as a photographer from merely documenting a scene that plays out in front of your camera. Most snap shots can do this very well. It’s the thought and the knowledge of the photographic process that separates the photographers from the picture takers.

SnowOnBranchesJAN18_0030My thinking on this particular image was that I was intrigued with the design that the snow-covered branches made against the white, cloudy sky. I exposed the shot a bit on the “bright” side and then manipulated it in Photoshop to increase the contrast a bit so that the branches would be darker and the sky a bit whiter.

AspenTrunks(BW)_1(WEB)This image was an exercise in available light. It was a scene I “saw” and was taken by the composition and the light aspen trees against the darker woods behind them.Sunburst(Bullying)This image was for a magazine cover featuring bullying. I wanted to make a shot where a child’s face was mostly in shadow but bright enough to see details. A location was chosen and two models served as “teacher” and “student.” I instructed the boy to just look down and sad and the woman to look at the boy. The light came from behind the subject and slightly to the left. I used a white card to the right of the camera to reflect some light onto the boy’s face to get some detail.

These are just a couple of examples of how the thought process really comes before the picture-making.