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From Snaps to Artistic Photos

“It is an illusion that photos are made with the camera.. They are made with the eye, heart and head” – Heni Cartier-Bresson

Photography entails sealing the emotion and the story along with the moment the unfolding scenery presents.

Taking pictures has become so easy that it has become an unconscious habit for many of us. Even a small trip to a nearby fancy restaurant can yield hundreds of pictures. But oftentimes, enthusiasts come up with the doubt that their photos are a great documentation but they have not captured the emotion they felt at that time.

Capturing memories and feelings is what makes photography an art. Mastering this craft is a journey and can take a lifetime of experimentation and practice. However, embarking on this journey only needs three shifts in our perspective, and none of these shifts are related to camera settings in any way. At least, not in the beginning

Before we explore what those mind-shifts are, it is important to understand why capturing artistic pictures is such a challenge.

Photography is an art that translates a three dimensional world into a two dimensional picture. This is easy to comprehend in theory but takes quite a bit of practice to learn in reality. The streets, the shops, the merchandise, the sky and all the cars on the road we see at the scene, get reduced to lines and two dimensional odd shapes in the picture. The whole art is in bringing the third dimension out of a two dimensional picture

The three starting points to develop this mind-shift

One Picture One Focus

Our eyes can only focus on one thing at a time. That is how it should be in pictures as well

We feel like a kid in a candy store when we visit places with great architecture, culture and craft. We see so many interesting elements around us and for some reason we want to include them all in one picture. There have been so many times when someone took a picture of a huge monument with their kid jumping in joy in front of it, but the end result shows neither the joy of the kid nor the enormity of the monument.

Point to Note: The key is to select one point of interest for one picture, and then separate that chosen point of interest from the rest

If the jumping kid is your target ‘subject’ then we bring the subject closer to the camera and keep the walls of the monument far away in the frame.

While in the case of food photography, if our point of interest is the beautiful plating of the desert, we shall focus on the dessert as the prominent element (highlight) and keep the rest of the table and our other secondary subjects (in this case, friends) at a distance. The other elements like your friends or tableware, that you might want to include in the frame, could be another picture altogether.

Clutter in the background

Our main subject can only stand out as much as the background allows it to!

Imagine standing in the middle of a busy street market and having your “subject” posing in the middle of that busy place for a great picture. Naturally our mind is all engrossed in highlighting the glamor of our subject. In fact, our mind is so engrossed in our subject that we unconsciously overlook the colors, shapes and activity happening in the shops behind them. We tend to emphasize our attention on the pose of our subject so intensely, that we are unable to highlight our subject against the background of a clean piece of sky amidst the shops. These background elements, such as the shops and the sky can unintentionally become the focal point if not considered at the time of clicking, resulting in a visual confusion where our intended subject is obscured by these background elements. Upon reviewing the image later, you may notice that your primary subject is overshadowed by unexpected details, like two individuals in vibrant shirts, diverting attention away from your intended focus on your lovely friend.

It is our job as a photographer to make the background work for us and not against us. The best way to do so is to scan the background before clicking and pre-select a part of the scene we would use to place our subject against BEFORE the subject shows up on the scene

Similarly, incase of food photography, prioritize selecting a background element that will enhance the presentation of your main subject, which, in this case, is the food you’re photographing.

Scrutinizing the backgrounds and using the surrounding elements will start to highlight every aspect of our subjects. We will also start to see that the surroundings start to become harmonious with our overall picture, which is a recipe for capturing the emotion of the scene.

A game of Light and Shadows

Incorporating shadows alongside the play of light in our photographs is what transforms a flat, two-dimensional image into a three-dimensional visual experience.

Our mind and our eyes associate shadows with directional light and depth which gives us the perception of a three dimensional world.
For example, the beginner photographers are advised to make our subjects face the direction where the light is coming from. This is great. But the problem occurs when we click the picture from the same direction as well. That makes the lighting look flat and the impact you were trying to create here, takes a back seat. This is how we end up eliminating the three- dimensional visual effect that we wanted to create in the first place.

As we start our journey in photography, the best way to deal with the light is as follows:

  • Find a soft and high intensity light for your point of interest. This could be next to a window (but it should not be a direct sunlight), or under a sunshade or at the end of a narrow street or on the shadow side of a big wall of a monument
  • Click the picture from such an angle that it shows both – the light and the shadow on your point of interest, wherein, you may need to move around a bit to find a spot or an angle that does so

All the great photographers and visual artists combine light and shadows to create depth and feelings in their creations. Just by altering the proportion and shapes of shadows, the whole meaning and the feel of a photograph or a painting can be changed

Photography is a very broad and deep subject, and the learning is endless, but starting with these principles will definitely set us on a our journey journey. We will see endless creative possibilities for our pictures when we start paying attention to the Focus, the Background and the play of light and shadows in our pictures.

(The above article was featured in inaugural edition of the magazine “In Vogue Life”)

Sanjeev Verma Photographer 📸 Storytelling Photographer | Fine Art 🎭 Photographer in Singapore, Portraiture, Renaissance art #coctalesphotography