Alaskan Artist - Elise Tomlinson
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01/06/2004: "Taking better photos"

A blogger out there named Jimi asked if I would write a bit on taking good photographs. I said I would give it a shot, but after the fact I realized that Iím not sure itís something that I can explain very well.

First of all, photography is a lot like painting or filming. The most important things in my opinion are:

A. the subject is in some way interesting either in a narrative capacity, as a visual prompt for telling a story or because the color is intense or the lighting unusual etc. For example, I only shoot photos of my cats on days that the lighting makes dramatic shadows.

osiris_lemoni_fruit (34k image)

B. the subject is framed in a way following the basic principals of good design and composition.

C. Less important than it used to be is that your camera is set up for the proper exposure. I took the sailboat photos using a disposable 35mm camera. Now I also take a lot of photos using a digital camera. Either way, if the colors arenít developed to my liking, I just go into an image editor like Microsoft Photo Editor or PhotoShop (if youíre lucky) and alter the color channels, contrast etc.

Beyond that, I think it is a clichť but you need to really look at the things you pass everyday, not just the big stuff, but the little stuff too. Having a camera with a good macro lens was crucial to being able to take the photos I did of the muskeg. I walked over that stuff for years without ever really looking at it. Once I did, I realized how amazing it was.

And some photo opportunities are pure happenstance so having a camera on you at all times is a good idea. The tidal photos I took, for example, came about from a flight I took to the bush community of Kake AK. We just happened to have clear flying conditions, we just happened to be flying low because of air turbulence, and we happened to be flying at low tide. I just happened to be looking down out of my window as we passed some small coves with amazing tidal flats.

At the time, I broke the cardinal rule of always having a camera loaded and ready to shoot. Because of that, I had to illicit the help of my sailing buddy John who is a pilot and owns his own plane.

john2 (55k image)

In exchange for one of the finished paintings, we calculated the route my previous pilot had taken, figured out when low tide would be, and he took me up with the express purpose of recreating the images that I had seen somewhat by accident several weeks before. The end result was great but it would have been a lot less work if Iíd had my camera with me initially.

Also, the fact was, there were several other people on that original flight with me to Kake but no one else even noticed the tidal flats or found them to be that interesting. When I showed them the photos afterwards though, they thought they were fantastic. So keep a sharp lookout for hidden treasures.

It sounds corny but as you look around at your surroundings, put that imaginary lens finder square around everything you see. Like directors in old movies who hold their hands up all the time trying to frame their shots. Itís like that. Maybe some people are born with a good sense of composition and others are not. I donít know if itís something you can really learnÖbut there are tons of books on the subject of composition and there are lots or great books on how to avoid common photography problems, like avoiding the rail that appears to be protruding from a personís head, keeping in mind the importance of the Rule of Thirds and how to properly frame a shot.

I also try to take things from a more interesting perspective, such as worm or birdís eye view, or from off center, etc.

Again, these are all fairly common tricks. If you are serious about photography, you should purchase and learn how to use Photoshop. It makes being a good photographer a lot less important than having a good eye for composition and you can always re-crop a photo after the fact to improve a nice photo with an uninteresting composition. Is this cheating? Some photography purists would say so, but again, Iím not a photographerÖso for me, I donít worry about it.

I hope this helps.

Replies: 3 Comments

on Wednesday, January 7th, Jimi AKA Steve said

Elise, thanks, you're really nice, do you know that?
Some great tips, and ideas there. I'm gonna try some of them.
Maybe send you a link to them see what you think?
Jimi ;-)
AKA Steve

on Saturday, January 10th, Elise said

I would love to see a link to some of your photos. Just post a link to them here using the homepage form.

I'll look forward to seeing them!

on Friday, September 10th, Poop said

Hi! :laugh: