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The Uphill Battle: Making a Photo

There are times when it feels like you can never really quite capture what you're looking at through the lens. In the moment, this can leave you feeling like your photos aren't very good while you're out shooting, but sometimes it just requires a bit of effort to make what you see in the frame feel like what you're seeing in real life. The cycle goes something like this:

1. "Oh wow.... this is an amazing something! I'm so inspired to take a photo of this amazing something."

2. Quickly snap a shot.

3. Look at the photo on the screen and realize that you're the worst photographer in this history of photos."

4. Never want to take a picture ever again.

This is a struggle that a lot of people go through when they first pick up a camera, and even if you've been shooting for a long time, you may still occasionally (or not so occasionally) have moments where you feel like you just can't get THE picture. That being said, I think in many cases, it really comes down to figuring out why the thing you see on camera doesn't look like what you see in real life. Is it because the mountain doesn't feel as big without trees next to it for scale? Is it because you're trying to make a person look beautiful, but you're distorting their face on a super wide lens? There are lots of reasons why your photos may not feel like what you're shooting, but the more you start to dissect the reasoning behind it, is when you'll start to have better results. Piggybacking off of this point.... great photographers are not people who just happen to always be in the most amazingly perfect place at the right time. They're people who are considering storytelling on every level (lens, composition, lighting, posing, etc.) Sometimes you have to work to make the photo do what you want. If your lens is too long, maybe you need to move yourself 100 feet back to find the composition you want. If your lighting isn't pretty, perhaps you need to wait for a time when the lighting suits your subject. If your subject is getting lost against a noisy background, maybe you need to move to a place where they're positioned in front of a flatly lit or simple background. Once you overcome these challenges, you'll start to discover lots of different ways to solve the puzzle of each photo.

What I'm getting at here is that there's always a solution to get the shot. On top of that, there are also different ways to represent whatever subject matter you're shooting. There's no one "correct" way to shoot anything. You can shoot it however you want as long as you're successfully telling the story you're trying to tell.

My last idea here focusses specifically on rule breaking. There are lots of "rules" that people will tell you when you're trying to learn about photography composition, but as far as I'm concerned.... rules are meant to be broken. When I was taking this photo, I was originally intending for a "safer" staging setup with the crow directly on a third, looking right, with a nice balanced composition, but since I was at the mercy of his movement, I had to frame accordingly. After trying a few of these safe options, I just felt bored with the outcome. It was a photo of a crow on a branch, staged with plenty of visual breathing room, on a fairly open background with very little tension. It didn't really have a point of view. It wasn't SAYING anything. The more I started thinking about the note of the shot, it became obvious that I should try to play up the traditional symbolism of the crow, as the crow tends to be the proverbial deliverer of dark news. I decided to make the composition a bit less comfortable. Since he wasn't looking peacefully towards a nice open screen right space, I decided to "trap" him right up against the screen left side of frame, and leave an uncomfortably large open space on the right side of frame. On the idea of filmic staging, when a character is looking out of frame from near the edge of the composition, it usually has a mysterious feel to it. It means that the viewer doesn't know anything more than the character knows. We don't know what's just outside the bounds of frame, which makes us slightly uneasy and raises the compositional stakes. The reason I chose this photo to go along with this particular post is because it took a bit of troubleshooting to get something that I felt was successful. It was an uphill battle.

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