One of the questions that I often get asked by amateur photographers is how they can become better at seeing photographic opportunities. Unfortunately, there is no magic formula that can instantly help. To be able to see the opportunities, you need to train yourself and especially your mind to be able to do so. Over time and with practice you will become better at spotting these photography opportunities. For example, right now you may find that from 100 photos there are 5 that you really like. But in time, with practice and experience, you may find that you like 50 of your 100 shots taken. To help you get started, here are 5 “things” that you should look to train your mind to do for better travel photos.
Always be aware of the light
A great photo requires multiple elements to come together. One of these elements is light. Think of the light available as your paint. This is what brings to life the subject you are photographing. Whether it is a portrait of someone or a beautiful cityscape, without good light the photo isn’t going to impress much. Most people might already realise this. But are you subconsciously thinking about the light in a scene when you are walking around? You need to train your mind to instantly be able to assess the light in a scene and determine the best angle or position to shoot from to maximise the light available. If you can train yourself to be aware of this subconsciously, you will also begin to see opportunities the other way around. For example, rather than seeing a moment to photograph, you’ll see the scene with the great light and wait for the right subject.
Block out the noise
As a photographer, you are constantly bombarded with visual information in any given scene. This can be incredibly distracting and so often will mean that you won’t see the potential photo opportunity. You need to train yourself to be able to block out all of this noise to be able to just see that photographic opportunity. This won’t be easy but if you can do this you will begin to notice compositions that you may not have known existed. A good way to practice is to go to a busy place and try to capture isolated moments. Shots that make the viewer feel like your subject was the only thing happening. At first, this will be tough but over time you will begin to get better at blocking out everything that is irrelevant to just concentrate on the main story.
Take the photo in your head
This is often referred to as pre-visualization. It’s the art of being able to see what the photo will look like in your head before you have even taken the shot. It will happen so quickly in your mind that it feels subconscious. Sometimes it translates itself to simply knowing that “it will be a good shot”. But to start with you need to train your brain to be able to do this. The best way to do this is to train by going to a location and evaluating the scene. Then try to picture the photo that you would like to take. You can even make a rough sketch of it on a piece of paper. Then spend whatever time you have just trying to capture that one shot. It might mean waiting around for hours or even coming back. If you do this exercise enough times you will begin to get quicker at pre-visualizing. Eventually, you will instantly see this in your mind in any scene even if it’s a fleeting moment.
See the end result
This is a little different to pre-visualization in that it’s about being able to imagine where the photo you are taking will end up. Even if you are just taking photos for yourself as a hobby, it is still worth imagining this. Will it be in a magazine? If so, is it going to be in a portrait or horizontal format? Would it be to illustrate a story, or could it be the “wow” shot for the front cover or opening spread? Could it work as a print on a wall? By imagining where a photo will end up you can begin to compose it better. For example, if it is going to be a double-page spread you will be forced to place the point of interest on the left or right-hand side to avoid it falling in the centre (known as the gutter). By placing it on the right- or left-hand side you are naturally more likely to adhere to the rule of thirds, even if it is unintentional. So even if you hadn’t remembered to do so by thinking about the end result of the photo you would have improved your composition.
Know what story you are telling
So far, I have talked about visualizing the shot that you want to take. But it’s also important to know what story you are trying to tell the viewer. For example, a clean landscape shot with no people tells a completely different story to the same photo with someone hiking. So, it’s important that you know in your mind what story you want to tell when you are taking the photo. Because then you can ensure that your photo reflects just that story and the viewer isn’t distracted by other elements in the composition. As per all of the points above, it will take practice, so try this as an exercise. Before you take a photo, say to yourself what the story is. Then once you have taken the shot look at your photo to determine if it tells the story that you said.
These traits will often happen with practice and experience. If you can master them, you will begin to see many more photographic opportunities around you.