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Thinking Like a Photographer

Updated on June 15, 2014
Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0
Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0 | Source

Photographers are a distinct type of artists and over time each develops his or her own style much like how any other artist develops a personal style of doing things.

Most artists create from scratch. They add elements to their work so that the audience sees only what they want them to see.

To make your photography better you really have to start thinking like a photographer.

A photographer on the other hand eliminates elements from a photograph so that their audience sees only what they want them to see.

A photo of a lovely patch of flowers looks nice on a photograph, but the photographer who took the image may exclude the trash or debris that lies nearby or the unsightly patch of dirt next to the lovely flowers.

Photographers interpret reality but capture in their photographs "a message" which is intended to relay the photographer's vision of the scene to whomever looks at the picture. In this way most photographers may be called "liars" since the entire scene is not often presented, only what he or she considers worthy of being recorded on film or on a digital sensor.

A photographer sees things differently, often looking at everything with a photographic mind and always composing scenes made up of parts of life around them.

The best photographers avoid presenting a visual chaos since a photograph is a two dimensional view of a three dimensional scene and adding too many elements to a photograph often leads to the viewer becoming easily confused or distracted from the main point of the picture.

They often purposely try to isolate key points and often just enough to portray the beauty or interesting points of a scene. We censor "reality".

A river scene does not need to include every aspect of the river bed and the flowing water along with several trees and foliage. A close up of a rock upon which water breaks and flows along with a small portion of moss or foliage does the same in showcasing the scene but does so without adding confusion to the photograph.

A photographer examines the way that light strikes the subject, the shadows that this light creates, the angles and perspectives. He or she examines how the scene makes one feel and tries to capture this feeling in the images. A photographer composes the shot for maximum appeal.

A photographer often has to organize the elements in the scene in order to make a more striking and compelling shot and this often involves examining and experimenting with different lenses and other subtleties.

A photographer also plays a mind game and views shapes and designs in order to compose the message that is meant to be shared.

He or she may decide that only shapes (silhouettes) will be great for a specific shot. He or she may use lines, forms and patterns in much the same way. Everything depends on the concept that is intended to be applied to a particular shot and the desired effect.

For example lines can make an image acquire a sense of place or a feeling. Straight lines or horizontal ones give the sense of order. Diagonal lines can portray chaos much like curves can appear to be sensual. Texture is used by most professionals to convey a message of how something feels; smooth ,rough, moist, dry, soft and so on.

Some tips; placing the horizon low on the photograph along with a view of the sky or other elements can often give a sense of openness. Placing it high on the shot does the contrary.

Don't forget that color plays an important part in how a photographer views the scene. Red for love or excitement, blue for solitude or coolness, green for peace and calm, yellow for happy and playfulness.

A lot of people relate to photography as a medium which only represents reality since we record something real, a slice of life as it were, but a good photographer interprets a scene and life much like what anyone would interpret from looking at body language, a scene that recently unfolded and so on.

This is mostly why photographers are artists in their own right and not just simple recorders. Sure we record what our eyes sees but we do so with an artistic touch. We exercise our creative choices and present things like we want others to see, to feel what we feel and appreciate what we appreciate.

Lenses, cameras, filters and other technical stuff aids us in this artistic endeavor but ultimately the photographer is the only judge of what is worthy and captures this so that he or she may share it with the world.

We use tools to create like artists use their own tools; a paint brush, canvas, clay, chisel, granite and so on.

Try to see, feel, act, think and interpret your world like a photographer but remember that just as important is to photograph like an artist.

Keep in mind that most professionals develop their skills and mindset over years of practice and usually specialize in one or only a few subjects. Find your calling; what subjects and style of photography appeal to you as an artist and as a photographer and dedicate time to practicing and exploring it.

Learn as much as you can about the techniques used by other professionals. Learn to distinguish between good photogenic light and bad one, when not to photograph as well as to when to photograph. It is often better not to take the picture if the conditions are not right.

Do not force the issue. Rather work with what you have and use the knowledge and understanding of the limitations and capabilities of your gear to make your best shot every single time, not just by luck or chance.

This work has been released into the public domain by its author, Gentry George, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
This work has been released into the public domain by its author, Gentry George, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service | Source

This does not mean that the equipment is only used to record. Photographers also use them to create photographic art. By using shutter speed creatively we can make movement appear as an impressionist piece made by a painter.

By using aperture creatively we can alter the way that you see a scene. By using multiple exposures, we add a surreal element. By using filters we change the color of the sky, smooth the roughness of a subject within the image.

Finally by using a macro lens we let you see things that are not commonly seen, even thought the images may be of common everyday subjects. By using zoom lenses we get you close to the action where in reality you could not have gotten that close to the subject.

Read the work of others and try to emulate their style if it fits with yours. Share your work with others and accept criticism taking it as a learning activity.

Be your own worst critic and aim to make each succeeding picture better than the last one.

Ask yourself whenever you are ready to record an image or embark in a photographic project what it is that I want to accomplish by photographing this or that particular scene or subject? Will the viewers of my images feel the same way as I do when photographing said scenes?

Sooner or later with plenty of patience and more trial and error, you will discover that you too can be an artist who happens to showcase your artistic talents with the aid of a camera.

Many more photography articles can be found here!

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© 2012 Luis E Gonzalez


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    • LuisEGonzalez profile imageAUTHOR

      Luis E Gonzalez 

      5 years ago from Miami, Florida

      Stacie L : Thank you

    • Stacie L profile image

      Stacie L 

      5 years ago

      I enjoyed reading this hub. I have been an amateur photographer most of my adult life and recently upgraded to become more serious.

      The photography artist does see the ordinary and makes something extraordinary out of it. Many people will see a pretty picture but an artist sees so much more.

      Its fun to experiment to add digital art or alter images as well. Thumbs up!

    • LuisEGonzalez profile imageAUTHOR

      Luis E Gonzalez 

      5 years ago from Miami, Florida

      shai77: Thank you

    • shai77 profile image


      5 years ago

      You are so right. People will buy expensive cameras sometimes and wonder why their photos are not coming out better... it's often not equipment but technique in which they lack. A basic understanding of composition, angles, light & shadow, etc. can make a world of difference. What a great hub! Voted up & useful!

    • LuisEGonzalez profile imageAUTHOR

      Luis E Gonzalez 

      5 years ago from Miami, Florida

      time2write: Thank you

    • time2rite profile image

      Kathryne Waller 

      5 years ago from Knoxville, TN USA

      I have found your hub article to be very interesting as well as useful. The photographs are extraordinary! I will try to apply these great tips when taking my photographs.

    • LuisEGonzalez profile imageAUTHOR

      Luis E Gonzalez 

      5 years ago from Miami, Florida

      Millionaire Tips: Thank you

    • Millionaire Tips profile image

      Shasta Matova 

      5 years ago from USA

      I really enjoy taking photographs, but I don't take the time to analyze and critique my work to see how I can make it better. These are all great ideas. Voted up.

    • LuisEGonzalez profile imageAUTHOR

      Luis E Gonzalez 

      5 years ago from Miami, Florida

      wheelinallover: I agree. sometimes you just have to try and see .

    • wheelinallover profile image

      Dennis Thorgesen 

      5 years ago from Central United States

      Lately I have been taking junk photographs and turning them into usable header designs or profile pictures. Some by cutting clutter, others spend hours in a photo editor. Some are my own work and others the work of friends. This in itself is an art form.

      Each person has to test the waters to see in which area of photography they excel in. It goes way beyond taking a photograph. In the end the finished product is what the world is going to see.

    • LuisEGonzalez profile imageAUTHOR

      Luis E Gonzalez 

      5 years ago from Miami, Florida

      WannaB Writer: Thank you and you are very welcome

    • WannaB Writer profile image

      Barbara Radisavljevic 

      5 years ago from Templeton, CA

      Thanks for inspiring me to take more interesting pictures.

    • LuisEGonzalez profile imageAUTHOR

      Luis E Gonzalez 

      5 years ago from Miami, Florida

      Alancaster149: interesting perspectives

    • LuisEGonzalez profile imageAUTHOR

      Luis E Gonzalez 

      5 years ago from Miami, Florida

      Richard-Murray: thank you sir

    • profile image


      5 years ago

      some lovely photos here

    • alancaster149 profile image

      Alan R Lancaster 

      5 years ago from Forest Gate, London E7, U K (ex-pat Yorkshire)

      On the other hand artists alter perspective, drawing in elements in a scene that could never appear in a picture frame without some 'judicial' juggling. Turner 'pulled in' aspects into his pictures that - taken with an ordinary landscape lens - could never have been seen, either vertically or horizontally, or both. Yet Turner, being who he was, got away with it ('having the royal ear', as he did) without being accused of jiggling the picture. The war photographer Robert Capa edited out parts of his pictures by filling the lens with the 'action'. He was not necessarily trying to dupe the observer, but satisfying the editors' craving for bringing the heart of the matter straight to his reader without someone in the darkroom doing the cropping (thus wasting valuable time).


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