Travel anywhere and you’ll realize quickly that we are a society consumed with capturing the moment. From mobile phones to full blown Phase One digital systems, cameras are everywhere and everyone likely has at least one on their person at any point in time in one form or another. Recently I was asked what would be the most important advice I could offer anyone wanting to get the perfect shot. While my mind naturally began dissecting camera setups, experience levels and scenes, that one horrible little word kept reentering my deliberations – anyone.
After a few days, I have to admit I’d covered most every tip I’d ever received or encountered. Still, no joy. Then, at about three in the morning (that’s right – o-dark-thirty) it hit me. Yes, there was an answer to this question – at least as far as my brain was concerned. I felt like Indiana Jones just having discovered the most elusive critical clue possible.
My ultimate tip to every photographer? Be transparent. That’s right. Whether you are a newbie, an expert or something in between, and your rig is a smart phone or a professional setup, one truth applies to all photographers – never get between your viewer and the story you are trying to tell. It’s just that simple – “never, never, never!” do that (to paraphrase from Two and a Half Men).
So, what does my sage advice really mean? Simply put, getting between your viewer and the story you are trying to tell puts you (read your incompetency’s) in the image. Being transparent technically means that you don’t distract your viewer with poor technique. Out of focus or improperly focused images forces viewers to compensate for your poor technique; it distracts them. Likewise, poor composition distracts viewers as well – or at a minimum, doesn’t make it easy for them to concentrate on your story without pre-translation of your image. Poor composition means more viewer effort to understand what’s happening. Improper exposure is another mistake many photographers make. What makes this even more egregious is that today’s cameras make proper exposure easily attained. More difficult exposure challenges can be addressed with simple knowledge readily available in books or on YouTube. And, then there’s the gimmicks. While crooked horizons and blurry images may show your Avant-garde side, they do little to tell your story unless you apply them judiciously and appropriately. In the end, anything you do improperly that is visible, places you in the scene.
In the end, a strong subject and great composition can make up for lots of evils. However, the best photographers understand the importance of self-transparency, and educate themselves to the point they are able to tell a story in the most fluid way possible without getting in the way of the story they are attempting to tell.
So, there you have it! Now, how transparent of a photographer are you? More importantly, what can you do to become even more transparent – and a better photographer?
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