If you look at other photographers work and are inspired (and maybe a bit jealous), know that you’re not alone.
Sometimes it may seem like the gap between yourself and your favourite photographer is vast, almost insurmountable.
What if you’re not as far off as you think?
Honing my photography professionally over the past 5 years has taught me that photography is a game of inches. It isn’t one big thing that makes a difference, it’s a combination of many little things; photographic variables.
As you read the rest of this post, think about which photographic variable(s) you need to focus on to take your work to the next level.
I like to look at it like a set of two buckets. One contains all of the photographic variables that are in your favour to get a great shot; things that are working FOR you. The second contains the photographic variables that are working AGAINST you and may take away from your photo.
The more variables you can put into the FOR bucket, the easier it will be for you to make photographs you love.
What photographic variables?
Depending on what and how you shoot, some variables will make a bigger difference than others. Some won’t even apply.
I’m not going to get into all the nitty gritty of every variable out there. What I will do is define some variable categories for you (with a few examples for each):
These are all the variables you deal with before the day of your shoot. Things like:
- What day and time you plan to shoot
- Location & talent choice
- Creation of your concept & mood board
These are incredibly important to your overall success. Remember, once you’re on shoot there’s not much you can do to change them.
It is more important to click with people than to click the shutter” – Alfred Eisenstaedt
Related to preproduction variables and carrying throughout the shoot are communication variables. These include:
- Enrolling other people in your vision
- Directing subjects and assistants
- Creating the environment for success
- Speaking the same language (literally)
In most types of photography, you’re going to have to speak to another human being at some point. It could be the talent, an assistant, your retoucher, a client, a potential buyer, someone who owns a location or studio you want to use or even a member of the general public.
So remember to sharpen your communication skills.
Technical Photographic Variables
This is the area that most photographers worry the most about to the detriment of the other photographic variables. That said, technical proficiency in the following can be a huge difference maker:
- Do you understand light & exposure? Both natural or artificial (or even together)?
- Do you use multiple techniques to capture the optimal data for your image?
- Have you customized your camera to optimize your effectiveness?
- Are your shots in focus and blurry where you want them to be?
- Do you anticipate the shot or just hit the shutter and hope for the best?
- Is your camera/lighting gear right for your vision and its operation conducive to your shooting style?
The more technical photographic variables you can put into the FOR bucket, the better you will be at problem-solving in difficult situations.
Artistic Photographic Variables
Next, we have artistic variables. Without mastering these photographic variables, your photos will never live up to your expectations. Some people come to them naturally, for others, it’s a process of discovery, practice and training their photographic eye.
For some people these variables come naturally (seemingly without effort), for others, it’s a process of discovery, practice and training their photographic eye.
- Is there a powerful “why” behind the images you take?
- Do you have a message you’re aiming to communicate with your photographs?
- Do you have a variety of compositional, photographic and design techniques in your repertoire?
- Have you developed a personal style?
- Can you communicate ideas and emotions via the various elements in your photographs?
These are hard questions, and that’s ok. They are what make photography so beautifully varied.
There is only one “you” in existence. No one sees the world quite like you do.
If you shoot outdoors at all, you’re well aware of the impact of the environment around you. Even in a studio setting, you don’t shoot in a vacuum, so keep these environmental variables in mind.
- Does the air temperature support your subject?
- Is the weather reflecting the story your creating?
- Are you going to have to deal with the general public getting in your shots?
Although it may not seem that way, you can (somewhat) bring environmental variables under your control during preproduction (by choosing the day you shoot based on the weather) and on shoot (by using sensory supports).
For example, if you want someone to give off a summery vibe on a cold day, offer them a hot drink and keep them covered by a warm jacket between shots.
But it’s not just for photographers shooting people. If you’re a food photographer shooting ice cream, you’ll give yourself more time to work in a cold room.
Of course at the end of the day the weather-person isn’t always right, and something you just have to deal with the cards that you’ve been given.
Often overlooked but critical are the emotional variables of everyone involved in the shoot (including you!).
- Does you talent feel set up success?
- Is your team positive, enthusiastic and deal well with problems that arise?
- How do you deal with setbacks and what is the vine that you create?
Don’t forget that “life happens.” Each person on set will not only bring their personality to the mix, but also every positive and negative thing that’s has occurred in the past 24 hours (and even a lifetime).
Finally, there’s a set of variables that occur after the shoot.
- Do you edit your photos?
- Are you able to edit an image in a way that reflects the story or feeling you’re creating?
- Do you apply retouching to eliminate problem areas and enhance the final product?
If you’re missing out on post-production, you missing a huge opportunity to take your work to the next level.
Let me know in the comments below or chat with me on Twitter.
The key to improving your work is picking the right variables to focus on.
Be specific, set goals and choose realistic benchmarks to track your progress. This works for beginner, intermediate and even advanced photographers.
Those photographers you look up to just have more variables in their FOR bucket than you do.
Challenge yourself to change
No matter how many things are in your FOR bucket, there’s always more you can tip in.
Get yourself out of your comfort zone to create opportunities learn how you can take things out of your AGAINST bucket and into your FOR bucket.
Where are you?
Looking at those photographic variables, what little things would make the biggest difference for you? In what areas can I write posts that would help you elevate your work?
Let me know in the comments below and I guarantee I will reply back!