Creativity and Awareness: Learning to See before the Capture

Ansel Adams: “You don’t take a photo – you make it.”

Photography is all about seeing. It is a continuous and continuous mental activity that we do every day as we go to school, work, travel, and so on.

Although this image has been digitally enhanced it still retains many elements that make it interesting.
The Adirondacks in Upstate New York

Do you remember playing “Punch Bug” as a child? You might have called out the color and “punch bug”, each time you saw a Volkswagen Beetle. After making it a habit to look for them in the game, you begin to notice Beetles more often. You might buy a car, but it is only when you drive it that you realize how many people on the road have the same car. You only notice it when you do a lot of practice looking for it or are involved with it. This is called “awareness”, because you are more aware of something if you have been exposed to it in some manner.

You will be more aware of what is around you and you will have more opportunities to capture it. Here are some elements and techniques that will help you train your eyes to create more interesting images.

COMPOSITION: THE ART OF COMPOSITION

Lines

I didn’t really study art until I was 33 years of age. I lived in St. Petersburg, and attended Eckerd College after completing a bachelor’s in Legal Studies. I chose to major in Visual Arts. I spent the whole semester working with lines in the first class. My first assignment was to use only sharpie and create faces with a limited number of straight lines and curves.

The faces became more like characters as I was able to free myself from more line restrictions.

The exercises grew on the previous exercise until I was able to become an abstract artist. It was an amazing exercise in creativity. Drawing and painting were the main activities, but photographing also requires lines, in the form S-Curves, leading lines, and patterns.

The S-Curve

You may find an image showing a road running through a scene very fascinating to look at. There is good reason. It is commonly known as an S-Curve. It helps the viewer to see an image from top to bottom and left to right (and vice versa).

This S-Curve takes you from the bottom to the top of the image by directing your attention to the flowerbed.
Toronto, Canada

Leading Lines

Leading lines connect the foreground and background of an image. They also give the image depth and dimension. They create a feeling of an infinite beyond. A good example of a leading line is a straight road, path or even a creek or river.

This illusion of infinity is created by the leading line of this path.
Madrid, Spain

This little creek links the background and the foreground.
Canada, Near Mont Tremblant

Patterns

Photographing patterns can be a great way to capture interesting elements. You can capture patterns such as symmetry and repetition in images. The image below shows a C-Curve that draws the viewer’s eyes to one side of the image. There are also repeated shadows, windows, and arches that draw attention to the image.

This image is a great example of a leading-line. It also has many repetitive elements.
Sevilla, Spain

Complementary colors for a pop factor

You may have learned about the color wheel and its primary, secondary, and tertiary colours in grade school. Color contrast can create balance and harmony in an image, as well as a pop of color. This is why complementary colors can be so effective in composition.

Use of complementary colors in red and green
Brooklyn Botanical Gardens

Orange and blue…

Capturing complementary orange and blue colors
Munich, Germany

Purple and yellow…

Use of complementary colors such as purple and yellow
New York Botanical Gardens Annual Orchid Show

Texture

The element of texture is another element that can make for interesting compositions. A macro image of a flower petal that conveys the sensation of velvet-like touch to the viewer can be used to photograph fur, wool, or as in this case, even the below.

This detail gives the petal a velvety feel, stimulating the viewer’s senses of touch.
New York Botanical Gardens Annual Orchid Show

Negative Space

Negative space is the space surrounding your main subject. This area is known as “positive” space. Negative space provides natural relief to the viewer’s eyes and helps prevent your image from looking too cluttered.

I like using negative space in my headshots and portraits (and here, a self-portrait…

Negative space can also be used to emphasize the main subject and draw the viewer’s attention to it more clearly.

Although the sky is textured, the negative space draws the attention to the statue.
Iwo Jima Monument, Arlington, Virginia

Close Crop

Cropping in close is the opposite of negative space. It’s used to remove distractions from a main subject but also to capture detail or for artistic purposes. This works great if your subject is in direct sunlight.

It is possible to capture a small crop of tigers in harsh sunlight.
Lowry Park Zoo in Tampa, Florida

Motion

A capture of motion is a great way to grab a viewer’s interest. The image below shows me focusing on the face of the guitarist. This allows the movement to shine through the rest of my image. It brings the image alive.

I am among the crowd that is watching a mariachi band and capture motion to bring my image alive.
Madrid, Spain

Light & Shadows

Photography is made up of light and shadows. After all, photography literally means “to draw using light”. The effects of light and shadows on surfaces can create patterns, which is what we know to be pleasing to the eye. It can also make the image appear darker or lighter than it actually is. However, the image’s most appealing part will usually attract the viewer’s attention first.

We have not only repetition with the columns but also light and shadows that create patterns on the ground and wall.
Sevilla, Spain

The brightest part in this image draws your attention first to Central Park, New York

RULE OF THE THIRDS and POINTS of IMPACT

The Rule of Thirds is a term almost everyone has heard of. A more pleasing composition is known to be more appealing to the eye than an image with a subject in the center. This composition is also more natural than images with the subject in the center.

The boat is located at the grid’s top left intersection point.
Niagara Falls, Canada

The Rule of Thirds refers to dividing your frame into three equal rows and three equal column = nine equal sections. Your object is to place your main subject in one of the four guidelines, preferentially at one of their intersection points.

FRAMING

Framing your subject is another useful tool for creating creative images. This can be done with a crook on the arm of a tree or a windowpane or arch of a doorway. Framing your subject can help to focus attention on it, similar to putting an image in a frame.

To frame the tranquil lake and the beaming sunlight, I used the curving arm a tree.
Fall at the Adirondacks, Upstate New York

This is a shot where I used an arch to frame the gentleman who was sitting on the stone wall in front.
Malaga, Spain

PERSPECTIVES & ANGLES

One of my mentors once said to me that if you want your photography to be better than 80% of all the other photography in the world, then change your perspective. This was some of the most valuable advice I have ever heard. You can take a picture by simply standing there and taking the shot. Your images will appear more like a snapshot. We want captivating images, not just photos!

I bent down to capture the tulips at their highest point.
Battery Park City in Spring

You can move around a scene to try different angles. For example, you could stand on a bench or wall and take pictures from below. You can also lie down on the ground to capture your subject’s view from below. This is called a “bug’s eyes view”. For a more realistic effect, you can get to the subject’s level. This is especially useful for photographing children and animals.

Photographing from the top.
Madrid, Spain

The image I have above I called “I Am Here”, because the shoes and pants are worn and dirty. Many people know I’m a traveller. This was my expression of my journeys. You can also lay down and shoot up, but in this image, I positioned my camera lens on the ground so that the tulips could be photographed from a bug’s eyes view.

Shooting from below
Brooklyn Botanical Garden

CREATIVE LENSES USE

You can sometimes get more creative with your photos by choosing the right lens. Wide angle lenses, also known as fisheye lenses, are great for capturing distortions in your images and giving them more power to grip the viewer. The image below was taken using a Canon 7D Mark II Camera and a Canon EF8-15mmF/4L Fisheye Zoom Lens. It shows children running through Fall leaves.

This image was made more dynamic by timing and a fun lens.
Storm King Art Center, Upstate New York

TIME

Sometimes it’s all about the perfect moment. Sometimes, life happens right in front of you. If you are lucky enough to be able to grab your camera and set your settings, you can capture the moment before it vanishes forever. You can also anticipate the moment. This works well when photographing animals and sports. One time, I spent almost an hour looking at the swimming patterns of the polar bears from a zoo’s window. I tried to figure out how to get the image sharpest possible without glare. The image was not as bad without the many breathing bubbles. However, there are still lessons to be learned about anticipating the actions of your subject.

I was walking past this alleyway when I noticed this couple and I ran fast to get the shot because I knew it would be a fleeting moment.
Malaga, Spain

It doesn’t matter if it’s your lucky moment like the one above or if you wait patiently for the right moment to come along, as I did in this image below, timing is key to creating beautiful images.

This image was actually taken by me as I sat waiting for someone to pass through the archway. It is a real shot of everyday life in Sevilla.
Sevilla, Spain

EXERCISES THAT HELP TRAIN YOUR EYE

You can develop an awareness of the photographic opportunities around your using the techniques and composition elements above to guide you. Here are some examples of starter exercises:

  1. Learn from the Masters how they use color, light and composition. Use these images as inspiration for your own photos.
  2. You can lock yourself in a place and take 100-150 photographs of different things within the room. After this exercise, you will be able to see things in a new way.
  3. Photograph only monochromatic or one-color objects.

Many books that include 365 Projects can be used to train your eye. But, if you want to get creative with shooting even the most mundane objects, you should go out more often.

LOOKING BEFORE YOU LEAP

Most likely, you’ve been taught to do it in camera and not worry about post-production. Post-production can be a great way to enhance images and sometimes create entirely new images depending on your skills. But the bottom line is you need a strong image. So practice with the goal to capture a creative image in camera.