Four Tips for Creating That Perfect Picture
Dealing with the struggles that every photographer faces in their quest for that one masterpiece
Have you ever taken the perfect picture, sat back, and just thought, “This is it. This is the picture,” before you ever put it through any editing applications? Before you’ve even touched the white balances, the contrast, the sharpness, it’s just beautiful? Yeah, me neither.
Lord knows I’ve tried to take that picture. That perfect snapshot of that moment that will live on, rose-tinted and perfect in my soul until I die. That memory of the love of my life walking three steps ahead of me to my car on our first date. The way the streetlights and the moonlight lit her form in perfect harmony – in a way that made my heart drop into my stomach and my legs wobble more than George Foreman in the eighth round.
So how do you do it? How do you spite the photography gods and their insistence that some memories aren’t meant to be captured on film? Well, as an amateur photographer who takes pictures of just about everything, I’ll show you what I’ve learned over the years. So, dear reader, here are my four tips for capturing that perfect moment and communicating those overwhelming feelings to anyone who’ll look:
1) Take More Pictures…Like a Lot More
The first piece of advice I can give to any amateur photographer looking for that perfect combination of editing effects is simply to take more pictures than you can count. Your camera is probably digital! There’s no film and you’re likely just storing photos in your camera until you can move them to your computer where they’ll float around in digital limbo until you’re ready to sift through them and use the ones that are perfect. The more pictures you take, the more likely you are to accidentally catch smaller moments that are captured better on film than in your memory. Maybe you didn’t see that little loving smile that your hardened grandfather flashed as your grandmother cracked that joke about you dancing naked to Frank Sinatra as a child. With any luck, one of the fifteen pictures that you took did. Maybe you didn’t notice the white spot on the deer’s rump that may look amazing when run through a color highlighter. Maybe one of the 19 pictures that you took caught a perfect angle of it as the deer turned to retreat into the forest. So, take those pictures! Take 14 more for laughs! It’ll be worth it when you’re sitting in front of your computer wishing you had taken a shot from a different angle.
2) Sit on Your Pictures
Personally, my photography process closely mirrors my writing process. Very rarely do I sit down in multiple, regularly scheduled sessions and gradually edit my photos to perfection. Rather, much of my best editing has come as a result of looking at an unedited picture, thinking about what I want to communicate to a viewer, and sporadically completing large portions of the editing process through creative breakthroughs. Maybe the picture that I’ve taken has something of an old-timey vibe and seems to do well with a little less color. But maybe, after looking at the photo for a time, I realize that the background is incredibly vibrant, and highlighting the background colors while leaving the foreground in black and white creates a beautiful juxtaposition of emotions and themes. Regardless, spending time to really decide what you want to communicate organizes and unifies the messaging in the picture. So, take one or two days to think of what it is you can do with a picture and how you would feel seeing that picture for the first time.
3) Do Your Homework
Often times, I find myself thinking of an excellent way to portray a photo – perhaps with an editing process that I’ve seen in the works of others or a unique layering method – but find myself either unable to do it justice with my own knowledge or unsure of where to even begin. In times like this, rather than abandoning the idea, resources like Google, YouTube, and the like tend to have tutorials about many of the editing methods that one could need. Additionally, by making an effort to learn nuanced editing methods, you also develop your knowledge in the various editing applications and expand your skill set, allowing both for more skillful editing processes and more creative breakthroughs. After all, how can you convey emotions as complex as what you felt deep in your heart with no knowledge of the complexities of the medium that you are using?
4) Play Around
Arguably the most important tip that I can give to anyone trying to find that perfect picture is that not every picture needs to be a masterpiece. Instead, playing around with the editing application using pictures that you’ve taken in the past is immensely helpful in learning the deeply nuanced parts of the application. Additionally, challenging myself to do things with photos that I don’t necessarily want to present to people sometimes leads to my finding even more interesting ways of presenting photos. For example, I once had a picture of my grandmother and grandfather that I originally presented as a black and white photo next to their wedding picture as a callback to the early days of their relationships. Out of boredom one day, I decided to see if I could colorize the old picture of them. Eventually, it became a side-by-side of the two photos that slowly became more vibrantly colored as the picture moved from left to right, showing the progression of their relationship with the progression of photography equipment.
After years of photography, I still find myself frustrated at my desk, trying to make myself feel the same emotions that I felt at the moment of that click. Hopefully, these tips will help to relieve the frustrations that a fellow photographer is feeling when the photography gods look down and laugh.