Robert Capa, a famous photojournalist once said, “If your pictures aren’t good enough, you’re not close enough.” It’s not just about zooming in with your lens, either. It’s about getting physically closer to people and getting to know them better. It’s also about spending a little time with a stranger before taking their photo. That helps build the trust and comfort that’ll come through in your pictures. Walk up to your subject with a simple wave and a smile to help communicate that you mean no harm.
Ask permission to take a photo if they speak the same language as you. If you don’t share a language, try learning some basic phrases ahead of time, gesture at your camera and ask through expression. Of course if someone doesn’t want their picture taken, it’s imperative to respect their wishes and move on — people are always more important than photographs. National Geographic writes that “making great pictures is primarily a mental process.” What makes you want to photograph the person or place? How might you describe it to a friend, and what adjectives would you use? Are there details you can focus on that tell a story?
Maybe it’s a dry, arid desert, captured by focusing on the patterns of cracked earth. Or a prairie that’s photographed with the horizon at the bottom of the frame, to help create a sense of the open sky and tranquility. Or maybe it’s the story of a deft artisan, fingernails covered in wet clay as she molds a pot. When you’re on the road it can be tough to eat right and make sure you get all the right nutrients. I started taking daily supplements of Multi-Vitamin, Fish Oil capsules and Vitamin D and it helps a lot. Especially the Vitamin D since I don’t get to see the sun a lot during the winter in Sweden.
It’s difficult to recreate the grandeur of a vast landscape in the confines of a picture frame. But one way to add a sense of depth to your photos is to compose them with objects in the foreground that support the scene. It can be as simple as a winding road through a national park, or some rocks to show off the local geology.
If you’re taking photos of people during normal daylight hours, a quick way to get more flattering light is to move the person out of direct sunlight. The light is much “softer” and doesn’t cast stark, unflattering shadows across their facial features. Even better, have someone stand next to an open door or window as the single source of light.