As with many photographers, my photographic pursuits began with the snapshot – taking simple photographs of life events for the sake of historical record and future reminiscence. With my little Konica Minolta digital point-and-shoot, I would casually capture images of birthday parties, vacations, excursions around town, and daily life at my university (bear in mind that this was before the days of Facebook and Instagram). While these images did a fine job of capturing the memories of those events, the images themselves were generally uncreative, flat, and uninteresting to anyone outside my groups of friends. Now, with the ubiquitous camera phone and the convenience of the near-instantaneous post to your social network of choice, people’s lives have become inundated with these kinds of images. There’s obviously nothing wrong with taking snapshots. But for a novice photographer, it can be difficult to get away from this kind of aimless photography and move toward more thoughtful, intentional, and expressive photography.
Some professionals advise moving away from photographing family outings, household pets, and trips to the pub in order to concentrate on more dedicated applications of photography. The idea behind this photographic abstinence seems to be: If you remove “mundane” subjects from your photography, your photography will consequently become more interesting. But a recent blog post that I read encouraged photographers to do the opposite: Go ahead and take photos of outings with friends and family vacations, and use those events to practice your photographic technique and judgment. Don’t just take snapshots of your friends as they huddle together, smiling for the obligatory “cheese!”; capture their natural emotions and interactions with one another. Don’t just take 200 snapshots of your cat’s face; observe your cat’s behavior and try to catch it doing something other than sleeping. As a photographer who doesn’t get much time to shoot for the sake of practicing, most of my practice has come from this kind of exercise.
Recently, I had the honor of participating in an epic weekend – with sunshine, camaraderie, attending MLB, NHL, and NCAA March Madness games, and of course beer – for my friend Adam’s bachelor weekend. And while I could have taken a few hundred photos of us smiling in front of every stadium, mascot, and landmark, I instead tried to capture the celebration, hilarity, and the characters involved in this awesome weekend. These photos might not win any photography contests (although the guys in these photos might try to argue this point), but I think it made a difference to practice good composition, lighting, and judgment in order to produce more than just snapshots. More importantly, when you make the effort to capture good photographs of events like this one, the people in the photos will have images that are interesting, creative, and unique to remind them of good times and great memories.
It’s OK to take some posed pictures. But while you’re taking those shots, practice looking for weird backgrounds and props to make things more interesting
Take photos while you’re moving to help make your shots more spontaneous.
Sometimes it’s worth it to ask someone to pull over in the middle of the desert for a photo. Practice being creative, spontaneous, and ready for the photographic moment to present itself.