Becoming a Better Photographer: Can You Just Follow Rules?

Ever since I can remember I have been fascinated with photos, diagrams and rich visual communication. When I was at school I struggled massively with English, reading and writing and it was only in my 20s that I found out I was dyslexic. To this day I have only read three novels and that list includes Harry Potter (sorry!). But give me a photo book and I can spend hours looking at it, pondering over the photos, and trying to see why they look so good. 

I took up photography when I was around thirteen years old and to say my first efforts were poor would be being kind. Unlike my friend at school who was an amazing cartoonist I couldn't naturally take good photos. Jump forward 30+ years and I consider myself a good landscape photographer.  How good is a matter of opinion but people buy my landscape prints and I feel I can usually find a good composition when I go out shooting. 

I was recently in the Faroe Islands and decided to make a video on the rules of photography. Truth be told I didn't get the time to complete it as I wanted but actually produced something that discussed the nature vs. nurture argument for photography which was probably a more compelling result.

Ansel Adams once said, "There are no rules for good photographs. There are just good photographs." 

And although I agree with the sentiment behind this quote I have actually spent the last few years building my YouTube channel and trying to explain to people what makes a good photo and how they can improve their photography. So I think there are rules or maybe best to call them guidelines that can help us get better.

The thing is that photography isn't quite like the art of drawing a cartoon. It is a combination of technical know how and artistic interpretation. If you just have one part of the puzzle you aren't likely to get the best results. Don't get me wrong, give an accomplished artist a camera phone and they would produce something superior to a less artistic person but you still need to understand a camera and how to use it.

However, when it comes down to it there are four elements that you need to master in photography and that is subject, light, composition and the timing of all of these as I mentioned in my video on the four tips for landscape photography.

It is really only the composition element that is the artistic one. How you go about placing all the elements in the scene in the most pleasing way. Or, perhaps more importantly, what do you leave out.

So can you learn this? Are there a set of rules for you to follow to improve your composition. Is there a limit to how good you can get by learning this and do you become more artistic?

In this video I talk more about photographs and why I think the key to learning to become a great photographer is in studying other great photographs. Take this image above for example. Can you say what makes it a good photo or what can be improved? Try it with a friend. Go through 10 photos that aren't yours and explain to each other why they are good or bad. You will be surprised how useful an exercise this is.

But even if you have all the elements in the same place you can learn to wait for the best conditions and get the timing right and how light makes a difference to the shot. Take a look at these two images below. The only difference is time. The light has changed significantly and the photographer moved but it was just a case of waiting. You are certainly not born with patience that is something that you master.

So take a look at the full video where I discuss light and simplicity in more detail.  It would be great to get your comments on there.  

Log in or register to post comments