Every picture teaches a lesson

©Neil Turner. Poole, Dorset. September 2008

We all know that “every picture tells a story” but how many people think that, as photographers, every picture teaches us a lesson. Grab a picture – any picture – and really look at it. What’s good about it? What could you improve if you went back and re-shot it? If it’s perfect, why is it perfect?

I spent a lot of time yesterday shooting on mixed light with no real option of lighting the scene (a busy retail mall with dozens of shops and lots of people). Looking back at the best of the shoot this morning I could see that every frame had one major feature: one thing that was the single most important part of the composition and it was obvious that I should always get the white balance right there and let the rest of the scene do what it will. I already knew this but it doesn’t hurt to look and re-affirm what you already know.

Every time you shoot pictures and every time you look at other people’s work you can learn lessons. If you don’t know how something was shot – see if the photographer will tell you.

Look for the big four factors: subject matter, composition, light and technical quality. Work out how those factors come together to create the whole. Work out if the picture still works if one or more of those factors is deficient. It’s amazing how often the most eye-catching images are not perfect in every way and it is equally interesting that some pictures that score full marks in all categories just seem boring and “too good to be true”.

Analysing your own work on a regular basis is a great way to get better. Getting together with others and discussing each others work is great too but, for my money, going over your own work on your own is a fabulous way to find your style and motivate yourself to do better and better.