Writing about camera gear or providing technical how-to tips is easy. But now I’m going to have a go at something much harder: tips on what to photograph and how to compose the shot.
It’s a Matter of Personal Style
Before we get into the specifics, please understand that I’m not suggesting that you slavishly try to copy what I do. Heck, you might not even like what I do—i.e. my style. Even if that is so, I hope this post will still inspire you in your search for your own photographic voice.
Talking of personal style, to my own eye at least, my photography has advanced most since I stopped shooting for the sailing magazines and stopped thinking about what they would like and buy—a very narrow and, to my mind, boring style—and started shooting purely to please myself. After all, how many more over-saturated sunset shots does this world need?
Photography as Part of Daily Life
Another important step in my journey as a photographer has been that I have now integrated my craft into our daily voyaging life. For me, this has proved to be much more realistic and enjoyable than trying to fit photography-only time to what is already a very full life. Sure, I still occasionally go out by myself with a tripod to try and make a killer landscape shot, but increasingly it’s the shots that capture the daily life or details of a place while out walking with Phyllis, or even running errands, that mean the most to me.
Share With Your Partner
The additional advantage of my developing style is that now my craft is a shared one. Although Phyllis has no interest in making photographs herself, because my photography is almost always part of our time out together, she has become part of the process: anticipating what I will shoot and discussing the composition afterward. In fact some of my favourite shots of the last couple of years are ones that Phyllis saw developing before I did—she pointed, I shot.
Not Snapshots, Made Photographs
Having said all that, I don’t want to leave you thinking that I now take snapshots. Far from it. Every photograph I make has been thought about and composed, even in a street shooting situation where the time from idea to shutter trip is just seconds. And that leads me to my single most important tip: think about what you want every photograph to say and the larger story they are part of. Make your photographs, don’t take them. For example, in the shot above I consciously decided to throw the foreground out of focus as well as include the grave stone.
Let’s Make This Hard
An anchored yacht lit by lovely long warm light, a scene that it is easy to make a pretty photograph from, like the one above. But I’m going to try something harder: I made the photos below around Charleston last winter as part of our daily life. Yes, it’s a picturesque city, but even so it’s all too easy to come away from any place with cluttered uninteresting photographs that fail to tell the story of the place and our time there. If you can make strong interesting photographs in a town, you can do it anywhere.
I hope the tips in the captions of the photos at the end of the post will inspire and help you to make photographs that please you and tell your story, wherever you happen to be. To really see the shots, click on the photos to enlarge them.
A Word About Gear
Many of the images below could have been made with a reasonably good point and shoot and all are within the capabilities of just about any mirrorless camera with the right lenses. In fact, the advent of the new small easy to carry mirrorless cameras has contributed hugely to my evolving and improving style. Good photography is not about big expensive gear.
I have tried to keep the captions as jargon free as possible. But explaining every photo term would make them overly long, so if you have any questions, please leave a comment below the photos. Likewise, if you have any photography tips that will help others.
John was born and brought up in Bermuda and started sailing as a child, racing locally and offshore before turning to cruising. He has sailed over 100,000 miles, most of it on his McCurdy & Rhodes 56, Morgan's Cloud, including eight ocean races to Bermuda, culminating in winning his class twice in the Newport Bermuda Race. He has skippered a series of voyages in the North Atlantic, the majority of which have been to the high latitudes. John has been helping others go voyaging by sharing his experience for 25 years, first in yachting magazines and, for the last 20 years, as co-editor/publisher of AAC.