Photography: Developing Your Eye I

Daily Resources

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Photography: Developing Your Eye I is a 10-day photo challenge for bloggers of all photography levels, from beginning photobloggers to pro photographers. This fun, introductory course will help you hone your photographer’s eye and encourage you to post daily on your blog. You can use any camera you like: the lens on your phone, a point-and-shoot, or a dSLR.

For 10 days, we’ll give you a theme to inspire your image for the day, along with a related shooting tip. We’ll share advice on composition, image orientation, point of view, and color.

If you enjoy this course, continue on with Photography: Developing Your Eye II, which builds upon the skills and tips covered here.

Day One: “Home” — Get Oriented

Photo of the San Francisco Bay Bridge by Cheri Lucas Rowlands.

What does home look like to you? Photo of the San Francisco Bay Bridge by Cheri Lucas Rowlands.

If you’re just getting to know your camera, poke around. Press buttons. Find features like:

  • a switch to turn your auto-flash on/off
  • a button to zoom in and out
  • a switch to turn a grid on your screen on/off
  • other basic built-in editing tools

You won’t use these buttons and tools right away, but it’s good to know where they are.

Posting on the go? If you’re taking pictures from your iOS or Android device and want to draft and publish posts while you’re out and about, download the WordPress app (for iOS | for Android) and test it out!

Day Two: “Street” — Establishing Shot

As you look through your lens to compose your wide shot, think about and look for two basic components: a foreground and a background. The foreground is the part of your scene that’s nearest to the viewer, and where you can place a subject or focal point of your picture. In today’s featured image, the woman balancing fruit baskets is the subject in the foreground, and the storefronts behind her make up the background. Identify your foreground and background as you frame your snapshot.

When we say “wide angle,” we’re generally referring to a type of lens with a short focal length, and its “zoomed out” nature means it can capture more within the frame. But don’t worry about lenses right now! Just know that if you want to take an establishing shot, you’ll want to capture a wide view — rather than close-up view — of what you’re seeing.

Photo a street in Bairro Alto in Lisbon, Portugal, by Cheri Lucas Rowlands.

Photo a street in Bairro Alto in Lisbon, Portugal, by Cheri Lucas Rowlands.

Day Three: “Water” — Image Orientation

Humans have binocular vision — which means we have two eyes, adjacent to one another — and naturally scan a scene along a horizontal, rather than vertical, plane. When composing today’s photo of water, experiment with both horizontal (landscape) and vertical (portrait) orientations.

If you’re aiming for a wide establishing shot, what orientation works better? How does a vertical shot affect your scene? In today’s shipwreck image, the horizontal format captures the wide expanse of the sea in the background, which makes the focal point — the tip of the ship — all the more dramatic.

Before you draft your post, study the different shots you’ve taken. Publish your favorite version — or publish both and let your readers compare the two takes! Here’s a shot of a man jumping off a cliff in Ibiza, Spain — while a horizontal image could work, the vertical orientation adds drama by emphasizing the height of the cliff and the man’s plunge into the sea:

Vertical shot of a man jumping off a cliff at Cala Tarida on Ibiza by Cheri Lucas Rowlands.

Vertical shot of a man jumping off a cliff at Cala Tarida on Ibiza by Cheri Lucas Rowlands.

If you need inspiration, the submissions for this “One Shot, Two Ways” challenge show how others have tested horizontal and vertical versions of the same scene.

And if you’re interested in reading more about image orientation, check out photographer Jeff Sinon’s “Portrait or Landscape?” post on scouting the best shot.

Day Four: “Bliss” — Add a Caption

Bliss (noun): complete happiness, great joy, paradise, or heaven.

Captions are optional text fields that provide more info about your images, like the location, the date it was taken, and other details.

To add a caption, click on your image in your post editor to display options, which will appear at the top of the picture. Click on the speech bubble/balloon icon, which looks like this:

caption tool

When you click this button, a sample caption will display at the bottom of your image, which you can replace with your own. A short phrase or sentence will do.

enter a captionYou can link caption text as you would normal post text: highlight the words you’d like to link, and then click the Link button (the chain icon) in your post editor toolbar to insert your link.

Day Five: “Connect” — Tag Your Photo

Photo of couple holding hands by Cheri Lucas Rowlands.

Photo of couple holding hands by Cheri Lucas Rowlands.

Be sure to tag today’s post — and your posts in general — appropriately. Add broad tags, like “photography,” “iPhoneography,” or “film photography,” but also specific tags that describe your image. (The photo of the couple above, for example, could also be tagged with “love” and “engagement photography.”)

However, don’t over-tag! Between five to fifteen tags per post (or a combination of tags and categories) is good practice. If you over-tag your post, it won’t show up in the tag pages of other bloggers’ Reader feeds.

This resource on smart tagging offers more information.

Day Six: “Solitude” — The Rule of Thirds

When composing your solitude shot, think about the placement of your subject. Use the Rule of Thirds to place the subject in your frame, ideally at one of the intersections of these lines, or somewhere along them. In today’s beach image, the placement of the girl near the bottom-right doesn’t exactly follow this rule, but the grid is used as a guide to create an interesting composition — her aloneness is amplified by the open space to the left. This off-center placement also aligns with how our eyes naturally interact with images.

Your camera likely has the option to display this grid in your viewfinder or LCD screen, which can assist you in placing your subject.

Remember, also, that rules are meant to be bent and broken, especially since every image is different. Experiment with this grid as you frame your solitary subject, but it doesn’t have to dictate how you compose your final shot!

Read more tips about applying the Rule of Thirds to your images. The submissions from our Rule of Thirds photo challenge will give you shooting ideas, too.

Day Seven: “Big” — A Point of View

Not sure how to capture a shot from an unexpected angle? When you’re at a scene with your camera, move around. Study your setting. If you’re photographing a popular landmark, for instance, stand in a spot away from other people; discover uncommon vantage points. Point your camera at your subject from different angles and positions — swiveling LCD screens are perfect for this!

Consider these approaches:

  • Walk around your subject, if you can, to examine every possible perspective.
  • Crouch, squat, or kneel. Does this adjustment make your shot better?
  • Use something natural (window, tree, wall of a building, etc.) to frame your shot.
  • Get low, or better yet, lie on the ground — this is great for capturing skyscrapers.
  • Focus on a specific part of a person, object, or structure (instead of all of it) — or intentionally cut off a part of your subject or scene.
  • Place something in between you and your subject/scene.
  • Look over or through something — how does your view change?
Photo of the Eiffel Tower, from underneath, by Cheri Lucas Rowlands.

Photo of the Eiffel Tower, from underneath, by Cheri Lucas Rowlands.

Remember, also, that point of view is about more than just your physical perspective:

For me, point of view isn’t just determined by our physical surroundings. It’s also the creative stance you take when you shoot. Developing your own point of view means looking at the world through different lenses — maybe literally, and certainly figuratively. Investigate the world, think about what you find beautiful, and don’t allow convention to dictate an answer.

— Photographer Lynn Wohlers

Read more from Lynn Wohlers on establishing a point of view, or browse submissions from a previous photo challenge, An Unusual POV.

Day Eight: “Treasure” — Zoom In

So far, we’ve focused on establishing shots, horizontal and vertical images, and getting comfortable with moving around and experimenting with point of view. Today, get close to your subject.

Dragonfly resting on a branch in Ubud, Bali. Photo by Brie Anne Demkiw.

Dragonfly resting on a branch in Ubud, Bali. Photo by Brie Anne Demkiw.

As you photograph your treasure, consider photographer Brie Anne Demkiw’s tips on macro photography:

  • You don’t need special equipment to get a great close-up shot — any camera can do macro photography. Simple point-and-shoots and iPhones work great for capturing detail.
  • Try going abstract. Play around with how shapes, colors, and textures change as you get closer to your subject.
  • Experiment with shooting objects outdoors — shoot on a cloudy day for better lighting.

Day Nine: “A Pop of Color” — Incorporate Color

In today’s featured image, the color blue is whimsical yet strong. Sometimes, blue looks and feels soothing and serene, but it can also look and feel cold and apathetic. While other shades are eye-catching in their own ways, here, the blue works well. A red door might change the mood of the picture, for example, and signal excitement or danger.

As you look through your viewfinder today, think about how a color makes you feel. Calm? Agitated? Energetic? Somber? As you focus on one color, consider these tips:

  • Choose a bold shade against a neutral background, instead of several colors competing for attention in a scene.
  • Look for a strong color within a basic composition of uncomplicated lines — your pop of color will stand out more.
  • Continue to experiment with POV as you shoot your color-as-subject — the color may transform as you move.
  • Don’t ignore soft, pastel shades — colors like mint and pink can make statements, too.
  • Juxtapose pastels with black and darker shades.
  • When in doubt, pair an accent color with white — you’ll see its impact immediately.
A green door against a white wall in El Albayzín, Granada. Photo by Cheri Lucas Rowlands.

A green door against a white wall in El Albayzín, Granada. Photo by Cheri Lucas Rowlands.

Interested in a deeper, more technical explanation of color in photography? Dive into Ming Gullo’s two-part series: part one, on temperature and white balance; and part two, on hue, saturation, lightness, and contrast. You can also see examples of bloggers featuring color in their photographs in this previous photo challenge, Color.

Day Ten: “Architecture” — Go Monochrome

When we talk about monochrome in photography, we’re referring to images developed or executed in black and white or in varying tones of only one color.

Today, think about how black, white, gray, and the shades in between can interact in your frame in dynamic ways. As you compose your architecture shot, look for sharp lines, distinct patterns, defined shapes, large surface areas, and very light and very dark colors.

Compare the color and monochrome versions of today’s featured image — the lines, shapes, and surfaces come alive in both versions in different ways:

color versus monochrome

Photographer Merilee Mitchell, who blogs at The Gravel Ghost, often shoots in black and white:

It’s difficult to describe in words, but I innately know what something will look like in black and white. I see things geometrically: I sense large shapes in view, I see “values” (the degree of lights and darks) in a shot, and I know how they will translate.

If you’ve never shot in black in white, many devices and phone cameras let you switch to black and white shooting mode right in the camera. In the iPhone, for example, select the Mono, Tonal, or Noir settings to shoot in monochrome.

Or, shoot in color and convert your images to black and white (or grayscale) after you shoot, which is how Merilee works. You can convert your image in Photoshop or a free image editor like PicMonkey, GIMP, or Pixlr Express. The change is simple — for example, in PicMonkey, select “Colors” and then adjust the lever under “Saturation” to remove the color. Or, in Pixlr Express, click on “Adjustment,” then “Color,” and adjust the bar under “Saturation” to remove the color.

Learn more about black and white photography and get inspired by moody, dramatic images in Merilee’s great tutorial on shooting in black and white.