By Giulio Saggin
We live in an unprecedented age of photography, where there are over 2.5 billion smartphones in the world and it’s been estimated more photos were taken – and shared on social media – in 2015 than in the history of film photography before then.
This ‘smartphone generation’, whether they realise it or not, are recording history via their images. However, merely owning a camera, smartphone or otherwise (even a ‘really good’ camera), doesn’t make someone a photographer, just as owning a ‘really good’ laptop doesn’t make someone a writer.
During my time as national photo editor with ABC News Online I saw many photos taken by the smartphone generation. A good proportion of them were not-so-good, but only because the photographer didn’t know any better. I could see they were ‘so close’ and a few simple tips would have made all the difference.
When I joined ABC News Online as photo editor one of my jobs was to give reporters advice on how to take photos. I wondered how I could compress 20+ years experience into a presentation and thought about the line – ‘a picture shows something, a photo tells a story’. If a photo did tell a story, then it would have to employ the same techniques as those used in writing.
I began deconstructing photos and soon realised they were indeed visual stories structured in the same way as written stories. Both contained such things as finding an angle, using exciting copy, adding a human element and including all the necessary information … the list went on and on.
I set about constructing a presentation using visual examples to show this and when ABC reporters viewed it, they loved it. Others who saw my presentation also loved it, including journalism students I lectured (QUT among them). Photography had been translated into a universal language understood by everyone – the written word.
And because this language is universal, the techniques in my presentation – now a book – should be used in every photo you take, whether it be at a party, on holiday or walking down the street. After all, a story, visual or written, is always more interesting than a jumble of information.
Saggin’s Top Tips for Better Photos
- Find an angle
All stories have a point – an angle – otherwise it’s a boring collection of words, written or spoken. We see life at eye level, so photographers try as much as possible to find an angle – crouch, sit, stand on something – to make the point of view more interesting for the viewer. If you can’t move your subject, move yourself.
- Add a human element
News stories have quotes. News photos have people. We, as humans, are interested when we see other humans. Rain pouring from the sky during a downpour can look good but someone running through pouring rain with no umbrella adds interest. We can empathise because we have all been there.
- Use exciting copy
The best way to get exciting copy into your visual story is to get your subject doing something. This usually means getting the hands to do something. There is nothing worse than seeing hands hanging by someone’s side. Even hands in pockets or arms folded is more interesting than hanging by the sides.
- Holding your camera
Smartphones and other hand held devices are designed to be held vertically, so people instinctively turning them around and take a vertical image. Instinct or not, we live in a horizontal world. We scan the horizon ‘left to right’ and not ‘up and down’, the same as a street, a room, a football field, a flood … the list goes on. Our TVs and movie screens are horizontal for a reason. A well-taken photo and a well-written story are devoid of useless information. Most vertical images show the relevant visual information in the centre of the frame, with useless information filling the top and bottom of the frame.
Giulio Saggin is the former national photo editor with ABC News Online and author of “You, The Citizen Photographer: Telling Visual Stories” – http://youthecitizenphotographer.blogspot.com.au/