The most important thing you can do to improve your photography is to always take more than one shot. This may seem like a rudimentary bit of advice, but taking more then one photograph is not only the best, but also the fastest way to improve your photographic skills.
The advantages of taking more then one shot are numerous. First and foremost, when you take more then one shot you are increasing the likely-hood that you’ll get one that you, your subject, and/or your client, will like. You increase your chances of catching the moment, the expression, or the best pose. If you change your position when taking multiple shots you will also increase you chances of getting a more creative, unique or faltering angle. By changing your angle and the timing you also increase your chances of catching the best lighting.
There is an old adage that the difference between a snapshot photographer and a really serious photographer is that a snapshot photographer gets out of the car at a scenic outlook, takes a picture from the same lookout as 100 other tourists and get back in the car. A serious photographer hangs part way off the cliff, looking for the unique angle or perspective. That doesn’t mean you should literally hang off the cliff, but it does mean is that you have to be willing to try different things to capture a unique perspective. The difference between a good photo and a truly great photo is showing the viewer something ordinary from in a new and different angle. To make your photographs stand out from the crowd, begin by walking 360 degrees around the subject. Take photographs from every side. But don’t just stop there. Try lying down on the ground and taking a photograph of the subject from a low angle. Climb up on a chair or a table and try capturing a photograph from above the subject. What about tilting the camera and taking a canted or crooked angle?
This also means photographing your subject in a different light. If everyone photographs the Grand Canyon at sunset, what about photographing it at dawn or with the moon and the stars above? If there is something within hiking distance, or within a days drive of your house, try returning to this location and shooting it in all kinds of weather and at all times of the year. You may find that some of your best shots are from the days with bad weather or days that you might not have wanted to even getting out of bed.
The Next Step:
Once you get into the habit of shooting more then just one photo and looking for that unique angle or light, the next step is learning how to make sure you get the correct exposure. To do this, I suggest learning to shooting in bracketed mode. Bracketed mode means that you first take a photograph at what you, and the camera, perceive to be the correct exposure. Then look for the little +/- sign on your camera. Set this to +1 to take an exposure that in over by 1 stop. Then you set the camera to take a 3rd photo at -1, or one stop below “correct” exposure. A large majority of cameras can even be set to do this automatically.
When I take a photograph, I don’t just take one or two shots. I don’t just take three or four shots at a different angle. I set the camera on bracketed exposure with high-speed shutter release and I take at least three shots in quick succession of the exact same thing. Yes, this means I have a lot of redundancy in my photo shoots, but I also means that I a lot more options later on.
When you shoot in bracketing mode, you increase the chances of getting not just a correctly exposed photograph, but you also give yourself options. For example, by shooting bracketed photographs, you will find the sunset you thought was the correct exposure is actually brighter and more colorful under-exposed by one stop; or that shooting your kids or cats lying in the sunlight one stop over captures the emotion of the moment better. Shooting in bracketing mode also opens up your artwork up to the creative possibilities of alternative and post processed photography.
Beyond the Basics:
If you take more then one shot with your camera with a bracketed exposure of -1, 0 and +1, you can then use these three exposures to create an HDR photograph. HDR, or High Dynamic Range photographs, are great for situations with hard-to-capture contrast, such as the woods, where you have bright beams of sunlight shining down through the holes in the leaves and dark shadows in the roots and under-hanging branches. HDR photographs are also effective in photographing real estate and in creating marketing materials where you need your images to really stand out from a crowd or “pop” with intense color. You can create an HDR by using masks to blending layers in Photoshop or you can use a plug-in or special software like Photomatix Pro to do the job.
If you shoot multiple exposures inside of the camera, you can explore the effects of double and triple exposures. If you alter the focal length or focal point when shooting these overlapped images you can get a variety of abstract of effects in your photography. See my blog post: Effects of Focal Length Shift and Rotation in Multiple Exposures. Multiple exposure photography has also been used since the invention of photography to create a ghosting effect. By taking two photographs, one in which the objects in the frame are still and one in which an object moves through the shot you can create a ghost.
Regardless of your preferred photographic subject or your style, by always taking more then one photograph you increase your chances of getting a photograph that is not just good, but truly unique.
Erin Sparler is a fine art photographer and artist who specializes in multiple exposure photography. Her unique double, triple and quadruple exposure photographs can be seen on ErinSparler.com and her blog features numerous articles on photography, art, and art history. Erin’s photographs and artwork is licensable through Art4Licensing.com.