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Setting the Tone: How to Take Powerful Pictures

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Rebecca is a bubbly freelance journalist who writes about tech, health and lifestyle.

Photography is one of the most powerful forms of modern art. As an art form that is driven by the artists own interpretation of the world around them, it could be argued that no two photos are ever the same. We frame our shots depending on what we chose to see rather than what realistically surrounds us, making photography surprisingly one of the most malleable expressions of creativity.

One of the largest challenges photographers often stumble across is conveying a message to their audience. The difference between private and professional photography is that an audience should not only be able to enjoy a professional photograph but also interpret its meaning.

Of course, all art forms are subjective to the viewer, but for new photographers aiming to spread their own artistic message, setting the correct tone has never been more important. For budding camera wizards and photographers looking to add some power into their picture taking, I have created my own personal guide to taking powerful pictures.

Framing Technique

Arguably, framing could be considered as one of the most important practices within photography. As an extended version of the photographer’s own eyes, framing can help shape the tone of the scene in mind and allow the artist to express their interpretation of the object in front of them.

In order to use framing effectively, we must first master the rule of thirds. According to the Digital Photography School: “The rule of thirds is a compositional guideline that breaks an image down into thirds (both horizontally and vertically) so you have nine pieces and four gridlines.”

When positioning a subject, I like to use the outer two sections of the grid, allowing for a larger area of negative space. This not only enhances the subject in an appealing composition but also highlights their surroundings if you're looking to tell a story.

When following the rule by positioning your key elements within one of the three gridline sections, left, right and the middle, I find that you’ll create a stronger composition.

Using the rule of thirds is most important when you want certain elements of your composition to stand out to the viewer.

For example in the photograph above, the subject (the man) is positioned within the centre of the grid, in order to draw focus to his surroundings and make him appear smaller within the scene of the picture.

This has been important when I have aimed to convey certain emotions within my work such as loneliness. In my photograph below, you can see that I have positioned the subject within the right-hand side of the grid while highlighting his desaturated surroundings to encapsulate the emotion within my work.

setting-the-tone-how-to-take-powerful-pictures

Use Colour To Create Power

Taking a photo is only the beginning of the process for most professional photographers. If you’re aiming to create a powerful composition, Photoshop is your new best friend. Editing important elements of your picture can bring the scene to life and add an overlaying tone to the nature of your piece.

For example, playing with colour is an easy way to convey emotion within your photography. For example, using desaturating filters and focussing on duller tones will aid colder and more raw emotion in comparison to using brightly saturated hues to create bolder scenes and positive power.

Better still, colour can be used to help you create juxtaposition within your photography which helps certain subjects to stand out.

setting-the-tone-how-to-take-powerful-pictures

For example, in this image, I enhanced the red tones within the composition in juxtaposition with a desaturated background allows the subject (the man) to appear more powerful within the piece and stand out amongst his surroundings.

Setting The Scene

Commonly forgotten, but often the most important factor, preparation is key when aiming to take a set of powerful photographs. Photographers need to set the scene in the same way artists prepare their paint palette. Don’t be afraid to try multiple camera angles and delve into busy streets for realistic shots of candid emotion. Some of my best street photography has centred around setting the scene. From organising equipment to positioning a range of camera angles, preparation makes a lot of difference if you're shooting candids.

Better still, prepare your equipment in advance. Some of the most powerful photographs are taken on the off chance. You never know when a golden compositional opportunity could arise, especially if you’re a street or wildlife based photographer.

Having your aperture and focus point set up in advance will put you at an advantage, as well as being prepared for all weather conditions. Polarized equipment, such as lens covers and glasses will also make the transition much easier and allow for a wider breadth of vision during particularly bright scenes.

As you continue to set the tone within your composition using elements of colour and framing techniques to convey powerful messages, enjoy creating pieces that don’t just speak to you, but to a wide audience.

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