Seeing the world through a lens
At a recent photography seminar in Topeka, I picked up a few tips to share with Mirror readers.
National Geographic photographer Jim Richardson, spoke to a group of about 300 who attended the meeting. Richardson, who grew up in Kansas and lives in Lindsborg, has done freelance photography for National Geographic for 20 years.
In Kansas, Richardson is most recently known as the photographer responsible for the spread of Midwest photos in a 2004 issue of National Geographic. The article included photos taken in Cuba, Kan., where Richardson photographed the type of scene recognizable in small towns every day.
Richardson's talk included, "Rules of the photo road 101."
But he qualified his advice by saying, "The rules do work, unless you use them too much. And then they don't work."
In other words, when taking photos, follow the rules, but sometimes it's the unique angle, lighting or composition that make the difference between an OK photo and a great photo -- the type for which Richardson is known.
His practical tips included these pointers:
- Don't put the horizon in the middle, instead put it in the upper third or the lower third.
- Don't center subjects.
- Look for visual patterns. He compared photography to building structures from Legos. "Make what you can out of the pieces you've got," Richardson said.
Patterns are what make a photo interesting, he said, adding, "Patterns set the rhythm, look for the grace notes."
- Get out early and stay late. The most dramatic lighting occurs during the hour after sunrise and the hour before sunset.
- Look for interesting colors and lights. If it catches your eye, chances are it will look make a good photo.
For instance, Richardson showed a photo he took of the inside of a cathedral in Europe. He'd gone around the outside and taken the traditional shots. Then when inside, he noticed pastel prisms of light shining on the cathedral's stone floor. That was the photo that landed in a magazine.
- Frame subjects when possible. Use doorways or other strong shapes.
- Omit the clutter. "If it isn't contributing to the picture, it's distracting," Richardson said.
And finally, Richardson issued this edict for anyone who takes photos to keep in mind: "Thou shalt not be boring."
As photo trends have turned away from film and toward digital, Richardson followed suit. When he bought new digital cameras, he sold his film cameras.
Richardson said photography is one of those fields where you have to get out in the public.
"There's luck and serendipity that the world has to offer us when we go out and do these kind of things."
Richardson encouraged photographers to branch out.
"Virtually nobody makes a living going out and doing editorial-photography from just the photographs," Richardson said.
Along with his photography, he and his wife sell copies of his photos, he does public speaking, leads workshops, and the couple operate an art gallery in Lindsborg.
Richardson said for a photo to be successful, it has to be shown to others.
"A picture doesn't communicate anything until somebody sees it -- until they look at it, it is mute," Richardson said. "The picture, if it's really successful, will eventually take on a life of its own."