The Best Photography Advice I Ever Received

An article by David Brooks. Last updated: September 20, 2018

When I was studying photography in college we watched a National Geographic video about photography, much like I would imagine almost every class does. I vaguely remember some of the details of the shoots, some of the locations they used, but even though I don’t necessarily remember everything about it there was one tip that a photographer gave that stuck with me…

“Get in Close and Zoom”

This seemed ridiculous at the moment I heard it, but in a “it’s just crazy enough to work” sort of way. I mean, after-all, when you read the back of a point and shoot camera package it often says “stand about 3 – 10 feet away.” They don’t usually have a zoom on them either. Point and shoot photography (snapshot photography) is probably the most common background from which people enter photography, it was mine too. And what sense does it make to stand really close to something and then zoom in anyway? Tons. I tried it out and instantly my photographs were better. What it does is two-fold, at least.

1. It forces your shot to have more depth of field.

If you’re standing close to your subject your camera will want to focus on it, naturally. Meanwhile, since you’re so close to your subject the background will not be easily kept in focus. (The exception is if you’re shooting with a non-SLR digital camera, but that’s another topic to write about.) As we’ve all seen with photos that aren’t in focus it makes the things blurry. This adds a nice background for your photo, bringing the subject you want to photograph forward in the composition. Of course sometimes even with items in the background blurred you’ll be able to tell what it is, so you’ll still need to make sure that you don’t give people tree antlers or something equally distracting.

2. It makes composition easier.

Not only does it force depth of field but it helps make creating a composition, and the process of delivering a subject much easier. It basically centralizes the focus to one or two things, not all the other things in your photograph that could be potentially distracting. It’s not going to rid your photos of all distraction though, that’s something you have to learn to do with practice. Take a look at these two photos, well, they’re actually the same photo. The second one is cropped tighter to prove the point about the composition. I felt this shot was appropriate because it also shows you the first point as well, the blurry background. Ideally I would have been closer to the butterfly, adding some distance between the leaf in front of it and the butterfly itself. The closer you get, the easier it is to simplify your subject since it does the cropping naturally. Which of the two are more appealing?  

But what if I don’t have a zoom lens?

Get close anyway, just make sure you are far enough away that your camera can focus on your subject. All of the shots I took in college were taken with a lens that didn’t have any zoom whatsoever. By getting closer you still get the depth of field that you want in your photo, even if it’s not amplified with zoom. It will probably still help simplify your composition as well. So, the next time you’re out taking photos try it out. If you’re like me you’ll find that your photos get better very quickly.

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