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Beginners' guide to photography Part 3 - creating a theme when taking photos

Beginners' guide to photography Part 3 - creating a theme when taking photos - In part 3 of Michael Jenkins guide to beginning photography he suggests we choose a theme for our photography

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Category : General Photography
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The Photo Story
Words& Pictures Michael Jenkins
This column started with the idea of helping young photographers to take better pictures. So, with the school holidays upon us, why not get out of your chair, switch off the computer or video game player and get out and about with your camera? The best way to learn to take better photographs is simply to take photographs.
Now, I know that throughout this series so far I have suggested that taking lots of pictures is expensive and that you should concentrate on taking less photos but making them good images. However, one of the keys to taking better photographs is to have a goal in mind before you press the shutter. Professional photographers often work on assignments from other people, such as magazine editors. Even freelance photographers should have a market in mind before pressing the shutter. As young or new photographers we can learn from this. We may not have an assignment from a magazine, but we could set an assignment for ourselves. One of the best ways to do this is to create a photo story.

A Picture Paints A Thousand Words
You might think that telling a story with your photographs is difficult. But look at the articles here at ePHOTOzine. They are all accompanied by pictures. Basically, they are all photo stories. All right, some of them are articles about photographic locations and some of them are about the photographers and some of them are about techniques. Still, they are all photo stories.

Here is something else you may want to consider. I'm sure you've heard people say, 'A picture paints a thousand words.' You may even have said it yourself. The lesson is that, to quote another proverb, 'Every picture tells a story.' You can make the most of these facts by using your pictures to tell your story.

What does this picture say?

Choosing a Theme
So, how do you go about choosing a theme? First of all, what interests you? You may want to take photos of things to do with your hobby or your friends. Are you going on holiday? Try making a photographic record of your adventure.
Even if you are staying at home, go for a walk around your local area and see what there is of interest. Most people know very little about their own town, so take a look as if you were a visiting tourist. You will be amazed at what sights there are to see in your own area.

If you feel like going farther afield, get on your bike. Here in Britain, there is now a National Cycle Network of suitable off-road tracks. Many of them are along disused railway lines and so they are fairly flat. They also pass through some beautiful scenery.
One of the chief causes for concern about young people that has been highlighted recently is the lack of exercise that they get. Going for a walk or a bike ride, and taking your camera with you, will help you get some exercise whilst doing something you enjoy.
Cycling with your camera will help you see more of your local area, but make sure you protect your camera from accidents. (Will: Don't forget a helmet for your head too!)  

At this point it is worth mentioning some precautions you should take if you are going walking or cycling.

  • Always tell someone your planned route.
  • Take a rucksack with extra clothing, including wet weather gear, some food and water.
  • Carry a torch and a whistle for emergencies. The internationally recognised emergency signal is six blasts of the whistle.
  • If you have a mobile phone, take it with you.
  • If possible, go with someone else.
  • Stick to the proper route. More than one photographer has been injured, or worse, by going off the beaten track to get that perfect photo. So, in addition, be extra careful with cliff edges, and near water.

Plan Your Story
As I mentioned earlier, you should have a purpose in mind before pressing the shutter. That means you have to know what you are going to do with the photo. You can still take snapshots, of course, but most of the photographs for your story should be planned.

Think about what you want to say. Whether you are creating a story about your local area or your holiday destination, get some leaflets from the Tourist Information Office. Look at local postcards and try to take a few similar pictures like this typical postcard view.

Next, try to find some unusual views. These may be details of certain features, or they may be taken from unusual angles. If you are a young person, you have a unique viewpoint; you are probably shorter than many other people, giving you a view of the world that many adults have forgotten. If you are a little taller, try kneeling down to get a low angle.

In all the years I have been visiting Tenby in South Wales, this summer was the first time I noticed this clock in the side of a building in the main street.



Another interesting possibility is to frame your image. I will say more about this in a future article. For now, consider using a window to frame your scene.


This unusual view of Tenby's North Beach was taken through a window. Most people who have seen it like the simplicity of the composition.

Putting It All Together
When you have taken all the photographs you need, lay them all out on a table and pick the best.
Although you will have planned your story, you may find that some of your photographs are not suitable. It might be that they are out of focus or too light or too dark; it may be that they just do not look right in the company of the other pictures; or you might decide, looking at all the pictures together, that you simply want to tell your story from a slightly different angle.

Choose six photos and frame them together.

Select the best six to twelve images. Don't worry if you cannot find six that satisfy you. The important thing is that it tells your story in your way. If that means including less photos, that's fine.
Next, mount your prints in an album and print labels to stick underneath them. Alternatively, if you are feeling more adventurous, you could frame the best six images as a set.
If you really feel like telling the story, type out about one thousand words, explaining what your pictures show; where you took them and why you like the images. Show how they fit together.

Finally, don't stop at one story. Go out and produce more. Having a goal in mind before pressing the shutter will help you make and take better photos.

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