There is a lot of discussion at the moment about the power of photographs. They must be important, because I am often asked how to take better photographs. The reason most photographers hesitate when asked this question is not because they don't want to tell you, but because there is so much to tell and it's hard to sum up to 25 words of less. However, I have given it a go and have found that the steps below have helped some of the field staff I have trained to take better photograph.
NB - This advice is specifically for people working for NGOs who want decent photographs of their work that they can use in publicity material.
Essentially, every time you go out to cover a project, you should include three types of photographs:
Earlier this year I took some photos of a water project in the Turkana district of Kenya for a donor. Some of the images (right and below) are examples of these types of photographs.
What makes a good portrait? It basically comes down to two things - light and composition.
Light - Find a light source, such as a door or window, and ask the subject to face the light or stand next to the light source and photograph
Composition - Ask the subject to move so that the background is clean, fill the frame with their face or torso. Don't cut off the hands or fingers.
A good detail shot needs good composition (again) and focus - make it sharp - and try to get hands or feet in the shot to give it a sense of proportion.
Ask yourself, what is the point of the project. Why are you there? Is it an education project, then you need a shot of students reading or writing. For the Turkana water project, I also took shots of people drinking.
What makes a good context shot? Well, an image of the surrounding landscape or area is a nice start. Including a foreground, middleground and background will put the audience 'in the picture'. The context shot above makes good use of patterns and I do this often to good effect.
All of the professional photographers I have asked about their craft say the same thing. 'The best way to learn how to take photos is to take photos.' So, to get some practice, go and take at least ten shots of the following. Ok, not right now, but sometime over the next week:
Document something that is easy and accessible to you, such as your home or office. Take a portrait of your mother or colleague. The detail shot could be a book or a chair. The action shot could be the preparation of a meal or a colleague at the computer and so on. Keep it simple and focus on taking good photographs.
After you have taken them, select the image fro each category and try to figure out why you like it. Is it the lighting? Is it well lit? Is there space within the image or is it composed tightly. Also ask yourself what you could have done to make it better.