Shoot Like a Detective

31.07.2017 |

Episode #7 of the course The best photography hacks by Tom Ang



I hope you’re finding lots of inspiration and useful hacks from this course. So far, you have been able to put everything into immediate use. Today’s hack is different: it’s meant to be spread out over a longer period.


Short Form, Long Form

When you start photographing, all your shooting is short form. You photograph your dinner, your daughter, your desk. Each shot is often unrelated to the previous. That’s great fun and easy to do. What it doesn’t do is get you thinking like a photographer.

This hack is about developing the thought processes that lead to a more satisfying form of photography: the long form. In this, you take a favorite subject, and you photograph over a period of time. Each shot builds on the next, even if it’s a few days later. After a while, you create a set of pictures that are related and, above all, support and complement each other.


Working on Projects

Let me give you a genuine example from one of my workshops. A photographer said that he loved travelling but didn’t know to photograph. Snapping away at monuments and landscapes, while enjoyable, seemed a bit pointless. It turned out that one of his hobbies was apples, especially heritage varieties. It was obvious he should travel around the world photographing apples. What he needed help with was how exactly to do that: apples form the core (forgive the pun) of the subject, but you can also photograph everything around them:

• cultivation of apples—orchards, farms, picking

• apple growers, sellers, and experts—portraits of apple folk

• life in apple orchards—bird life, other plants, insects

• apples in art, in jewellery, in crafts—objects such as pottery decoration

As soon as we started thinking around the subject, the explosion of possibilities was thrilling, yet we confined our attention quite narrowly: to things related to apples. You can do the same for any subject that you like!


Shooting Like a Detective

So, today’s hack is to:

• Give yourself a fun project photographing in and around a theme.

It need not be rigid: of course, you can photograph other things as well. But try to make a thorough investigation of your subject. Take it from different angles at different times, think around the subject, try different techniques, AND ask lots of questions. Go into greater depth or spread out.

A few tips:

• Base your choice of theme or project on something that interests you, that you know about and are comfortable with.

• You don’t have to move out of your comfort zone (yet): if you like landscapes, think of a specialization you’d enjoy, e.g. trees in the landscape or paths and pathways.

• Start small and simply: as you gain in confidence, extend yourself.

• If an avenue for exploration opens up that you didn’t expect, just follow it. For example, my workshop photographer didn’t like making portraits, but once he had a good reason—to take pictures of apple growers—he got excited.

Many of the great works of photography are personal projects that a photographer pursued, be it family snaps (Jacque Henri Lartigue), abstract colors in landscape (Franco Fontana), homely still life (Josef Sudek), or aerial landscapes (Georg Gerster). Yours could be one of them!

Tomorrow, we share a few tips to sharpen your photo technique, which you can practice any time you have a spare moment.




Recommended book

Extraordinary Everyday Photography: Awaken Your Vision to Create Stunning Images Wherever You Are by Brenda Tharp, Jed Manwaring


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