A few weeks ago I posted this tip on Instagram:
Take the shot, then take another one and make it better than the first. While I'm shooting I constantly have this running through my head. "Make it better, make it better." It's not to say the first one is bad, but how can you improve upon it? Maybe it's moving an inch to the left, maybe it's taking a step back, maybe it's increasing your shutter speed to make sure there's no blur, maybe it's decreasing your shutter speed so that it's properly exposed. Challenge yourself with EACH AND EVERY FRAME to tell a better story and to get it better in camera. Sometimes taking a breath, moving a few steps and trying again can make the world of difference and can completely change your narrative. ⠀
I truly think this is critical in becoming a better photographer and wanted to show you a real life example of how I implement it.
I walked up the stairs one night to go to bed and noticed that my daughter had fallen asleep with her bedside lamp on. Since she’s usually sleeping in the pitch black, I went and grabbed my camera to document her peaceful slumber.
This was the first image I took - straight out of camera.
For reference, the settings for this and all following images are: ISO 500, 24mm, f/1.8, 1/100
It was ok, but I didn’t love the corner of the nightstand jutting into her head and I felt like I was shooting up her nose a bit (which as a general rule, you want to try and avoid).
I stood up slightly to fix those few things.
Although I thought this would work better, I soon realized it wasn’t working at all. The lamp, with it’s blown highlights (which was unavoidable in this scenario) was taking up too much for the frame and the bedside table felt clunky and like it wasn’t adding anything to the story. I also lost the stars on the wall from her projector.
I decided to switch angles completely and went overhead.
Much better, but I still wasn’t liking how the lamp made the left side of the frame so bright and I knew I wouldn’t be able to fix that in post processing.
I decided to come in tighter to cut the lamp right out of the frame. I moved the star projector a bit to the right so that it would still be in the frame.
This worked, but I was missing the stars on the wall, which for me, was an important part to include since we turn them on every night.
At this point I didn’t have a lot of other options if I stayed here, so I decided to go much wider. I flipped my screen out (my Nikon D750 has this ability) and used Live View to shoot straight down, holding the camera out from my body.
As soon as I took this version I knew that it was the final shot. The whole story was there. The lamp, the stars, her sleeping AND it had breathing room. Although the lamp is bright, because it’s not taking up a huge amount of the frame, I don’t feel like it’s too distracting, instead it’s simply the light illuminating the room.
In Lightroom I fixed up the colour a bit, straightened and cropped, and darkened up the left hand side of the frame to hide the floor vent and electrical cords.
So, although it’s not possible in every single scenario to work through an image like this, when you do have the time, keep challenging yourself. Think about what you can do to make your shot better. It might be composition or it might be your settings, but often there’s one small tweak you can make to make everything stronger.