Contributed web team blog from Doug Dugas, University Photographer in the Office of Communications & Marketing
Compelling photos on a website are paramount. The fact that you started reading this shows you also think that better images equate to better websites.
Notice I stated “better” images, not just photos shot by cousin Vinny who has the newest smart phone or the megapixel camera that makes you drool when you see it. Better is not just using a higher pixel count camera with all the latest gadgets. Better means the knowledge and experience a photographer has developed to create a “photographic eye.”
In fact, I believe the word “better” could be replaced by words that embody the content that is required of a good photo. More-descriptive words such as design, angle, depth, decisive moment, impactful, appropriate, dynamic, creative, visually stimulating, properly edited and stunning are just a few. Better web photos have substance.
Creating the eye takes time, study, practice, failures – you get the picture. But many photos can be improved by a few simple points.
I had a budding photographer tell me, “I wish I could read your mind when you are going through the process of taking photos.” In this article I will briefly try to explain to you what goes on in my mind when I am shooting images for the web.
I believe the best place to start is with the basic professional principles of what makes a good photographer. I’ll show you some of these basic steps in a made-up photo assignment.
Planning Your Photo
I will begin with a fictitious photo request that is very realistic in photography situations. The assignment: “Photograph the dean of the College of Business in front of the business building for an article about the dean.”
My brain is working – warning, really – that this could be scary. I want to shoot the dean outside in front of the building he works in. I need choose a time that the dean is available and also a time when the sunlight would be shining on the building with a gentle mist of light.
Early morning works for the business building because it faces east. I hope the dean can be free to shoot about 7:30 in the morning. I need to tell him to wear a red tie (because it’s the University’s color); that will also add a pop of color to the photo.
Lighting the dean will be simple, maybe only a silver reflector just below his waist. The light, although pretty, is also subtle, and I’ll need a silver reflector to reflect more light on the shadows of the face; this is not a job for a white reflector under these lighting conditions. The building, fortunately, will be lit by God.
Framing the Shot
I arrive a half hour early to plan the shoot in my mind and to visually predict the changing light and how that will impact the image when I start shooting.
When visualizing, and framing the shot, I always look at the background first and work my eye forward to the nearest element in relation to the camera lens.
The dean arrives on schedule and the sunlight is stunning. The building has a nice warm light making it glow. Let’s hurry and position the dean in front of the building to add depth. I will frame the image showing him from waist up with the rest of the frame showing the building. I want the building to be slightly out of focus, and the Dean to be the focal point and positioned off center, because symmetry can be boring.
With the framing complete, I have filled the frame with the subjects, the building, all of which represent “business” and the dean, the main subject. I will place him left of center where I can see the entry arch and door in the background. I’ll turn his body facing slightly to the camera’s right to allow the viewer’s eye to flow through the photo.
(Take time and look at the great paintings of the masters and be aware of how your eye moves through the great paintings. That’s design feng shui at its best.)
I’ve also looked at this setup from various angles, and eye level is working best for the design of this shot. Snap, snap, snap, 50 to 60 times, constantly thinking how I can make this shot better.
Editing the Shot
Now that the shoot is complete, the next step is editing. I look through the images, and like many times, I find only one shot I think is good. His expression is appropriate, the slight tilt of his head helps the viewer’s eye flow through the photo, and the reflections in the windows of the building are not distracting. I also was able to catch a good representation of University students walking in the far background as a bit of lagniappe.
The image is chosen — now comes the tweaking. When I am creating a photograph, my mind visualizes a completed photo that rarely materializes on the camera alone. Portraits are unique situations. In editing software, I normally clear temporary blemishes, diminish red tones, rosacea, and hair fly-aways. I also reduce shines on foreheads if distracting.
For campus images, I usually edit for a little more color saturation and I might darken some objects that seem to distract from subject. The best way to edit out happens when I am framing and taking the image. If you're shooting with a wide angle lens, it is possible to correct the exaggerating perspective in editing.
Always remember while editing: The subject is key. If it takes cropping to make that happen, that is something I commonly do. Again, fill the frame with the subject.
See the Difference
The photo on the left was shot in the middle of the afternoon with overly bright light, symmetrical framing, and unedited. The photo on the right was shot early in the morning with soft light and framed well (the subject is in the front and the building is secondary). See the difference?
Using this Method for Other Photos
This is just one simple scenario, but learning the basics from this fictitious shoot speaks volumes to other prospective images with photo challenges you might encounter for your website. The information about designing the frame may also help with your family vacation photos taken in front of the Yellowstone Park welcome sign.
Remember, do not just place the family near the sign and back up with your camera and shoot. Pose the family forward of the sign. With family filling a little more than half of the frame and the sign in the background covering and overlapping the rest of the frame, you’ll get a closer look at faces, not only a huge sign and some people you can’t see well near it.
Method is More Important than Camera Quality
These pointers are not limited to cameras with drooling appeal but also anyone with a fairly high-resolution smart phone camera — but a good quality camera and a person who knows how to use the camera is preferred.
Let me end with this: it is not so much the quality of the camera – although it helps – but the knowledgeable, trained and creative eye. The person with the “eye” will never be replaced by technology and will always have better photos on their websites. I believe even cousin Vinny could develop his “eye” by using these few pointers and, in the future, take quality photos that he could use to improve his website.