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How a Single Step Can Transform a Photograph

This post is part of a series called Where Do You Stand?.
Fresh Eyes Every Day: The Challenges and Rewards of Photographing Close to Home

When I was starting out as a photographer, the best advice I was given was "ask yourself, before you click the shutter, is this the best angle?" It is a question I continually ask myself in my head to this very day, and it's something you should be asking yourself, too.

The problem we often come across in digital photography is over shooting, assuming somewhere in the ten shots we took of the same subject, one has to jump out at us as great. However, if we don’t change our positioning, and our subject stays in the same pose, we really aren’t given many options when we get back to the computer to edit.

The key to shooting wisely and being creative with your shots is to take your time. Take time to review the image, whether it’s through your viewfinder before you click, or after you see it on the LCD screen to see if anything needs to be adjusted. By striving to be intentional with each shot you take, you’ll be thrilled with your sessions. Here are some examples of how a single step, a small movement in positioning, will improve the final image you take.

A Step Back to Frame Your Subject

I found the best angle I could to capture a church with very limited space to back up. This particular church in Dublin, Ireland had a fence around it. I used my widest angle lens (a 16mm) and took my first shot.


I noticed the foliage to the right that couldn’t be avoided then looked up and saw I was standing under a tree. I took a step back and positioned the tree’s leaves to hang down in the right spot and took my second shot.


Using foliage or other surrounding objects to frame your main subject can be a great compliment, especially if it’s against an open, blown out sky. You could also find a shrub and position yourself behind it, shooting through things to create a similar look. Instead of a plain shot of a building, it now reminds me of what else was around it.

A Step to the Side to Find the Proper Exposure

I welcome light from any angle as long as it is giving me the feeling I want, but certain times of the day can produce pretty harsh light. When looking for good angles in these situations, I often find myself relying on backlighting. It's flattering for people, but still works well with inanimate objects.

Take a look at this shot. It could easily be polished up by increasing the exposure in post-processing.


However, the details of the white flower and the white on the tablecloth are blown out on the right side of the image. Due to this, I took a step to my left, which backlit the floral centerpiece.


This image is much more workable and softer, giving me a more balanced light on the lower florals. I won’t have to do much editing with this image, because I captured it exactly as I wanted.

Hovering Over the Subject to Have a Smooth Background

I wanted a simple shot of the signature wedding drink, so I positioned it on the dessert table. This was during the reception where the guests were walking back and forth. My first shot didn't turn out so well.


Even though the background was out of focus, it was still a bit distracting. By moving the drink closer to the edge of the table and moving the camera positioning to be above the drink made for a much nicer and cleaner, less distracting shot. This move was only a few inches, and it made a huge difference.


This final shot focuses more on the drink. The first shot wasn’t terrible, and I probably would have still given it to the client if it were the only shot I had of the signature drink, but the second shot is a much better image.

A Step to the Side to Cover a Sign or Distraction

I am constantly checking the background distractions and trying to minimize them. It can save me so much time in post. We all know how frustrating it can be to clone out something that should have never been in the frame to begin with. I took this bride out of a dark room and in the middle of the walkway to get a portrait. Here is my first frame.


I noticed the green sign to the left of her head. I could easily edit it out in post, but how much easier was it for me not to move her, but for me to make a simple movement to the right and move my camera to a lower position. I positioned her head to block the sign and took this second shot.


Perfect. No cloning needed.

A Step to the Side to Make Lines Straight

Stairs, buildings and walkways can often be the tricky place to shoot. Even if I tried to fix the bottom brick planter to be straight in post, it would throw off the alignment of the door in the back. Sometimes the alignment issues are impossible to fix in post.


A step to my left gave me better positioning and I watched the lines of the building and the patio in my viewfinder. Angles are fine, just as long as they look intentional. In the first image, the lines didn’t look drastic enough to look intentional, and they looked sloppy and a little off as a result.


This shot was much better and the lines were straight, which meant that I was straight on with my subject. The other added benefit is that now one of my models was framed in the window.

Let's take a look at another example. This first shot has the distraction of the wall to the left and the lines aren’t straight.


Moving a step to the left straightened everything out, it created a more flattering frame of the subject by the window.


It's Just a Jump to the Left, and Then a Step the Right!

The idea of taking a step to the right or left seems like an easy piece of advice, but unless you practice it on every shoot, you won't reap the benefits. Don’t be afraid to take the first shot and review it to ensure it’s good enough. And remember, taking ten shots without moving your feet or moving the subject means you'll get ten images that look the same. It seems obvious, but we're all guilty of it.

You’ll often find that spending the small amount of time moving intentionally and thinking critically will benefit you in the long run, saving time in post production and increasing your creativity and photographic style.

What compositional techniques do you try to use every time you you're on a shoot? Leave them in the comments below!

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