Take a Better Photo
Instructor John Hafey Shares His Best Tips
photograph by Kate Mohr
When we were going through the photos from our Photo Contest, we were amazed by the quality of the photos produced by the students of Greens Farms Academy. This lead us to wonder how their photos always come out so well. Perhaps the answer is their teacher, Mr. Hafey, who is the photography teacher and Visual Arts Department Chair at Greens Farms Academy. We asked him for tips to improve our own photos.
1. What are the three biggest mistakes you see in amateur photography? What are your solutions to fixing these problems?
It's not so much that there are mistakes in amateur photography, but more often a lack of awareness, experience, and clarity of purpose in what the photographer is trying to communicate that can cause less than amazing results—looking but not really seeing. Really good writers are usually also prolific readers. Making good images requires photographers to immerse themselves in visual media—prints, paintings, and drawings as well as contemporary photography and images from previous eras. By looking at imagery, photographers can derive an understanding and appreciation for the use of the elements of design; line, shape, balance, positive and negative space, how to frame and edit the elements within the image to direct the viewer where they want them to look in their photographs.
Photography, as coined by Herschel, literally means "writing with light." Image makers need to understand the action and quality of light, what the light is doing, and how to best use the light to effectively enhance and amplify the statements that they are trying to make. Image makers need to learn to use and create tonalities in their work and emphasize the qualities of light and dark. Additionally in making color imagery, photographers have to deal with the additional elements of hue and saturation, complimentary and adjacent colors, and when to use color and when a monochromatic image makes the stronger statement.
Photographers also need to discover where their images are coming from; what motivates them to pick up the camera; what they are responding to—a visual stimulus, or some emotion they need to express. Image makers should to anticipate what and how their viewers might perceive in their work. More interesting photographs do not always present the viewer with a neat package of all the answers, but ask the viewer to bring something to the work, to involve them with the image and make the viewer work a little also. Good photographs often ask more questions than they answer.
2. What is the best piece of advice you have given about photography? Why is this the best advise?
Photographers and people in most endeavors would be well served to follow the advise in the "Nike" advertisements: "Just Do It." Developing any skill requires experience, practice and feedback, and the only way to get that experience in photography is to practice the process of crafting images until the process becomes intuitive. Photographs are made, not taken. Photography is, ultimately a printmaking process involving the conscious effort to make a print not merely just take a moment out of time. Developing photographic skill really requires making lots of images studying them, learning from them, and then using that knowledge to make even more images. Each photograph can lead you somewhere that you have never been before, but you can't get there without "doing it."
3. How do you design your assignments?
We generally start by doing several assignments which involve the mechanical and technical aspects of photography, aperture, shutter speed, etc., and then move on to assignments which involve the elements of design, and then onto more conceptual assignments which require the students to become visual problem solvers, finding creative solutions to a challenge. Each assignment requires them to go somewhere that they haven't been before, not physically but conceptually. Assignments are structured to take them out of their comfort zone, to make them uncomfortable, challenge them, and force them to solve problems. I explain to them that everything has already been photographed and their job is to find new ways to see things and amaze me with their work and by doing that they amaze themselves.