Kevin Michael Connolly is not only an X-Games skier, world traveler and intrepid adrenaline junkie, but he’s also a photographer whose work has been featured at the Kennedy Center and in Outside Magazine. He offers his tips on how to capture unique, interesting and impressive photos during your next getaway.
1. There is no perfect picture.
At the end of the day, photography is simply a form of communication. With the ever-increasing efficiency of smartphone cameras and dSLRs, taking a technically sound photo is easier than ever. Want a picture of a beautiful sunset meticulously rendered for print? How about a perfectly exposed picture of your family? For the most part, it’s as easy as point and shoot. With that in mind, the real challenge is finding how to make your photos different than others. Often, I’ve found that involves a little elbow grease, an eye for interesting moments and a willingness to get your camera dirty.
2. Composition is more than just the rule of thirds.
It also has to do with how you line up your subject, foreground and background in relation to each other, so the story can be told. A photo of a man slamming a door might not seem like much, but add a crying child to the foreground, and meaning can suddenly be inferred. Placing something in the foreground can also create a sense of depth – especially when it comes to landscapes.
Robert Capa, arguably the most famous war photographer of the 20th century, said, “If your photographs aren't good enough, you're not close enough.” And if you look at some of his photographs, it shows. Not only do you give yourself more options when it comes to photographing different aspects of a situation, but you also involve yourself in the experience at hand. That feeling of being “in the moment” is what many of the best photojournalists strive to capture, and is pretty hard to get when shooting with a zoom lens from the side of the road.
4. Let people get comfortable with the camera.
Some of the most successful photos I’ve ever taken have been when the subject was entirely unaware of the camera. Have you ever been at a family gathering and had to take a group photo? Remember having to hold that smile while everyone waited for the camera to flash? What about when you have a wait again because the photo was blurry, or someone’s eyes were closed? Those photos – while they capture great memories – aren’t representative of people at their most sincere. To catch those moments of sincerity, though, you need to be quick. Whether it’s a hurried glance or a nervous scratch, knowing what you’re going to shoot before you bring the camera to your eye will often allow you to take a photo before the subject has time to put on their proper (and quite boring) “camera face.”
With the number of options that dSLRs, camera phone apps and Photoshop offers us, it’s easy to get enamored with all of the different ways to take photos. While all of these tools are powerful and useful at times, they distract from the simple task of learning how to take a good picture. Remember when I said that you should know the photo you want before you bring the camera to your eye? Well, if you’re trying to fire up a fancy filter or swapping out lenses – chances are you’re going to miss the moment.
Instead, start small. Learn and focus on only using 1 camera without filters or extra lenses. When I was shooting The Rolling Exhibition, the only way in which I was able photograph people as I did was by shooting surreptitiously from the hip. To do this, I had to know what my lens would be capturing without being able to look through the viewfinder. Practice and commitment to only 1 focal length allowed me to quickly shoot moments that would have otherwise slipped past my lens.
6. Find a unique point-of-view.
This one’s simple – find a physical point-of-view different than your typical eye-line. Eye-line for me means whatever you see when you’re standing up and looking straight ahead. It’s normal, common and almost always boring. Avoiding this angle could mean kneeling on the ground or climbing on a chair – it doesn’t matter so long as it shows us the normal in a new way.
7. Again – find a unique point of view.
The second interpretation of this tip is a bit more difficult. Find a point-of-view that has yet to be shown in the world. Read the winner’s page on the Pulitzer Prize’s website, and you’ll see the description under each recipient reflects a voice that isn’t typically heard. Dallas Kinney won the prize in 1970 for a unique series depicting Florida migrant workers. Matt Ranney won in 2005 for “the care and recovery of two students critically burned in a dormitory fire at Seton Hall University.” What all the finalists have in common is that they show the lives and voices of people we don’t often see. Finding those are hard, and it often involves going where others are uncomfortable – or unwilling – to go. Which brings me to my final tip…
8. Don’t coddle your camera.
You camera is a tool. It’s not a toy or a gadget or a fashion accessory. I’ve seen people purchase photo gear that could rival the Hubble in terms of space-age features. I’ve also seen that same gear be wasted by a photographer too afraid to take it out of the case. Your camera is only as good as the picture it can take, and if that ability is hampered by your fear of breaking something – then it’s not really that a great of a camera. At the very least, always carry a disposable camera with you when shooting. A disposable camera costs only about 5 bucks, and the freedom of knowing that you have nothing to lose is oftentimes your greatest asset. Happy shooting.