Portrait, lifestyle and food photographer Liz Seabrook is at her happiest when she's snapping new people and new places. It's what she knows best and what she loves to do. To help you spruce up your future photographs, we asked the London-based creative for her best tips when it comes to capturing our lives through the lens.
The key thing that’s going to make your shots look good is the way you use light. Usually, this means never using your on-camera flash, whether using a full camera or a phone (unless you’re going for that Jeurgen Teller point-and-click look – in which case, flash away!) In the same vein, unless you're photographing a lit lamp or using one as a prop for ambience, turn what we call in the industry the “house lights” off.
A useful way to begin thinking more critically about light is to choose a room at home and notice how the light changes in it throughout the day. Perhaps even choose something to photograph over the course of the day to see how the shape of the light changes around it. Try this on a sunny day and a cloudy day, and think about the difference.
Decide if light is going to be a feature, or if you’d simply like your scene to be illuminated. If it’s the latter, you want to focus on finding softer corners away from direct sunlight so that shadows are less strong. Most commercial product photography and fashion imagery is shot with diffused, softer light.
If you’ve looked into anything to do with photography and composition, you’ll have found the term “the rule of thirds”. Imagine that the image is divided into a grid of nine; your subject should sit on or inside one of these sections. If you were taking a picture of a landscape, you could choose for the land to take up the bottom third of the image and the sky would occupy the top two thirds. It’s always worth using the rule of thirds as a starting point and then seeing how you can play with it. Always get the horizon straight.
My favourite compositional tip, which I will forever practice and preach, is that you should move yourself rather than relying on a zoom lens. If you’re too far from your subject, get closer; if you’re too close, step back. Step to the side to see how that changes the shot. Play with your angles. Zoom yourself.
We all love a filter, but they can lead to a mismatch of images which don’t sit nicely together. Whether it’s for your grid or your portfolio, think about your aesthetic. Do you like high contrast and saturation or muted, softer tones? Do you like your images to feel warmer or cooler? If you’re trying to make a photo work by throwing a lot of filters at it, consider that it might just be a bad image.
Personally, I prefer to add a touch of warmth, enough contrast to just make the image pop (while protecting the highlights) and I usually prefer a darker image with texture to one that feels very clean and bright.
If in doubt, shoot something straight on, keeping the rule of thirds in mind. If you’re going to experiment with angles, think about who and what you’re shooting and what you want to convey. Shooting things from underneath can look great – think streetwear campaigns – but your friend who’s sensitive about their double chin won’t thank you. Equally, it tends to make things look more imposing. If you want your sandwich to look epic, shoot it from below.
If there’s something that compromises the frame you want to achieve, can you move whatever's in the way? Can you crop in closer? For a long time I thought cropping an image after taking it was a sign that I’d taken a bad photo. This is often true. Try to think about your crops beforehand and get them in-camera. That said, a crop can transform a boring image into a much more interesting one.
Look at other people’s images so long as they inspire you. What can you learn from them? But always keep in your mind that comparison is the thief of joy. As soon as gazing at other people’s images turns from admiration to jealousy, stop. Get out your camera instead. If I have one tip for keeping interested in your work, it’s remembering to play with your imagery. If you usually shoot still life, try taking some portraits. If you take a lot of pictures of other people, turn the camera on yourself. Trying something new will usually lead somewhere positive, even if that’s remembering that you love the way and things you usually choose to shoot.
I love taking pictures of people. For me, the most important element in a portrait is that the person in front of your lens is feeling comfortable so that they can open up to you and relax. Distraction is often your friend when taking a portrait. When I’m photographing a person one-to-one, I talk, talk, talk. If someone is feeling uncomfortable, silence is deafening. Talking to someone (or leaving pauses) can also help to evoke the feeling you’re looking for in an image.
Personally, I think that there are too many brooding pictures of people looking wise in the world, so I love to include images of people laughing in an edit. However, serious subjects require serious faces; I once had to talk to my friend Julie who’s a chef – and a notorious smiler – about industrial inequality for a solid ten minutes to get her looking sufficiently moody for a portrait to accompany stories on these same subject matters.
~ Find the light
~ Zoom yourself
~ Pick your new favourite filter and stick with it
~ Find your angle and don’t compromise
~ Get inspired but don’t get envious
~ Capture the moments in between the Kodak smiles
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