“I share my own method.” – Ben Evans
Did you know that you can benefit from the Army’s way of doing things? Specifically by adopting their use of SOPs, or Standard Operating Procedures. These train the soldier to react automatically to certain situations to get the best results.
How do they apply to your photography? Well if you’ve ever been to a great location and come away a little disappointed with the photographs, you will find a standard approach a useful aid for getting consistently interesting photographs.
By reading on, you will learn my own standard approach for award-winning photography.
Control Your Perspective
As humans, we only see what we’re looking for, so by changing your focus, you can alter your perspective.
I have four different ways of photographing something to get the most out of it. This is the Four Keys SOP approach:
1. Start by using the camera to preserve your scene or subject. Imagine that you are creating a reference for someone to draw from. You want to get everything in the frame. Everything should be sharp, so use a small aperture like f/16 for maximum depth of field. You might need to use a tripod if your shutter speed is below 1/80 of a second. Include identifiable objects to give a sense of scale.
Consider photographing in the blue and golden hours for the best light. Postcard photos normally use this approach. Tourist photos are almost exclusively about preserving people at a location.
Show the Scene
2. We want to take our photography further, so after we’ve preserved the lay of the land, we move closer and photograph the details that interest us most. I look for parts of the scene that can stand alone as a good photograph.
This may mean using a macro lens and getting really close, but usually you’ll just want to think a bit about which patterns, colors, and details look best. Remember what we said in the book: what doesn’t add to your photograph detracts from it.
Focus On Details
3. Next you can move your attention to looking at your scene or subject as it appears in the moment. What does this mean? Well, normally people have a preconception of what they’re looking at, and this obscures the reality of it. For example, someone photographing the Eiffel Tower probably already has lots of images swimming about in their head. And that’s what they’ll try and take photos of.
But sometimes the Eiffel Tower is lit up with festive lights. Occasionally it’s shrouded in mist. And now and then there are demonstrations underneath. The point is that you can put aside any ideas that you might already have about a scene or subject and photograph what’s actually there in front of you at that moment.
If you can spare the time, it really helps to stay in one place for a few hours or come back a few months later and watch the world change.
Photograph the Moment
4. Finally, and most difficult, is to use your scene or subject symbolically so that the photograph transcends what’s in it. Your aim is to make a picture in which strangers can discover ideas and emotions. You can choose to make your message obvious or ambiguous. You might want to look for abstract photographs. Have a look at Rothko’s paintings or Minor White’s photographs for inspiration.
Help your viewers to generalize and make use of their preconceptions. Changing your white balance to the incandescent/tungsten preset can suggest a cold winter by making a daylight scene seem blue, for example. Color psychology is well documented, and even strong lines and patterns can tell a story or evoke an emotion.
The World Is Beautiful: You Don’t Need Photoshop
And that’s it! Experiment with the Four Keys SOP approach when you’re next out to find interesting new perspectives.
About the Author
Ben teaches photography courses and workshops in Barcelona with Barcelona Photography Courses and keeps a photoblog of fine art street photos of Barcelona at iBarcelona. He is the author of a book called Photography: The Few Things You Need To Know.
He shoots Nikon, Hasselblad, Apple (iPad 3), and those little throwaway waterproof film cameras with the plastic lenses.
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