How to Take Compelling Photographs

One of the keys to a good photograph is its ability to tell a story. To be able to do so effectively, a photographer has to take many different variables into consideration. During the hour long seminar conducted by Marcus Donner, the professional photographer shares a few of his insights, tips, and techniques he has established throughout his 20 years of creating compelling images. Watch and learn below:

Keys To Getting a Good Photo

  • Show genuine interest in the people you are photographing.
  • Establish trust between subject and photographer. Let the subject know who you are and what you plan on doing with the images.
  • Smile when you are interacting with a subject. Be friendly, especially with strangers.
  • Don’t forget to have a subject sign a release!
  • When working on street photography, acting like a tourist can be more effective than trying to sneak in a picture. Sneakiness builds distrust.
  • Be sure to display confidence and leadership during assignment photoshoots.

Finding Quality in Quantity

Among some of the other sound advice Donner explores is taking advantage of the large quantities of images shooting digital affords photographers, a privilege many were denied of when shooting on film because of the high cost involved.


Donner points out that the average number of photographs taken by a single photographer on assignment for National Geographic in 2000, when they were still not fully digital was 29,000 images. Of those 29,000 an average of 15 were selected to use for print.

“There was 1,933 pictures for every one picture you saw in [National Geographic]. Why would they do that? The answer is because we’re not looking for good pictures, we’re not looking for very good pictures. We’re looking for the best pictures, excellent pictures.”

how to take compelling photos

Donner further explains, “If you’re going to be a good storyteller you have to look for other pictures.” While on assignment photographing white water rafters, Donner made sure to take full advantage of the opportunity of being in such a beautiful setting by also finding things to photograph other than the rafters, such as the image of the flowing stream above.

One last bit of advice: Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Even the professionals make mistakes, it is how we learn to improve our skills.

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