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Peter Power/Peter Power/The Globe and Mail

It is far too common that amateur photographers, excited by a beautiful scene or an event unfolding before their eyes, will simply raise the camera to their eye and release the shutter button. It is more likely than not that an image made in this manner will perhaps be a record of what was viewed at that moment, but would hardly be considered an excellent photograph.

One of the easiest ways to improve upon this scenario has little or nothing to do with our equipment, but everything to do with your eyes and your curiosity.

This tip is all about identifying what are the key elements in your scene that have inspired you to want to make a photograph, and then taking some time to explore the possible angles to shoot from. The reasons for doing so are both aesthetic and practical.

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When you think the moment is right to release your camera's shutter, mentally work through this checklist to get the best out of every opportunity:

  1. Use your eyes. Determine what about the scene is motivating you to make a photograph and work to emphasize it.
  2. Move your feet. Move to ensure that only the elements relevant to your photograph fill your frame. This may be dependant upon the lens(es) you have available to you, and is best suited for the type of image you want.
  3. Clean up the background. Once you know what your focus is, you can look around to check for distractions. Is there a post growing our of someone's head? Does the subject get lost in the background? Is the light better from a different angle? Sometimes any or all of these things can be eliminated or improved by moving only slightly from side to side, or even up or down.
  4. Consider your perspective. What are you trying to make the viewer feel when appreciating your work? If you are photographing a child for example, or a pet, does the image work best looking down on the child, looking up at the child, or perhaps taken at the child's level?
  5. Pick and angle for emphasis.Does the image you want work best shot straight on, or would it be better to get low, and shoot up? Or is there a way to get above the scene and look down on it. Crowds for example often look best when shot from above, but a rock star on stage, or a child on stage singing might also look good if shot from a low angle without a distracting background.
  6. Use layers. Many professional photographers will use objects in their foreground to help frame the focus of their images. Often you may find that an overall scene, although quite interesting to look at, may lack some elements to help it make an attractive photograph. By moving around and surveying your surroundings it may be possible to find some "shapes" that will help frame your subjects, and perhaps draw the viewer's eye into the photograph more quickly. This technique also helps to eliminate portions of the frame that may be distracting to the overall image.

The thing to remember is that what we see with our naked eye does not readily translate onto film or into pixels in a digital camera without the photographer using all of the many techniques available. Among other things you need to understand is how your camera works, what effects different lenses can provide, and how to see, create, or manipulate light. But if you don't find yourself walking around your subjects and touching a knee to the ground on occasion then you're probably not working hard enough to make your images as strong as they might possibly be.

Click here for more about Peter Power and a portfolio of his work.

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