“Ok, so you can’t really see it in the picture, but it was so cool,” is the way I talk about every picture I’ve ever taken. I spent 6 months in Europe in my early 20s, saw 7 countries and developed 12 rolls of film when I got home. Every single image was absolute shit. I will freely admit that I cried about how I had captured nothing but blurry, uninspired photos.
Which is why I laughed so hard when I asked Ian McCausland, a professional photographer, how to take a better picture. His actual open line was, “What does everyone tell you when they’re showing you a picture? ‘Ok, so you can’t really see it in the picture, but it was so cool.’ There’s a simple fix that I tell everyone: take two steps forward before you shoot.”
Ian is one of the blessed ones who found his passion early in life and has followed it to wonderful places. He picked up a camera in a high school class and never put it down. He made the transition from student in a dark room to professional with state-of-the-art technology. He launched and laboured over a project called Fiftyx50 and has photographed our city’s best and brightest. And the man just crushes an Instagram sunrise shot, proving an iPhone is all you need when the light is right, and your intention is pure.
Because intention is the secret to better pictures, Ian tells me.
“So you’ve found the nicest fountain in all of Italy. You take a picture from far off, and there’s some guy on a scooter rolling by in the corner and the whole thing is a bit underwhelming. Stop and think for a minute. Is it the architecture of the fountain that really blows your mind? Is it the way the water streams from that one particular stone carving? Is it the sound of the water as it streams into the pond below? What is it that you’re actually trying to capture? It’s your intention that matters. Figure that out and the pictures will get better.”
That makes sense, but there’s still the matter of technical improvement. My feeling about an image won’t magically make it better, will it? That’s where taking two steps forward comes in. It’s the physical manifestation of narrowing your intent. “If you move closer before you shoot that fountain, now the guy on the scooter has disappeared, and you’re starting to home in on what really matters,” Ian says.
In a photo-driven, Instagrammable world, taking a good photo is for more than just masters of the art like Ian. It’s for me and you, for your mom and your grandma, for work and for play, for story-telling and memories. Go ahead and learn to crop out the guy on the scooter. Your social media feed will thank you for it.
small//shift: Move two steps closer. Powerful photos are created with strong intent. Capture that feeling by stepping forward, closer to your subject, closer to whatever inspired you to take a picture in the first place. Turns out, both you and your camera need to focus on what’s in front of you.