Six Key Elements You Should Know To Make A Great Photo

There are moments when I feel like I am pulled in several directions at once, like an entire lifetime is lived in a span of a couple of weeks. I find myself wishing to freeze moments in time and hold on the days when my girls read their first book, ran into my arms when they fell down, played with Play-Doh or held my hands on walks. As a parent and a photographer I found out that my camera helps me to slow down, to block out the noise, and to preserve my own story. There are so many incredible moments to capture in child's life, but at times it can be really frustrating to know what to focus on. As a result, five hundred photos of one of my child with her teacups set up for her and her "stuffed" friends but not one printed and framed hanging on the wall.

lifestyle photography a girl on her rollers during golden hour by Anita Perminova

Over time and thousands photos of my children I have learned that the most powerful photos are the ones where we can immediately sense the who, what, where, when, why and how. We've all heard that a picture is worth a thousand words. But how does it really work? A photographer builds stories with a camera, which can both give him freedom and limit him. It all depends on the photographer's skills, his level of knowledge and photographic consciousness. Always remember that a camera is just a tool, the same as a pen or a brush. Exploring its possibilities and experimenting is a natural part of the creation process. Making first steps and learning the basics is tough, but you don't have to try everything. Try having a vision for what you are shooting. Who is your subject? What is the story you want to tell? What are the defining details you want to portray in this particular image? Is the location key to the story? Is this a new experience for them? Passion and understanding will make your photos honest and unique.

Storytelling itself is very creative and it's difficult to formulate any specific "techniques" to tell good stories. But definitely there is a structure. As any other properties of storytelling, when taking a photo you should comprise one or more of the following elements:

1. Give context to your subject through environmental portrait

The setting for your portrait plays a big role in the overall story you are communicating to your viewers. In the very beginning of my photography journey I was always overlooking this storytelling element, because I was more focused on taking close-up pictures of my girls. And sometimes it was really difficult to identify the moment when the picture was taken, was it a Christmas holiday or one of our summer trips to the beach. An environmental portrait is a good example of a photo that can combine impact and context. It has enough background to show to us where the subject is, which practically adds to the story. I often try to experiment with different camera angles. It is entirely up to you how much of the setting you decide to include. The environmental portrait helps us to remember where the story took place.

lifestyle photography a girl on a swing by Anita Perminova

"The image above was taken with my Sigma Art 35mm, I should step back enough to include the whole swing set, which was a new discovery for us. I have never seen this type of a swing, have you?"

2. Focus on details

Detail shots allow the viewer to dream up the story beyond the faces and places. Do not be afraid of focusing on hands, gestures or activities instead of faces or situations. Oftentimes I ask my children if I can do a special photo shoot of their favorite toys or their latest master pieces they created on one of the school projects. By the way, this is a wonderful way to get your children involved in documenting their everyday life and make them feel excited about it.

documentary photography two girls on a beach with a shell by Anita Perminova

"My girls love collecting shells when we are on the beach. They always run to show to me whenever they find any. I feel like capturing these details helps me to freeze moments in time allowing me to go back and re-live them once again."

3. Use available light around you

Slow down and be attentive to the light sources, observe the surroundings and estimate the quality and direction of light. Light helps to create a particular mood within the photograph and can bring emphasis to key elements within the frame. Interesting light really adds life to an image, light can help create depth and textures in an image by creating a mix of highlights and shadows. Sometimes, no matter how hard I try, my girls are not willing to get in the frame and take any directions from me. In this case, I just let them play and do their own things. In the mean time I look for my favorite spot of light, take some images without them and then I stay there and wait for the moment. Most of the times I end up with the shoot of my kids where I want them to be without their active participation.

natural light documentary photography a girl by a swimming pool with Olaf by Anita Perminova

"We were sitting in the last rays of the sun by a swimming pool. Of course I wanted my girls to shoot in this light but they were not having it. They were playing with their friends in the swimming pool. I walked around and took a few images without them, I found my favorite spot, got my camera all set and waited. One of my daughters came back to grab some of her toys. I took a photo without her being actively involved."

4. Evoke emotions with color

By using appropriate colors in our images we can better convey different emotions, make a stronger impact on the viewer, as well create a greater sense of depth (warmer colors vs. cooler colors and vice versa).

natural light lifestyle photography a girls with flowers during golden hour by Anita Perminova

"As the sun was almost touching the horizon, the color temperature was getting warm. Warm light is perceived as being comforting. Warm skin tones are seen as a sign of health. The light was taking on a golden glow.

5. Create a moment to capture

In order to tell a captivating story we want to have all the elements in a frame come together. Try to include more elements to create a stronger moment and think about how all of the elements of your photograph are going to work with to reinforce the message of your story.

documentary photography three women make a hair braid to a girl by Anita Perminova

"Beauty knows no pain" - my younger daughter wanted to have her hair braid made. Obviously, she was not enjoying the whole process too much. I wanted to capture this exact moment because it was telling me a lot about her personality."

6. Consider the composition

A well-thought composition can turn an ordinary scene into an image that grabs the viewers attention. There are numerous rules and guidelines for creating better composed images, but in the end it’s up to the photographer to find something that works for the given situation. I continuously study the work of the masters and of course shoot as much as possible to get practice which helps me inevitably to improve my composition skills.

documentary photography two girls on a beach by Anita Perminova

"The image above is a good example of how to draw the viewer’s eye into your subject. Leading lines can be an important tool in composition. In this image the lines allow the eye to travel around the frame without loosing the sight of the subject."

However, photography is not an exact science, it is a creative art. The creativity of building up a story in a photograph can be a difficult task. I have to admit it is difficult to have all of these elements come together in one frame. With practice and keeping the above in mind you will be able to generate more interesting photos and have something really special.