How to Make a Successful Snapshot

Sunlit spire set against a blue sky at St. Paul's Cathedral Melbourne.

It’s hard to imagine a more straightforward architectural photograph than this image of St. Paul’s Cathedral in the heart of Melbourne, Australia.

I’ve entered the cathedral on a couple of occasions, each time being impressed with the ambience. Churches, cathedrals and other places of workshop have that power, regardless of the religion to which they’re associated. They’ll wonderful places in which to sit and meditate and also to consider your place and purpose in the world.

While I’ve found the inside of St. Paul’s Cathedral to be quite inspirational, the outside is no more impressive than so many other large religious buildings I’ve had the good fortune to visit around the world.

What’s more, this wasn’t a particularly carefully constructed photo made within the contemplative bounds of a sacred space. I was outside, on a very busy city corner, teaching a bunch of amateur photographers some fundamental camera handling aspects. To demonstrate a point I simply made a few adjustments to my camera, raised it upwards and used the shaded parts of the cathedral and the tree on the right to frame the image.

Making Something Out of Nothing

While not a portfolio standard image, I knew I had the advantage of two important elements that would allow me to produce a successful result: light and color.

It’s the light, illuminating the cathedral’s spire, that’s the dominant element within this image. Illuminating the centre of the frame the eye can’t help but be drawn towards this attractive structure.

Can you see how the natural yellowish hues of the spire stand out against the cool blue of the sky. There’s a simple rule in art that’s worth remembering:

Warm Colors Advance and Cool Colors Recede

It’s this relationship between warm and cool that helps add a visual dynamic to the photo by enhancing the illusion of three dimensional space within the bounds of a two dimensional photo.

What you photograph (i.e., subject) can be important, but how you go about making that photo is often the difference between success and failure. Wouldn’t you agree?

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