8 PHOTOGRAPHY TIPS FROM THE PHOTOGRAPHER WHO HAS SHOT THE MOST COVERS FOR US

There’s never been a better time to hone your photography skills. Here, professional photographer Scott A. Woodward offers his top tips on how to get the shot.

Apr 16, 2020

If you’ve ever picked up a copy of T+L Southeast Asia, you’ve probably already seen the work of Scott A Woodward. The Singapore-based photographer has captured more than a dozen covers for us over the past few years and is consistently one of our go-to guys to get the shot, whether that be of lions in the Serengeti or cocktails in Manila

Read on for Woodward’s top photography tips so that you can come out of quarantine ready to capture your next trip like a pro. 

1. LIGHT MY FIRE

The most critical ingredient in all great photographs is the lighting.  The best images always make interesting and powerful use of light—but try to avoid direct sunlight.  The angle of the sun significantly affects the warmth, contrast and texture of a photograph. As often as possible, shoot in the warm “golden hours” of early morning and late afternoon (one hour after sunrise and one to two hours before sunset) when the sun is low and the light is soft and yellow/orange.  Dramatic light can make even the most mundane subjects appear outstanding, so also be on the lookout for beams of light peeking through clouds, filtering through trees or shining through windows. Make use of long shadows cast during the golden hours, and try to use backlighting to silhouette your subjects.  And experiment with blue hour photography, in the minutes after sunset, when there is still light remaining in the night sky.



2. LANDSCAPES WITH LIFE

Beautiful landscape shots can be breathtaking, but if you’ve ever been subjected to an endless stream of a friend or family member’s holiday snaps, you know how dull they can become after you’ve looked at dozens of them in a row.  Try adding people (or animals) to your landscape photographs; even if they occupy just a little bit of space within your frame, a living touch helps make a more powerful photograph: it gives scale to an image, offers perspective and adds drama.



3. CLOSE CALLS

Great portraits happen when you fill the screen with your subject’s face.  But skip the zoom function. Instead, get physically closer to your subject – and when you think you’re close, get even closer.  As Robert Capa famously said, “If your pictures aren’t good enough, you aren’t close enough.”



4. FREEZE FRAME

Capturing motion in pictures is something many people associate with sports imagery.  However, it is a technique that is equally as dramatic in travel and documentary photography.  Illustrating movement can be a powerful expression of energy or speed and help bring a static image to life.  To capture motion, secure your camera on a tripod (or even a sturdy table or ledge). Or track your subject by panning the camera while they move past your lens to make interesting “blurs” in your imagery.  Experiment with various shutter speeds (long, fast) in various situations to communicate energy in your photography.



5. TAKE RISKS

Experiment and push yourself outside your comfort zone.  Be on the lookout for creative and dynamic angles. Shoot without looking through the viewfinder.  Get on the ground and shoot up, climb a tree and shoot down. Shoot without the flash, try long exposures.  Look for repeating patterns. Don’t fight the light; make silhouettes. Shoot through things, creating layers.  Look for natural frames. Get close to your subject – REALLY close. Try blending multiple exposures. Use the “wrong” lens sometimes.  The more creative you get, the more you’ll learn about what works and what doesn’t work, and the better your photographs will be. Or maybe you’ll just get lucky and make a beautiful accident.



6. SEARCH FOR “THE MOMENT BETWEEN THE MOMENT”

The most valuable piece of constructive criticism I ever received was from a Senior Photo Editor at National Geographic Magazine who told me my portraits were “too contrived, too posed”.  I took her feedback to heart and practice incessantly to shoot what I call “the moment between the moment” – capturing that split second of spontaneity and authenticity that arises naturally.  Her advice and insight dramatically changed the way I make photography, improving my craft and making me a stronger visual storyteller.



7. DEVELOP A STYLE

All great photographers have a unique and easily identifiable signature.  You know a Martin Schoeller or Platon portrait or an Annie Leibovitz or Steven Meisel fashion image or a James Natchwey or Brent Stirton documentary image.  Try to develop your very own personal photographic style – something that you can be known for visually and creatively. Shooting into the sun and using backlight as a visual effect is a creative, compositional and lighting technique that I have been experimenting with for years.  I love the softness of the subject and ethereal effect created by the sun’s flare.



8. BE A TOURIST IN YOUR OWN CITY

People don’t necessarily have to travel to take “travel photography”.  There are fascinating places, colorful characters and meaningful stories everywhere – even in our own backyards.  Singapore is an exotic destination to someone who lives in Paris, just as Paris is an exotic destination to someone who lives in Singapore.  So be a tourist in your own city: explore your familiar surroundings and you will find wonderful photographic opportunities. Besides, practice makes perfect, so the more experienced you are with your mobile device, the better your photographs will be when you finally take that dream trip.



Canadian-born Scott A. Woodward’s father is an avid and accomplished amateur photographer.  When Scott was a young boy, he taught him how to operate a manual camera, skillfully interpret light and imaginatively compose an image.  But more importantly, his dad instilled in him a sense of wonder and adventure; it is these traits that truly make Scott a photographer.

Scott is Singapore-based and has spent nearly the past 25 years living and telling stories across Asia.  His photography features regularly in Travel + Leisure Southeast Asia as well as a wide variety of other publications including National Geographic Magazine, GEO, Condé Nast Traveller, Monocle, Esquire, Vogue, GQ, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times.

Visit Scott’s website at www.scottawoodward.com or follow him on Instagram.

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