3 mins

How to get a great shot from nothing

Six tips from photographer Martin Hartley on getting a fantastic image when the Gods are conspiring against you

Nothing (Martin Hartley)

Here are six very simple easy rules to get something great out of ‘nothing’ in any weather anywhere with any camera. Play, experiment, get it all wrong again and again and learn. Photography is as much about getting everything wrong as it is fun in getting things right... occasionally.

Morning (Martin Hartley)

1. Get up early

As the Russians say, "The morning is wiser than the evening." The world is a better place in the morning, your mind is ‘cleaner’ there are less people about. One person in any scene is more powerful than none and in most cases better than a huge pile of people. Even in a city or a town it is easy to find this kind of scene. You just have to get out of bed.

Face (Martin Hartley)

2. Faces and detail

If someone has a face that interests you, just ask, they can always say no and you can move on to the next person, who if willing may let you get close into the detail, it might be wrinkles, it might be amazing eyes or wonky teeth. Ask permission first and then the flood gates will open. Always smile when asking someone if you can take their portrait, very few people say 'no'.

Nothing (Martin Hartley)

3. Photograph nothing

If there is nothing to photograph, then photograph ‘nothing’ in all its empty glory. But a picture of ‘nothing’ only becomes an image if we as humans can relate to something in that space. It might be a building, a car, a lone animal, a person way off in the distance (but not too far) – whatever the ‘thing’ is it is preferably some evidence of humanity that ‘thing’ will give the empty space some kind of ‘visual gravity’ that will pull the eye and then the mind into the scene.

Ice man (Martin Hartley)

4. Lurk in the shadows 

If the sun is high in the sky and there is no interesting light then go into the shadows, forget everything in the blinding sun. Get someone to stand with their back to the sun and expose the shadow area in the dark of their face and ‘boom’ it's all there; texture, detail soft highlights all that good stuff. It's all in there. Always, always, always... in brilliant sunshine go find the shadows and have a ‘play”.

Rubbish dump skier (Martin Hadley)

5. Add drama with a silhouette 

When the sun is heading for its own bed, that’s the time to go out again and get some funky silhouette photographed. So easy to expose for the bright areas of the sky – anything in front of the sun will become a striking silhouette. Make sure the shape has a well defined outline. Any old crappy destination can look exotic with a bold silhouette in the distance. This image was taken on a snow-covered skanky rubbish dump in Siberia.

Darkness (Martin Hartley)

6. Hello darkness, your old friend

When the sun has gone down that doesn't mean you can head straight to the pub – well, not straight away. If there isn't any light to speak of, experiment with what there is. Nobody ever learned anything in photography by getting everything right. Every single ‘good’ photograph is the result of many failures and lessons learned. It’s always OK to make mistakes when shooting your own stuff. Modern day head torches with LED lights are a blessing – if there is no light, grab a torch and put some light in exactly where you want it to be. Ramp up the ISO to as much as you need: 800,1600, 2000,12000, who cares? Just get the shot. There are no excuses.

Adventure Travel ShowMartin Hartley will be at The Adventure Travel Show, talking in the Wanderlust Travel Photography Workshop on the morning of Sunday 26 January. Tickets for the workshop cost from £55; this includes admission to the show and a £10 voucher for use on the Wanderlust stand.

Advance tickets to the show are now on sale. Get your tickets for only £5 (that’s saving £5 off the door price!) by quoting ‘WANDERLUST’ when booking tickets online at www.adventureshow.com.

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