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How to up your photography game 

click to enlarge Lynn, a homeless woman who didn't want her last name used, cries silently at a candlelight vigil and memorial service for the homeless who died in 2002. Even though I didn't share a word with her, I was able to make a connection with Lynn and she silently allowed me to take this emotionally-charged picture. - SEAN CAYTON
  • Sean Cayton
  • Lynn, a homeless woman who didn't want her last name used, cries silently at a candlelight vigil and memorial service for the homeless who died in 2002. Even though I didn't share a word with her, I was able to make a connection with Lynn and she silently allowed me to take this emotionally-charged picture.
Making a compelling photograph that will capture the attention of the viewer in a deeper way than your typical snap shot can be incredibly challenging. Most people end up taking pictures that are cliche and, at best, boring to look at.

Here’s how to up your photography game to make sure your pictures get a second look.

Make a connection with your subject
click to enlarge Artist Charles Rockey and his dog Puppy in their studio in Manitou Springs. Rockey is notoriously difficult to photograph. I spent a lot of time talking with and listening to himbefore we began to take pictures. By talking with him first I was able to capture this sensitive portrait of the artist with his dog. - SEAN CAYTON
  • Sean Cayton
  • Artist Charles Rockey and his dog Puppy in their studio in Manitou Springs. Rockey is notoriously difficult to photograph. I spent a lot of time talking with and listening to himbefore we began to take pictures. By talking with him first I was able to capture this sensitive portrait of the artist with his dog.
If you're taking a portrait, spend some time talking to the subject — and don’t just talk, listen. By creating this kind of rapport, your subject will grow to trust you. Establishing trust and being empathetic with your subject creates the best conditions for a more sensitive and knowledgeable portrait. The results will show in your final product, making the viewer feel as though they know the portrait subject and can, in turn, empathize with them as well.

Better lighting
click to enlarge Dancers perform during the Colorado Springs Dance Theatre's annual Dance, Dessert and Dreams. Shooting in a theater always offers the chance to photograph with great light. - SEAN CAYTON
  • Sean Cayton
  • Dancers perform during the Colorado Springs Dance Theatre's annual Dance, Dessert and Dreams. Shooting in a theater always offers the chance to photograph with great light.
Great light is always an overlooked element in photography — most people don’t see light the way a professional photographer does. It’s important to be able to really see the light in order to make a more compelling picture. Make a mental note of what the light is doing and how to create the conditions for a better picture. Even if you’re shooting at midday there’s always a way to overcome boring, flat light. See my article on the “Art of the Silhouette” for more. If you don’t know what the light is doing, try out different approaches and then check the results.

Fill the frame
click to enlarge A bus carrying demonstrators turns into The Preserve, a high-priced home development. Called the Parade of Homeless 2000, the bus tour was organized by advocates of affordable housing. Filling the frame with only the key elements to the picture makes a big impact. - SEAN CAYTON
  • Sean Cayton
  • A bus carrying demonstrators turns into The Preserve, a high-priced home development. Called the Parade of Homeless 2000, the bus tour was organized by advocates of affordable housing. Filling the frame with only the key elements to the picture makes a big impact.
“If your photographs aren't good enough, you're not close enough.” — Robert Capa

Getting close is one of the most difficult parts of taking a great picture, especially a great portrait. Learn how to fill the frame. I recommend taking three pictures of any subject, getting closer with each image. Try this with your friends and family to get used to it and know what it feels like.

To illustrate, I've included a sample of images from my years as a newspaper photographer.
click to enlarge Portrait of an anti-war protester on the campus of Colorado College. A long lens allowed me to isolate this protester from the crowd. - SEAN CAYTON
  • Sean Cayton
  • Portrait of an anti-war protester on the campus of Colorado College. A long lens allowed me to isolate this protester from the crowd.
click to enlarge An Air Force Academy graduate during the graduation ceremony at Falcon Stadium. Here I filled the frame and created an interesting composition using the cadet's hat. - SEAN CAYTON
  • Sean Cayton
  • An Air Force Academy graduate during the graduation ceremony at Falcon Stadium. Here I filled the frame and created an interesting composition using the cadet's hat.
click to enlarge Firefighters prepare to attack the flames during a fire in the historic business district of Old Colorado City. The fire started in the  candle shop. - SEAN CAYTON
  • Sean Cayton
  • Firefighters prepare to attack the flames during a fire in the historic business district of Old Colorado City. The fire started in the candle shop.
click to enlarge Members of the Air Force Academy's Class of 2002 toss their hats high as the Thunderbirds pass over Falcon Stadium after graduation. The elements in this picture, from foreground to background, help tell the story. - SEAN CAYTON
  • Sean Cayton
  • Members of the Air Force Academy's Class of 2002 toss their hats high as the Thunderbirds pass over Falcon Stadium after graduation. The elements in this picture, from foreground to background, help tell the story.
click to enlarge Portrait of Dick and Judy Noyes, former owners of the Chinook Book Store in Colorado Springs. Dick and Judy were wonderful people but it was always a challenge to photograph them. After spending some time with them, I asked Judy to hug her husband. The result was a perfect portrait of these Colorado Springs community leaders. - SEAN CAYTON
  • Sean Cayton
  • Portrait of Dick and Judy Noyes, former owners of the Chinook Book Store in Colorado Springs. Dick and Judy were wonderful people but it was always a challenge to photograph them. After spending some time with them, I asked Judy to hug her husband. The result was a perfect portrait of these Colorado Springs community leaders.
click to enlarge An actor performs the role of Tevye during Gunnison High School's performace of Fiddler On The Roof. By isolating my subject with a long lens and filling the frame I was able to capture the feeling and emotion the actor devoted to his role. - SEAN CAYTON
  • Sean Cayton
  • An actor performs the role of Tevye during Gunnison High School's performace of Fiddler On The Roof. By isolating my subject with a long lens and filling the frame I was able to capture the feeling and emotion the actor devoted to his role.
click to enlarge Leif Peterson shoots the basketball against his younger brother Wyatt in Monument Valley Park in Colorado Springs. This photograph happened only after spending time with Peterson and his brother. - SEAN CAYTON
  • Sean Cayton
  • Leif Peterson shoots the basketball against his younger brother Wyatt in Monument Valley Park in Colorado Springs. This photograph happened only after spending time with Peterson and his brother.

Happy shooting!

Sean Cayton is a wedding photojournalist of 19 years and operates a successful, award-winning wedding photography studio in Colorado Springs. He's also an award-winning photojournalist. Sean is happily married to the love of his life (also his business partner) and is father to three beautiful children. When he’s not working, Sean can be found outside flying kites with his kids, hitting golf balls or casting a fly rod to hungry trout.

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