Community & Current Events

Chris Hadfield's tips for taking great pictures

By: Jill Buchner

Photography by David Wile Author: Canadian Living Credits: Photography by David Wile

Community & Current Events

Chris Hadfield's tips for taking great pictures

By: Jill Buchner
It might come as a surprise that taking professional-quality photos is a prerequisite to launching into space, but before Chris Hadfield set forth on his mission to the International Space Station, camera skills were a big part of his training. Over more than two decades as an astronaut, Hadfield spent countless hours learning on cameras from a 35 mm to an Imax. "Being in space is a rare experience, so they want us to record and share it as best we can," says Hadfield, whose photos are showcased in his book You Are Here (Random House, 2014). "The beauty of a picture is you can subconsciously share an emotion." But even in the age of Instagram, not all of us know how to capture photos well. He explains how to take inspired pictures.

1. Catch the light just right
"When I'm getting ready to take a picture, the first thing I think about is light," says Hadfield. As the Earth moves around the sun, light plays with our environment in different ways, and Hadfield looks for those areas or objects that are brilliantly lit or cast with interesting shadows. Light can highlight texture and detail or create sparkle, which can draw someone into a picture.

2. Frame the photo you want
When the light is perfect, it's time to compose your photo in a way that makes your subject most compelling. While square-on facial shots can fall flat or appear confrontational, different angles or small actions can guide the eye in a fresh way. For example, when a subject is looking away, the viewer will naturally follow the person's gaze. Placing your subject at 2 o'clock or 7 o'clock is another way to encourage movement through a picture, so viewers don't zero in on the centre. "If you take a picture properly, your eye looks around inside the image," says Hadfield. But beware of things that catch the eye unintentionally. "A distraction in the picture is just like hearing a loud noise; it will draw you away from what you're trying to pay attention to."

3. Work with what's familiar
Having trouble with composition? Look for a shape you already know. Hadfield's book is full of perspective-changing comparisons between clouds and popcorn, shorelines and X-rays, and craters and Cheerios. We all have the natural inclination to see the familiar in the unknown world around us, says Hadfield, using Joni Mitchell's "ice cream castles in the air" lyric as proof. "Your eye looks for the familiar," he says, noting that a face is perhaps the most important shape of all. "We see the eyes as the windows to the soul. The little changes and subtlety of expressions on our faces show us a lot, so we want to see faces in everything." These natural formations are pleasing to the eye, so when you see them in nature, take a picture! "If what you're seeing causes some sort of emotional reaction, whether it's laughter or sadness or whatever, it's probably going to be contagious."
4. Get in focus
Make a conscious decision about what part of the image you want in focus and how soft you want the rest of the image. "Your focus is not just about a lens but also about a statement on the picture," says Hadfield. When you're ready to take the photo, he recommends imagining you're a sniper. You need just a light touch on the trigger to take a photo without jarring the camera or phone.

5. Click, and click again
"Don't think every picture is going to be good," says Hadfield. "You're going to throw away most of your pictures, but some will be worth keeping." That's why it's important to take every photo multiple times. Each time, do something different: Turn the flash on, turn the flash off, focus beyond the subject, focus short of the subject, change the lighting, change your vantage point. "One picture will be the best one, but quantifying that best-ness is hard to do theoretically." In other words: You'll know it when you see it.

Check out how to take smarter photos on your smartphone

This story was originally part of "Camera-Ready" in the May 2015 issue.
           
Subscribe to Canadian Living today and never miss an issue!
Share X
Community & Current Events

Chris Hadfield's tips for taking great pictures

Login