As part of my weekly challenge to take an amazing photograph, I decided to seek some professional advice! Brendan Lea is a London photographer. He mostly shoots images of people, for commercial and advertising clients. He is an associate university lecturer in photography and an occasional freelance colleague of mine.

Brendan Lea

I’m trying to become a better photographer and take one amazing photograph in just one week – is that even possible, and where might be a couple of good starting points?
You can definitely become a better photographer in a week. Photography, like most things, is more about practice than raw talent. Devoting time to experimenting and learning is the only way to improve.

The first starting point I’d suggest is to spend longer on each shot. There is so much to consider when you’re taking a photo. There is the quality of the light, the interaction between the foreground and the background, the lines and textures in your image, to name just a few things. It would be bizarre to assume that you can give sufficient weight to all these variables in a fraction of a second. Take your time. There’s nothing wrong with taking an hour, two hours, to frame up and take one shot.

The second approach I’d suggest is to take more shots. Often a good subject presents itself before a good composition. In other words, your first idea is unlikely to be your best one. Take hundreds of images. With each one, look at the image and evaluate it. Think about what works and what doesn’t work, and try to improve.

Who is your photographic hero, and why?
It changes every week. This week, it’s Fernand Fonssagrives. I’m thinking of the images he shot in the 1930s, of Lisa Fonssagrives. They’re technically very simple shots, but nonetheless exquisite. A reminder that you don’t need anything more than a camera and a subject to make beautiful photographs.

I have a Sony RX100 camera which, whilst pretty cool, is no DSLR-with-prime-lens. Can I still take great pictures with amateur gear?
In a word, yes. Often, working within limitations can encourage you to be creative or original.

Do you need to be more of an artist or a technician to be a photographer? What should my balance be here (bearing in mind my limited time frame too!) when trying to improve?
Annoying answer: I don’t see any conflict between the technical and artistic sides of photography.

Cameras are machines. Everything you do with them is technical. People tend to call the stuff they don’t yet know “technique”, and the stuff they do know “creativity”, but these are arbitrary categories. If I want to take a picture that looks very bright, I have made a creative decision. But I have also made a technical one. So long as you keep experimenting and trying new things, it probably doesn’t matter whether or not you think you’re learning technique or being artistic.

Can you share one amazing photo you have taken, and explain what makes it work for you?
I took this portrait of Eloise Fornieles and Kate Hawkins. I knew that what I was photographing was important. This is not merely a record of a single moment; these feelings are timeless. So I treated it like a painting, finishing only the important parts of the canvas and letting the rest fall into darkness.

Eloise Fornieles and Kate Hawkins – all rights reserved, copyright Brendan Lea 2013.

Many thanks to Brendan for his help and advice, you can see his work, hire him and send him praise at http://brendanlea.com.

Check out how I got on with my photo challenge, or read about other weekly challenges.