Thursday, February 12, 2015

5 Principals of Great (Urbex) Photography

There are principals in photography that act as guides to better photographs. These are not rules, but wisdom born from experience. They help the photographer refine his or her vision.

There are many principals in photography, and a comprehensive list would be difficult. Instead, I've handpicked five principals of great photography, which are listed below in alphabetical order.

Great Photography Is Aesthetic
On A Brighter Day - Tehachapi, California
This may seem like an obvious principal, but it is well worth reiterating. No matter how great the content of an image might be, if a photograph is not visually pleasing, the viewer will pass it right up without ever seeing that great content. The photographer must purposefully and thoughtfully compose an image to make it attractive to the viewer so that they'll take a closer and longer look at the photograph.

There are a whole host of composition "rules" that photography schools teach, most of which should be broken. However, you should pay close attention to contrast (both light and color) and balance (both space and numeric). Lines are also important.

I'm not going to get too deeply into composition, but simply state that great photographs have great aesthetics. There is not a set formula for creating great aesthetics, and there are many different approaches. What works for one image might not work for another. It is the photographer's job to figure out how to best compose the image for whatever the scene is.

Great Photography Is Creative
Circular Abstract - Atolia, California
Creativity is essential to art. Without creativity, there are no great photographs. Some people seem to be naturally creative. Most (myself included) are not. Thankfully, creativity can be learned and fostered.

According to the dictionary, creativity is using your imagination to develop new ideas. From a photography point-of-view, creativity is coming up with a way to show through a photograph your own unique perspective. It is putting a piece of yourself (your mind and your heart) into your images.

Creativity is trying new things. It is experimenting. It is failing. It is trying again and again and not giving up. It is pushing yourself to try harder, to think deeper. Creativity is doing what others are not doing.

Great Photography Is Meaningful
Old Life, New Life - Victorville, California
Photography is a form of non-verbal communication, so photographs are strongest when they have a point. There needs to be some sort of message or meaning to the image.

The meaning of a photograph does not necessarily need to be immediately obvious, and the meaning of an image can sometimes be found in the context of a series of photographs. In other words, the photographer may have infused a photograph with meaning, but the viewer may not get that communication right away. The important principal here is that photographs should non-verbally say something.

Meaningful photographs speak to the viewer. When the photographer successfully conveys a thought to a stranger looking at an image, that's when a photograph is great.

Great Photography Is Simple
Fruit Cup - Tehachapi, California
This principal continues where the last one left off. Communication is strongest when it is clear and concise. It is the same for photography. Photographs are often stronger when the point is obvious.

With written communication, you don't want to ramble on and on. You must use punctuation, appropriate grammar, correct spelling, and have direction with your words. Photography is very similar. A mistake that many photographers make is to include too much. The meaning of the photograph then gets lost in all the unnecessary clutter.

Viewers will only spend a second or two looking at a photograph unless something grabs them right away. If it is unclear what the point of the photograph is, the viewer will move onto something else.

Great Photography Tells A Story
Copy Machine - Mojave, California
A great photograph has a great story to tell. It not only says something, it says something interesting. The communication is fascinating.

Great storytelling involves more than just having a great story. There is inflection, direction, pauses, and cadence. What makes a storyteller great is his or her ability to draw the audience in and have them on the edge of their seat. With photography, the photographer is the storyteller.

Telling a story with your photographs is breathing life into the scene, making it come alive to the viewer. It is much, much more than documenting, it is interpreting. It is saying something interesting and in a way that grabs the viewer's attention.

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