Friday, February 13, 2015

What Makes A Photograph Great?

The Sound of Silence - Mojave, California
In order to create great photographs, you must know what makes a photograph great. While great photographs come in all sorts of shapes, colors and themes, there are two common threads found between them.

Photography is a form of non-verbal communication. In order to be successful, one must communicate as clearly and deliberately as possible. If the communication is confusing and unorganized, no one will find the conversation interesting. Only strong communication will captivate an audience.

Great photographs are clear and deliberate. Everything that is unnecessary to the photograph's intended communication is removed by the photographer. If it isn't important to the point of the image, it is not included in the frame.

Photographers who create great images are very careful and thoughtful about their compositions. Like the structure of a sentence, everything is placed in an organized fashion to facilitate the viewer through the image. Photographers will use lines, contrast, shapes, space, focus, and sometimes color to guide the viewer's eyes to where the photographer wants them to go.
The Lost Chair - Mojave, California
In other words, great photographs are orchestrated. Like a conductor leading a symphony, the photographer provides clarity to the scene. If the musical instruments in a symphony were each playing their own tune, all you would hear is chaotic noise and no one would want to listen. The conductor guides the musicians through the song in unity to create art. The photographer, through the careful and thoughtful use of his or her camera, guides the viewer through the scene. Instead of chaos that no one wants to view, the great photographer has orchestrated art.

How does the photographer do this? Photographic vision. Photographic vision is a vivid and imaginative conception. It is knowing ahead of time what the final print will look like. It is getting an idea and then making it a reality. Vision is pre-visualizing.

It all starts with an idea in your mind. This idea may occur seconds before opening the shutter, or hours, days weeks, months or even years. Once you have the idea, you then must figure out how to craft this image in your mind into an actual photographic image. Then you go about capturing the photograph.

A great painter never starts placing paint on canvas without the end in mind. A great pianist never just pushes keys hoping a great song will emerge. Great photographs are never happy accidents.
Broken Souls - Newberry Springs, California
Without vision there is no great photograph. One must constantly push his or her creativity. One must force themselves to look at each scene differently. One must find the story to be told and figure out how best to tell it.

Each photographer will approach a subject differently. Ask 100 photographers to capture the same subject, and you'll have 100 unique images. However, if any of those 100 images are great, you will find two common threads: strong communication and vision.

And it is never about the equipment. Never, ever is some camera or lens or software a prerequisite to crafting a great image. Any camera is capable of capturing a great photograph just as long as the photographer can communicate strongly through his or her images and has vision.

People will say that you need the right kind of Canon or Nikon DSLR, the right prime lenses, the right Photoshop and Lightroom, etc., in order to be successful. That is all nonsense. If you can craft great photographs, you can do so no matter the equipment. Yes, those things might make it somewhat easier to achieve your vision, but they're not required.

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