What Makes a Great Photograph?
What are the elements of a great photograph? What are the magic ingredients that make one image so much better than another? Is it possible to quantify the ‘secret recipe’ of great photography?
Well….that’s a tall order. But here are some of the things that show up in great photos over and over…
Great composition is at the heart of all great photography. Composition—how you arrange the elements within your photograph—is the first building block that kicks in the moment you raise the camera to your eye. Before you press the shutter release, you’ve intuitively made innumerable decisions about the composition of your shot. How do you learn composition? Here, there are no shortcuts! You must look at the work of photographers you admire with an eye to how they’ve composed the images you find most attractive. Then shoot, shoot, and shoot! Practice is the key here.
By lighting I mean ALL of the light that’s part of your image, not only light you’ve added. Lighting is the other fundamental element that all images obviously possess. But what you do with the light, how you learn to control it, is key. You control natural light with camera angle, time of day, and camera exposure. You control artificial light by learning to properly add and place light in your image.
Finally color. Color, or its absence, is the third of the essential ingredients that all images possess. Learning to use and accentuate color as a design element can be a rewarding area to pursue.
Beyond composition, lighting and color, various aspects play a role in a photograph, depending upon what the subject is. I’ll list some of them to watch for below.
‘Peak action’ as in sports photography, for instance. Or it could be the precise moment a fish hits a lure, or the instant a car crashes into a wall. Peak action is all about showing us something that happened in a way we couldn’t experience it otherwise: by freezing a moment in time.
A SENSE OF MOTION
Cameras can do wonderful, beautiful things through the use of slow shutter speeds. Keeping the camera still as a subject moves through space can create an image like the one depicted here. Or, by moving the camera along with a subject, called panning, a different magic moment is possible.
A SENSE OF EMOTION
This image displays a human emotion, and there are all of the others: anger, dismay, embarrassment…you name it and it can be a possible subject. But it could also be your dog or cat, couldn’t it?
One of the most difficult forms of photography, I think. My favorite photographer in this area will always be Elliott Erwitt.
A SENSE OF AWE
Photographs that inspire a sense of awe. This can be a big challenge in our media-saturated world, but it’s still out there, every day.
A SENSE OF STILLNESS
What I like to call ‘quiet photographs.’ This is one of my own personal favorite areas to pursue. Like detail work described above, finding stillness in the world requires a bit of a mind shift into a slower place.
So these are some of the elements that all great images possess. Go back and look at images you love and you’ll find these elements present time and again. Now, pick one of these themes and go out and shoot a really great photograph!
Hi, I’m Andrew Boyd, a.k.a. The Discerning Photographer, and I hope this post has been interesting and informative. Please leave me a comment about it, let me know what you’d like to see more of on the site! You can also sign up for email delivery of all future articles or my RSS feed. Thanks!–DiscerningPhotog
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