Friday, February 17, 2017

The #1 Key to Great Photos

Nikon D5, Nikon 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR, ISO 1100, ƒ/5.6, 1/4000
There are many things that go into making of a photograph. However, only one will truly be the key to a great photograph.

Exposure Triangle

The exposure triangle is a common way of associating the three variables that determine the exposure of a photograph: aperture, shutter speed, and ISO. One must balance all three of these to achieve a desired result, an adjustment of one requiring adjustments of at least one of the others.

If you do execute this just perfectly you still can have a photo that lacks any sort of connection with the audience.

Principles of Composition

In photography composition is the arrangement of parts of a scene to form a particular visual outcome. Composition can also be about picking a viewpoint to form a pleasing visual outcome. In practical terms, the photographer tends to use both “arrangement” and “choice of viewpoint”. 
In general composition aims to direct the viewer to see the point of the photograph. The “point” may simply be an aesthetically pleasing scene, or something containing a more complex story. Even a visually disturbing or discordant outcome is the result of efforts in composition. 
The finer points of a particular composition rely on a range of “photographic elements” and the “principles of photographic art” for using them.

Now when you execute the rules of composition and Exposure Triangle together your photos will look even better, but still will fall short of connection with the audience without one more thing.


The greatest proponent of previsualization was Ansel Adams and it was he who perhaps summed it up best with a single sentence, “You don’t take a photograph, you make it.” Great photographs require you to work out everything that goes into making that photograph before you actually take it. So how do we mere mortals go about previsualizing our shots?

The very first book Ansel Adams wrote started in chapter one explaining this concept to people.

While my work cannot stand up to Ansel’s I still believe that there is a better way to describe this process of previsualization by asking a simple question.

WHY take the photo?

I believe for example that Ansel Adams made the assumption no one could look at Half Dome and not be moved. Half Dome is a granite dome at the eastern end of Yosemite Valley in Yosemite National Park, California.

When you ask yourself, “Why am I taking this photo” you will get to the core of the element that will help you connect with your audience. This is the #1 Key to Great Photograph.

I love the two words “so that” in the Bible.

“So that” is used as a subordinate clause to show purpose or to give an explanation. It is used to show an action producing an intended result or a cause producing an effect. In the format Sentence 1 “so that” Sentence 2, the first sentence is the action/cause and the second is the intended result/effect. In the format “So that” Sentence 1, Sentence 2, the first subject-verb clause is the intended result/effect and the second is the action/cause.

I push my shutter on the camera, so that, to inform, imagine, influence, meet social expectations and express feelings.

Nikon D5, Sigma TC-2001 2x, Sigma 120-300mm ƒ/2.8 DG OS HSM | S, ISO 5600, ƒ/5.6, 1/4000

Show & Tell

I believe that photos alone cannot tell a story. I believe at best they can just capture a slice or a moment. People need the words to help understand what is going on in the photograph.

We learned this concept in Kindergarten when we had "Show & Tell" day at school. The objects your classmates brought into school needed them to tell us why they brought them to school. Without their words we didn't understand.

Now the best part to me of "Show & Tell" was that the visuals really gave us a great deal of information that the words alone couldn't do as well and succinctly do as the visual.

Here is the formula I think works well for photos that communicate:

Ask Why
Take Photo
Add Words

Ask yourself why am I wanting to make this photograph. For example how is the situation affecting me and what do I want the audience to understand that I am experiencing.

Once you know the answer to WHY then you must use all your photographic skills to know how to best capture this moment. This "previsualization" is understanding how the best shutter-speed, aperture, ISO, composition and lighting all controlled by me can be used to capture what I am wanting to communicate.

I then execute the previsualization and make the photo.

Last we know that the photo by itself will make the audience ask a question. What is going on here? They will need more information to be sure the message is not left up to interpretation. You will then need to marry the photograph with words to complete the communication process.


I think this is a compelling photo, but I want to know more. Now compare this same photo to one using it with words:

Together with the words the picture completes the communication process.

Now I am not saying put words on photos always. Captions under photos work just as well.

Use the caption to tell the reader something new. When a reader looks at the photo they’re usually confronted with some form of emotion and some information (based on what they see in the photo). The caption, in turn, should provide the reader with a piece of information they were unaware of from simply looking at the photo. In short, the caption should teach the reader something about the photo.

Now go forth and make photos!

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