Looking at a Photograph

A few weeks back I blogged about a some of the things you can do to make your photography better. If you haven’t seen it, please read https://dougkeech.wordpress.com/2016/12/27/ten-things-to-strive-for-in-your-photography/.

Further to that post, I’d like to add a few more observations to each consideration and some of the specific factors that can influence such.

1.) Does the photograph possess a beauty in and of itself?

Influential factors: composition/balance, subject matter, light, tonality/contrast, colour

2.) Does the image shock you in some way as to keep you wanting to look?

Influential factors: subject matter, compositional technique, timing

3.) Does the image have a universal appeal or value?

Influential factors: shared experience, subject matter, timelessness

4.) Is the photograph poetic or symbolic of something larger?

Influential factors: shared experience, subject matter, photographic technique, processing

5.) Is the image interesting to look at?

Influential factors: subject matter, compositional technique, frame, moment

6.) Is the photograph significant in some way?

Influential factors: subject matter, uniqueness, relevance to the time, descriptive ability

7.) Is it useful in that it documents a place and time or describes a human condition?

Influential factors: relevance to a certain event, descriptive ability, encompasses a story

8.) Does the image spark an emotion in you?

Influential factors: gesture, intimacy, shared experience/memory trigger

9.) Does the photograph have enough context for you to know what you’re looking at?

Influential factors: distance, frame

10.) Has the photographer confined the significant detail and rid the image of the unimportant clutter?

Influential factors: frame

Garry Winogrand was quoted once as saying that it’s the photographer’s problem to figure out a way to make the photograph more interesting to look at than the thing actually being photographed. And obviously there are many more criteria that go into making a photograph than the ones mentioned here. However, I have found it a good exercise to go through each of the above things to strive for in your photography and try to think of examples of images that illustrate the points as a good example and as a bad example.

Happy Shooting,

Doug

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On Imperfection

I read a post the other day from one of the world’s most successful wedding photographers where he mentioned that he had received a request from a couple to photograph their wedding, but they didn’t want any posed images. Not a single one!

That really got me thinking about the whole thing…

If someone’s house catches fire, they make sure everyone’s got out ok, and if there’s time, they usually grab the family photo albums. Ask yourself why those photos are so valuable…the vast majority of them are just terrible snapshots aren’t they?

An image doesn’t have to be perfect to be valuable to someone. And they certainly don’t have to be posed or staged in any way. In fact, as it turns out, it’s quite the opposite.

The thing that gives most images personal meaning is that they represent true life moments. They are the way things really were with no false pretenses or staged setups. They are the silly reactions, the hysterical laughs, the tears, the bad hair days, and the breadcrumbs on the tablecloth. They are the “real” memories.

If you were to get professional photos done today where the photographer placed you and other family members in rather awkward poses or situations that were quite obviously staged, (remember how the husband looked in those maternity photos – yeah, you know the ones I’m talking about) how would you feel about those same images in thirty years? Would looking at them make you feel a little bit silly? Are you going to remember back to that exact day and relish how great you felt when you were posing like that? You might even think that these photos look a tad on the “cheesy” side.

Let me ask you this: If you’re someone who’s been married a long time, when was the last time you looked at those posed images from your wedding day? You know, the ones where everyone is all lined up in perfect little rows and all told to smile for the camera. The odds are far better that you’ve looked at the snapshots from your first family camping trip to the lake far more often. Why? Because they represent memories for you – memories of a time, memories of a feeling you enjoy re-living, a time, not just a day or a few awkward hours spent posing for some wanna-be fashion photographer.

I’m not saying posing isn’t important. It is. Fashion photography, the vast majority of wedding photography, and formal portraiture wouldn’t exist without it. And proper posing technique is vital in certain circumstances to make someone look their best. However far too often, photographers get hung up on posing and staging photos because they are trying to make someone look cool, or going for a certain look in their photo perhaps. Sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn’t. But it’s also important to remember that it’s the “imperfection” that quite often gives us meaningful photographs. The bottom line is that the images must be believable. If they aren’t, they probably won’t stand the test of time in your heart. Just one more thing to put in your “consideration” bucket.

Happy Shooting,

Doug

The Best Photos

We live in a voyeuristic world where everybody is a photographer. We are inundated with imagery through social media sites like Facebook, tumblr, and G+. Often, the images that seem to get the most immediate attention tend to be the flashy ones…bright colors, over-processed garish HDR’s and images all dressed up with photoshop actions and Instagram filters. Our lifestyles are so fast-paced that photos have to be flashy to get our attention. The majority though, fade into that vast caldron of the “same old same old” after only a few seconds. We click on the next, and the next, and the next, looking for some kind of superficial stimulation.

 

However there are a few images that simply don’t care about grabbing our immediate attention. In fact, at first they don’t seem like anything special. But it’s often this kind of photograph that as time passes, becomes more meaningful.

 

Throughout the history of photography, some of the most wonderful photographs are ones that are not technically excellent. They may be slightly out of focus or blurred from motion. They are not flashy or trendy, but they have survived the test of time. These are the images we find in books, on gallery walls, or on our desks reminding us of something that seems to transcend the medium. They contain artifacts and imperfections, but yet convey enough meaning that we enjoy seeing them again and again.

 

The best images are often the ones that don’t make much of an initial impact, but for one reason or another, we can’t stop looking at them. Could it be that like humans themselves, they contain flaws, something unsaid or a little mysterious, and in this sense they hit us deeper, closer to the core? These are photos that show life as it really is…unposed, raw, and at times gritty. These are portraits that bring out the characteristics of who someone really is without fake smiles, fancy lighting, or staged pretenses. These are landscapes that make us appreciate nature’s plan. These are images that tell a story or make us ask questions.

 

Its true. We all value images for different reasons. Some are struck by composition, others by the subject matter itself. Some enjoy brilliant, highly-saturated landscapes. Others prefer portraits with as much out-of-focus background as possible. Still others need context. At what point do we grow tired of seeing over-processed landscapes of Mt. Rundle or long-exposure photos of a pier? When will we get weary of seeing liquified barbie doll girls on magazine covers? When can we expect the next gallery exhibition of plastic-skinned newborns with alien eyes?

 

That’s what’s so great about photography. That’s why it’s so hard. If the search to find that something unsaid, to find a timeless truth was easy, we probably wouldn’t be as interested in buying all those new cameras that take better pictures 😉

 

Happy Shooting,

 

Doug

 

Image

 

© Henri Cartier-Bresson/Magnum Photos

Just a Pretty Picture

Ok let’s set this shot up. We’ll get some really good light happening with our strobes. You’ve got a few changes of clothes in the dressing room. I’ll use my best 85mm lens. The pose…hmmm….let’s try something really provocative…something unusual. And then we’ll nail the expression to absolute seduction. Oh and let’s not forget that when the shoot’s over, you can do a selfie with those adolescent pouty lips…the Angelina Jolie look….you know the goldfish or whatever you call it.

Whatever…

I have to ask…just what is the true value of an image like that?

At some stage nearly all photographers go through that thing where they are looking for shock value perhaps. The only problem is that it’s all fake.

I’ve been studying the history of photography a great deal lately, and I just can’t help but be intrigued by some of the great photographs of Cartier-Bresson, Robert Frank and others like them. Then I start sifting through some of the most gut-wrenching photos of the last decade. I shift gears and look at a few really good shots from today’s street photographers. Sure, there’s a lot of garbage out there, but many have captured something too. But just what is it? It’s almost intangible…very hard to put a finger on it.

I read a post from one of my favorite writer/photographers where he said that the most meaningful photographs are not photos of things, but photographs about things. Wow. I felt like I had been baptized…

A teacher of mine said that life is not perfect, and some of the best photographs are those that include imperfections. I’m not talking necessarily about technical imperfections. I’m talking about people imperfections. And to quote Leonard Cohen, “Ring the bell…ring the bell that still can ring. There are cracks…there are cracks in everything. That’s what let’s the light in.”

But back to street photography. Could it be that these photographs draw us in because they are candid? They are unrehearsed. They are real. The characters in them have flaws. They make us wonder things like “Where is he going? What is he thinking? What just happened to him?”

Another post I came across stated that this persons favorite and most valuable photograph was one that he had taken of his mother walking side by side with his daughter down a sidewalk. It was taken with an iPhone without them even knowing it – unrehearsed…no set up…totally candid…real life.

And then there’s the in-betweens. Those images captured of people in contemplation…caught in a space somewhere. We look at the picture and we keep looking as if being drawn into the same spell…”What have I done with my life? What does it all mean? What’s going to happen next?”
And sometimes, incredible images could only have been taken by being at the right place at the right time.

But at the end of the day…I think it’s the humanity that intrigues us. Because we all share the same things in common. We’re all human beings. We all have a story. We all try to be happy. We all suffer to varying degrees, and we’re all going to die at some point.

That set up studio shot with the pouty lips……….well, that’s just a pretty picture.

Happy Shooting,

Doug

Things Aren't Always Black and White