The Photograph and the Quest for Something More

Taking a photograph for the sake of taking a photograph rarely leads to producing something worthwhile. It can by luck, but more times than not, it’s just an image of nothing.

As you scroll through the barrage of photos that come to us by way of social media, you will notice a great many that seem like they were taken just for the sake of taking some kind of image to post. And although they may be visually appealing, I’ve come to realize something very important: really good images are rare even for seasoned photographers.

Photography history has taught us that compelling images are indeed something that may only come along a few times in a lifetime. And many of the great photographers have said you’re doing well if you get ten good images in a year.

So this brings us to then ask, “Just what constitutes a good image?”

There are many images that are well done. There are many images that may appeal to us one way or another. And after all, this is art. It’s subjective. What one person likes another dislikes. But a compelling image has to possess a quality that the others don’t: that is, it has to be significant.

Significance at least in my mind, means that the image must have something to say.

Ask yourself these questions:

Is the image poetic in some way? Does it represent a commonality of a shared experience?

Does the image contain irony or humour or something that makes us actually want to stop and consider what’s going on?

Does the image describe a place and a time? And if so, does it do so without error or false representation?

Does the image say something about human nature?

Is the image something more than technically proficient, or visually appealing?

Understanding that it is the very nature of still photography to leave you with questions when you look at a photograph, it would help then to try to take photographs that have something to say, and that can describe a time and place, but not quite explain everything that may be happening.

A photograph is only a very brief moment of time that is still, has been frozen, or has been extruded from our life lines. And this is why it is so hard to make a photograph that is not only visually appealing, but also has something to say that is worth saying.

Make your images significant.

Happy Shooting,

Doug

Ten Things To Strive For In Your Photography

We are about to bring this year to a close. I’ve been busy not just taking photographs but also cleaning out my image library, archiving important images, and starting anew.

As this will most likely be most last blog post of the year, I’d like to leave you with a few things to think about. The idea for this post came about mostly because of what I’ve seen when I teach people photography. Many students I’ve had over the years have experienced difficulty editing their images. There is no doubt in my mind that editing (I’m not talking about post processing here) or weeding out your images so that you’re only left with strong ones, is a necessary skill that has to be developed just like any other skill. And for many it seems, it’s very difficult to get rid of your bad photos.

I also believe that images that are strong generally require very little in the way of post processing. I shoot mostly on film these days, so the only processing I find myself doing is dust and scratch removal, and maybe a tiny bit of dodging or burning.

All photographers have taken lousy images. And most have images that are mediocre, and some that are very strong. But I find that it’s very important to be your own critic and always be in the mindset of trying to objectively see your images from another persons standpoint.

Here are a few things I always try to ask myself when looking at photographs:

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

2.) Does the image draw you in or shock you in some way?

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

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

5.) Is the image interesting to look at?

6.) Is the photograph significant in some way? 

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

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

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

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

Now, you may not be able to satisfy all these criteria when taking your photographs, but trust me, it’s a good idea to always have these questions in the back of your mind when you’re editing.

Happy Shooting as always, and I wish you the best year of photography ever in 2017.

Doug