By Adam Welch
As I think about it, the idea of what goes into making a photograph can seem slightly overwhelming. There really are quite a few things to think about when it comes to making an image (graph) using essentially only light (photo). A photograph (see what I did with the photo and graph thing?) can carry incredible artistic weight and has the power to quite literally change our world and the way that it is viewed. But what exactly makes a photograph great instead of just…well, not so great.
First of all, banish all thoughts of the myth which has been conjured and labeled as “great photography.” Striving to reach the goal of greatness will leave you feeling so small that you you will defeat your own purpose. I adhere to the belief that there happens to be no actual great photographs. There are only “better” photographs. To that end, making a better photograph only comes about through practice and by understanding some incredibly simple principles…and when it’s called for, breaking those principles in order to express your own self.
Now that we’ve got that overly introspective paragraph out of the way we can start on the good stuff! In this article you will learn about composing a photograph. We will show you a few easy ways to make your images gre….I mean…better. Let’s get started.
Learn the Basics
Yes, I know…you’ve heard this again and again. And there’s a reason you are about to hear it once more. The foundational principles of photography lay the very ground work of any photo that you will make.
So, a solid understanding of the basic nature of the big three: shutter time, aperture, ISO and how they work together…should not be an option but rather a starting point on which you will build your craft. You don’t have to be a calculative wizard of exposure but there is no substitute for the rudimentary skills that, unfortunately, seem to be losing ground in today’s image making world.
Learn to walk before you can run. Well, that’s not always the case…sometimes you start off at a fast walk and then run. Kind of a run/walk situation…and still other times you jog…anyway…it’s an excellent idea to have a solid grasp of the basics of photography which you can always fall back on if you run into a conundrum in the field. Shutter speed, ISO, and aperture are your friends and will never let you down if you treat them as such.
Don’t Forget the Details
The success of a photograph comes down to a delicate cascade of small details coming together in a delightful mix of creative cohesion to form a solid image.
Everything you do, or do not do, during the capture will ultimately affect the final outcome and the overall strength of the photo. You must learn understand the subtle changes which are happening around you and adjust yourself accordingly.
Photographers become “great” are those which have learned that even the smallest detail in the way an image is composed can quite literally make or break the entire enterprise. Whether it’s anticipating a change in lighting from a passing wisp of clouds or setting your ISO at 800 instead of 400 so you can squeeze a little more quickness into your shutter, realizing that ignoring even the smallest part of the image making process can be disastrous. Well, maybe not always a disaster but rather a compromise that you never truly had to make.
Forget the Details
No, that’s not a typo and yes I am contradicting myself about what I wrote just a few lines above. Allow me to explain a little more because this is one of the points that makes the craft of photography so beautifully contradictory. It’s this duality that frustrates and confounds even seasoned photographers on the daily.
Even though there exists a host of minute intricacies which must be satisfied to repeatedly produce strong work, there is one sizeable slice of the photo pie that can also make the image a work of mastery or a culled discardment that doesn’t make it past the file import screen.
And that one important part that you can never turn your back on or underestimate is…wait for it…luck. Good, old fashioned luck is something that has made fantastic photographs for me more than once. While luck can’t be predicted it can be in a sense conjured. This is where those other little details come into play. I guarantee you that the more meticulous become in your shooting technique the more luck you will miraculously begin to have with your photography.
Some Final Thoughts
So, while you should always strive to control everything you can in regard to your basic composition(remember the part about the basics?) you should also realize that there comes a point when you have to let go of the ball. After you have have done all you can do with shutter speed, aperture, framing, etc…you have to adopt a Zen approach.
I had a discussion a couple days ago with a fairly “Geographic” photographer who gave me some terrific words of seasoned Bill Murray-style wisdom: “do what comes natural” he said. There is indeed truth in the saying that one more brush stroke can ruin a painting. There is just as much truth in the fact that one more adjustment can ruin a photograph.
In addition, he has published a very insightful book “Cameras in the Wild: A Guide for the Adventuring Photomaker”.