What makes a great photograph?
This is one of those questions that often elicits the response: “that’s a really good question” … which just as often implies that whoever you’re asking doesn’t know the answer!
Like all art – and there’s no doubt that photography is art – we may not know why but we often know whether something is good. And of course it is subjective to some extent – we all have different tastes – but quality shines through. As Robert M Pirsig wrote back in 1974 (in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance) “quality is where subjectivity and objectivity meet”.
When it comes to photography, there are so many parts of this answer that it’s hard to know where to begin. But let’s start with some what we might call technical aspects:
great use of light
a sense of timing
a clear subject
Now, while you’re thinking about these in background mode, let’s read what some different photographers think:
“Good photographs put you in a particular moment in time, they tell a story, or they speak to your emotions. The most important element of a great photograph is that it does all of the above.”
“I always teach my workshop students you want someone to feel something, some sort of an emotion when they look at your images. That could be curiosity, anger, sadness, happiness, etc. The most important element of a photo to me is its ability to evoke emotion.”
“After spending 10 years hung up in the technicalities of photography, I’ve come to appreciate that a good photograph is one that causes some sort of emotional response. We’re bombarded with so much imagery that our most common response to photography is indifference. If an image surprises me through an unusual view, wows me through its sheer beauty or makes me angry by showing injustice, it is a good photograph. It could be technically terrible, poorly composed and horribly exposed, but if it causes an emotional response, it will be memorable and therefore successful.”
Interesting isn’t it how frequently “emotion” crops up? And – if you read all the quotes that I have – how rarely what you’re actually photographing crops up. This takes me to a wonderful story that Dewitt Jones tells (Dewitt Jones is an American photographer who is known for his work as a freelance photojournalist for National Geographic and his column in Outdoor Photographer Magazine). He was once on assignment and found himself in what he described as a “rather boring” field. There was no obvious great shot, no wonderful image he could capture. After a while, however, he started to look around him, and he began to notice the beauty that was all around – he just hadn’t looked for it before – and he ended up taking an utterly fabulous close up photo of a dandelion with the sun behind it. For copyright reasons we can’t reproduce the photo in this article, but you can see it here.
Which brings us in a very roundabout sort of a way to thinking about photography in the lake district. Notwithstanding the Dewitt Jones story – and there’s an interesting philosophical dimension to it which is beyond the remit of this article – it helps if you have a beautiful landscape around you.
and of course a great photographer!
Simon Anderson Photography is one of Cumbria’s leading photography studios. We cover the whole of the beautiful Lake District, and have a totally flexible approach tailored to each of our clients. As a local photographer in the Lake District, we offer a wide range of photography services throughout Cumbria to ensure you have perfect photographs from any occasion.
Contact us on 01768 866899, or if you prefer why not call into our one of our studios in either Penrith or Keswick? They are both straightforward to find, parking is easy, and you’ll get a very warm welcome. The address details are on our web-site.
And we promise that we won’t ignore the dandelions …