This post is going to expand on something I mentioned in my previous blog post and lead into some musings on what makes a great image. I’ll start with what the last post touched on and that is missing your shot. Even with all the planning and effort you may put into going out to get a photo, it can just not happen. It’s useful to be able to adapt to your situations but a point can be reached where you’re just not going to shoot anything worthwhile. I’ve had this happen because of weather, a tire bursting in the middle of nowhere at night and on occasion I’ve just felt very uninspired. There are two situations here. One is you just don’t get any shots. The second is that you may try to shoot something anyway, but is it actually going to be a worthwhile image for your portfolio? This is something I think about all the time, no matter what the situation is.
An image may not be that great, but you can apply any and all cheap tricks to make it attention grabbing. I recently read this excellent article by David DuChemin and it really made me think about my own philosophy and goals with my creativity, not just in photography, but also performance and dance, teaching and even music. I have always been involved in creative activities. In high school I was an art geek (but also a science nerd), in university I joined a band as a guitarist, I took up pole fitness and ended up performing and competing and of course there is the photography. In any artistic endeavor you can utilize cheap tricks to get a “wow”. But how much of what you experience from that “wow” actually sticks with you? Does it resonate for longer than the moment you were watching, hearing or scrolling past something? This quote from DuChemin made me laugh but I see the results of it all the time, “We polish our turds furiously in the hopes that they’ll look better with a little misdirection. And they do. But they get a ‘wow’ and are immediately forgotten.”
Success is always possible. Think of all the musicians or bands that have become successful. I’m a metalhead, and we’re a bit (maybe a lot…) elitist in our musical tastes and I think a lot of popular music is kind of terrible. But even considering different tastes, views and goals, how do some of these people become so successful? On social media there are tons of photos that get an incredible amount of attention that really might not be that good. You can hide a lot of flaws on that small screen…
Why do we give these photos or images so much attention and praise?
Let’s face it, when we can’t do something or go somewhere we’re probably going to be impressed by someone who can – but our ability to gauge what should be impressive may be hindered by lack of experience or knowledge, or even willingness to critique. I’m going to use an aerial performance example to elaborate on this one. I’ve trained with Cirque du Soleil artists, lifelong performers and the coaches who work with those performers or even Olympic athletes. When it comes to putting together a performance the one thing they all have to say is that the audience doesn’t always understand the difficulty and control required for some of the tricks. Aerialists know which poses will get the most applause and it’s often not their hardest ones. The audience might not be able relate to what the performer is doing, or they’ve been told or conditioned to know specific things are impressive or you should clap for that. If you know what the audience will applaud, you can just do those moves in sequence and that’s that. But it’s not the ‘wow’ tricks themselves that make a great performance or move an audience. Can you tell a story? Do you have musicality? Can you bring your own style and link movements in an intentional way? What is it that will draw the audience into your performance and actually captivate them?
All of this can be applied to photography. When I look at an exceptional image there is the initial “wow” reaction sometimes – it’s probably very good. Those truly skilled photographers will draw you into their image with the technical aspects of how they made the shot so brilliant, and there will also be something else – emotion, inspiration, a glimpse of the photographers experience, engagement, etc.
If you want to develop and make the most out of your photography don’t just think about the technical aspect like straight horizons, focus, sharpness, etc., think about what you’re capturing and why. What is your idea, how are you going to execute it and how will you present it? Ask yourself if there is actually anything to your image besides the “wow” factor if you want them to have a lasting impact.
I want to create images that will leave an impression with people. I go out to places and see things that many people won’t go to or perhaps no one else will ever experience what I was able to. I don’t want to get thousands of likes on a photo that is only “wow” factor or just some flashy looking shot that will grab people’s attention for a brief moment until they quickly move on to the next one. The greatest and most meaningful compliments I’ve received on my images are ones that tell me they’ve returned to look at my work repeatedly, or that it evoked some emotion in them. I am very proud of my images because I have put the hard work into the details and the technical aspects and, as cheesy as it may sound, I’ve also put some of myself into my images. I always criticize my own work, not just in post processing and selection but also in the field when I am trying to capture my idea. This has allowed me to create a consistently strong body of work that is growing and improving even further every time I shoot. My philosophy and direction may not fit everyone but I believe if you’re trying to pursue photography and want to grow and improve with every shoot then you need to keep learning, be critical, be inspired and try to inspire in turn. Put that something else into your images.