Monday, March 30, 2009

The three key elements of good photographs

Photography is about three things: light, colour and action. Think of it as the tripod that supports all good images. As you know though it is still possible to take a great image on a monopod so at the risk of straining the metaphor, you need at least one of the following elements to make an interesting image.

Light is the essence of photography. It tells the story in your image by connecting directly with the emotions of the viewer. Harsh light and soft light, shadow that hides and sparks the imagination, bright light that shows every detail – all have their characteristics. To be a good photographer you need to learn how to speak the language of light and use it to tell the story you want to communicate to the viewer.

Colour, and in black and white the tonal range and values, also connect with the viewer's emotions. Colour provides the inner energy of the image. Vibrant and bright colours have a profoundly different mood to soft muted colours. Warm colours come forward while cool colours retreat, creating depth and emphasis in your images. Dark and light tones in black and white images create a pattern and fill the frame with energy when used in high contrast or soften the mood when you use subtle greys.

Action is the word I use to describe what is happening in the image. This may be a decisive moment ala Cartier Bresson or it could be tension created in a still life composition between different elements for example an egg balanced precariously on the edge of a table. The action in an image is what gets the viewer to pose the all important questions, “What happened next and what happened a fraction of a second before?” Action is a slice of frozen time the split second the shutter opened. As photographers we have to both pose the question to the viewer, “Why was this particular split second important?” And in the image we have to provide an answer as well so that the viewer can discover something in your image which makes them say, “Oh I see why!” It could take a split second for the viewer to ‘get it’ or a minute but that discovery has to be there to make the image truly interesting.

Right. There we have the three legs of the tripod that good photography rests on. Now you need to think about how to use all three to make your images connect with the viewer’s emotions and intellect. You have to surprise, amaze and enthrall them to get your images to communicate. Each step of the way you’ve got to think; how can I use light, colour and action/interaction/reaction within the image to make it more powerful, creative and meaningful. Simple really…

Till soon…

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