It doesn’t matter what you photograph – just make it your best shot ever!

I’m writing this article because I am seeing an increasing number of what I consider to be relatively poor photographs among the varous groups I frequent, at least in terms of subject, composition and lighting and this appears to be a growing trend It’s almost as if pointing the camera at anything and clicking the shutter is enough to say, look at me, I’m a photographer. Truthfully, it’s all just noise, detracting from the really good stuff that gets hidden away in those very same groups.

Now, I’ve said before in a previous post that I don’t understand the rush to post your photos on facebook. It’s the same really for other social interest groups, including Instagram which at least does give you a profile of images to show off. That being said, if you class yourself as a photographer, whether new to the genre or an old hand, we all need to stop accepting that meadiocre is good enough and start pushing for great. If we don’t do this collectively then we simply can’t improve and continuous improvement is what makes us better. I know from my own experience, and never more so than recently when I had to reconstitute a lot of my photography from it’s earliest days, how I have changed as a photographer and hopefully how I have improved with time. A lot of this improvement has come from the help and support of others as well as from my own personal development and my interests as a photographer and as an artist. What I thought was really good four years ago is no longer necessarily what I think is good today.

Of course, what I consider poor may differ hugely from what you consider poor and I think that is part of the problem. However, while we may differ on the stuff that interests usand makes us hit the like button, what shouldn’t differ in what we agree makes a good image. For me this is very simply:

  • Content
  • Composition
  • Exposure

If any one of these three items is missing then that photo really shouldn’t see the light of day. And turning it into a HDR masterpiece isn’t going to help. You can’t turn a pigs ear into a silk purse as they say!

When you look at an Ansel Adams photo you know, assuming that you know something about photography, that it’s an Ansel Adams photo. There’s just something about the depth of tones, the subject matter, composition and the overall exposure that screams Ansel Adams. You don’t even have to like landscapes to value his images. Everything is in the right place, everything has the right exposure and the subject always captures the imagination. When you look at images from Cartier-Bresson or another great candid photographer, for example Robert Doiseneu, Vivian Maier, Saul Leiter, Fred Herzog or Diane Arbus and indeed, any number of others, again, everything you could possibly need to tell a story is all there. Nothing is missing. Does this mean that photography is easy? Well, in truth yes but in order to sell it to others, you just need to think a little more about the story you are trying to tell before you press the shutter button. Of course you then have to rely on the viewer understanding your message or your story and that is not so easy, especially looking at what some photographers think is a good image!

Of course, we are dead lucky to live in an age where the modern camera does all the hard work. Exposing your image correctly, and getting everything in focus really shouldn’t be a problem. Even if for some reason it is a little dark or a little too bright, five minutes in post really should be all it takes to nail it. So, while some minor latitude may be required in the technical areas, all we really have to do then is to find the amazing compositions that tell a great story. Easy really! Well, no, it’s not and that’s why most images today – and I’m talking of the millions of images taken daily on everything from a smart phone to a Hasselblad – just don’t work. That’s where experience comes in, that’s were looking at successful photographers and their images pays off and that’s where talking and listening to others pays dividends. You might be the next Cartier-Bresson, self taught, self critical and extremely capable but chances are, you aren’t. Very few are. That doesn’t mean though hat you have to accept your own images as being good, let alone the output of others as being good. If you suck up photography as a sponge sucks up water without question you’ll become a better photographer. Just don’t spend your time sucking up the dross you see on facebook and thinking that this is good photography. Sadly, it all to often isn’t.