The Secret to a Great Photograph

Well, the talk I gave on February 20th went well.  People asked great questions and I think we all got a little closer to figuring out what an intimate landscape was.  Writing and giving that educational talk really reinforced to me a peculiar aspect of photography: the technical details (camera, lens, filters) are always given more credit for a good image than the imagination and vision of the photographer. 

Why is that?

Is it because the nature of making a photograph is such a mechanical process?  We press a button, but it is the gears and materials in the camera that move as a result of our actions and allow us to record data.  With a painter, the connection between input and output is visible and direct:  the artist chooses a brush and a pigment, dips the brush into the pigment and then applies the pigment to a surface.  No mystery there!  (Except of course in how that blob of paint is now a pine tree.)  Perhaps because we are more removed from and less directly controlling of the way light is captured we develop a perception that our camera gear is doing more for us in making a great image than it is.

Because let’s face it:  you can have the best gear in the world and still take crappy images.  Often I attend tours or workshops and many of the participants have more and better gear than I do.  Sometimes they do not understand how to use it (what I call ‘over-geared’) and that is definitely part of the problem.  But I am continually surprised at how many people don’t get it.  I’ve seen many images that were compositionally weak yet the person needs to know what filter others are using to get a better image.  Sure, good gear will let you do more.  Gear provides flexibility not creativity.  You may even become technically proficient with sharpness and clarity in your images.  But a sharp image is not necessarily a good image.  It is still the creative mind of the photographer who perceives and then proceeds to execute a great photograph.  The ability to translate vision through your artistic tools is the prerequisite of any good image.

Luckily, there were no such questions at my talk.  I’m not very interested in gear so I was happy about that.  But I would love to see more of a discussion going on on the compositional merits and nature of a photograph.  I don’t think this topic is confined to fine art photography (whatever THAT is).  I think any artist should engage with both the technical and creative aspects of their art.

Here are some images from my talk.  I hope soon to be out in this early spring making images but right now is the season of ‘brown’ so old images will have to do.


~ by Samantha on February 28, 2010.

3 Responses to “The Secret to a Great Photograph”

  1. Just stumbled across your blog – it’s really interesting read and your photos are great. Look forward to reading and seeing more…

  2. Hi, I have been photographing for two years now and I know I have lots to learn but that is what I love about it. It doesn’t bore me at all. It constantly challenges me as I learn more about technique and evolve more in the creative aspect. When I first started, like in the first six months of photography, I thought okay I need this gear and this gear and soon I realized it isn’t about the gear at all. Right now, I like to focus on the basics, composition, lighting, and my emotions towards the subject and when I feel I’m ready I’ll focus on other aspects of photography.

  3. I agree, there isn’t much discussion on composition beyond the rule of thirds. I enjoy the composition side of photography much more than the technical side-I avoided photography classes for years because I my heart sank at the idea of having to learn about f-stops and shutter speed. However, once I started learning it on my own and working with it, it became fun. I’ve been working on improving my shots for the last 3 years, and I have basic equipment. I know I can’t upgrade my camera or lenses anytime soon, so I want to make the best out of what I have, which is where composition really comes into play. Knowing how to use your gear is important, but composition is just as important. How can we fix this.

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