Monday, January 14, 2008


Ever wondered what makes a good photograph? Its easy for someone to tell you that they think a photo is good or not, but can't tell you why. Here is my attempt to break it down like a science so you can take better photographs.
What to shootYou need to find an engaging subject. What engages you mentally to look deeper so you can understand what is going on in the picture and connect emotionally? For example, if you look at a old balding guy with a dirty apron on enjoying a cigarette in front of a restaurant with slightly peeled (and overpainted) walls. This gives you a lot of information, and it lets the mind form its own story. You've given the viewer a lot of strong variables to form a story with. This story is much more intereresting than a flower or an interesting texture on the wall would ever be. If you want to take photography to a whole new level try to take pictures of inanimate objects that you can connect emotionally. That is a science in itself.

When to shootIn a perfect world, you want balanced and controlled lighting you would get at a studio. Unfortunately that is not the case 99% of the time. - Are you willing to plan, wait, or make better lighting happen? This is what photographers are willing to do.

How to shootYou need to understand:
shutter speed - too slow and its blurry, too fast, it becomes distracting, or the picture loses context
aperture - too shallow, your message will be blurred, too deep, people won't know what the subject of your photograph was.
ISO sensitivity - you want to keep this as low as possible 99.9% of the time so that your images are as noise free as possible.
stops - you need to understand what a 1/3, 2/3, or 1 stop means. For example, if your shooting 2.8 f/stop, and want to shoot at 1.4 f/stop then you can compensate by increasing your shutter speed by 4x, or increasing your shutter speed by 2x and lowering your ISO sensitivity from ISO 200 to ISO 100.
My last tip on this subject is to read about DOF (depth of field) and a rule of thirds. It is probably the easiest thing to learn to start taking better pictures right away.

How to post processThis is a subject that is most ignored. I am guilty of it too. This is where you develop your own style. Use photoshop. Find a combination of colors, sharpness, and contrast that you find appealing. You can have a few sets of combinations, but keep it consistant.

Why (What is the x-factor?)Just like any form of art, I believe this is what distinguishes the chefs for the sous-chefs, the grammy award winners from the cabaret singers, and likewise the famous photographer from the wedding photographer. They both possess the same level of techinical knowledge, but what is missing is the personal touch and style. The audience is looking for new things to eat, hear, see, feel, and experience. If you are always trying to imitate an existing style, then your pics will look good, but it may not be interesting to you. So in the end, it may not be interesting to you, and its not interesting to anyone else. How long do you think a hobby like this would last? Or how passionate would you be about continuing on? Whether it be photography, cooking, singing, fashion, you should always try to make it your own. When you look at the picture, you know its been shot and post processed in a way that you think was done to achieve the best picture possible because it appeals to you the most. If other people agree, then great. Maybe you can benefit from that. If they don't agree, its their loss, because it is still perfect in your eyes and you can appreciate it just as much.

I'll go on record to say that I've never shot one picture with all these things in mind. I've always been more of a point and shooter. And as for my technical knowledge on lighting, aperture, and shutter speed goes its pretty good. But I've had a realization today, and I'm gonna try something new. Here is how I think I usually shoot a picture. Something catches my eye, so I snap. And maybe it'll make sense later. What you are doing is caputring everything in sight, so you can take the information with you. Unfortunately, that does not make an interesting photograph. Its like if I wanted to describe an interesting day I had when I was traveling to another country. Do I talk about the things that don't matter and talk about interesting things somewhere in the middle of the 50 page blog post? No. Because people would be lost in trying you understand what was so interesting. And a picture is not any different. So the next time something catches your eye, ask yourself:
-What was interesting? And make that the subject of your photograph. And if the context of the subject was interesting, it is important to capture that as well, and not capture anything irrelevant.
-Capture it the best image techinically as possible. Did you take it at the right f/stop? Shutter speed and at the lowest ISO? Can the lighting be improved with flash? Or could you wait and come back at another day or time for better lighting?
-Enhance your message by post processing, so that your message is clear. It is not any different than proof reading your creative writing so that you get your story across with more impact. Do it where you do it because it makes sense and looks good to you. And that in itself will reflect on your own style.

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