When we talk about photographs, what are we really talking about? In a word, the print. So, let us first define what a print is. Back in the days before the world wide web a print was simply that. An image printed on paper. Today the print also includes (for our purposes) display on a website and any other means of sharing an image with someone.
Okay, now why is it important for us to start with this definition? We make images to share our vision with others and/or to record an event. Simply put if we are going to the trouble to capture the image we are going to want to share it. This brings us to another foundation distinction. The snapshot verses the photograph. While technically a snapshot is still a photograph, I would like for you to think of them as separate entities. Both are captured images, however, a photograph (for our purposes) is an image that has been made with the intent to share something with the viewer. A snapshot is just that an image captured with no premeditation as to what it is going to convey, or an image captured with no further intent.
Yes, I see you there with your hand up. “But Ken, my intent was to capture what I saw.” That is a great starting point but it conveys nothing to the viewer. Remember they likely were not there and will not have the benefit of the supporting details.
Here are a few key questions you should ask yourself before you ever squeeze the shutter.
- What exactly am I tring to convey to my viewer?
- What emotion do I want them to experience?
- How can I captivate the viewers interest?
- What is important in this scene?
- What isn’t important?
These questions and more importantly how you answer them will determine the success of your photograph. All of the techno-mumbo-jumbo in the world won’t do you a bit of good in creating better images if you can not answer the questions. Allow me to give an example that I bet everyone of you has in your photo file somewhere. A candid image of a loved one or a friend. Ever wonder why your images look blah compared to a professional’s image? We all get lucky once in a while and capture the perfect image. The difference is a pro does it on command. Why is that? It isn’t because they have some magical formula to follow. Well, maybe they do. They make decisions about what to include, what not to include, what emotion to convey, how to convey that emotion, and what they want the viewer to focus on. So back to the example I asked you to pull out. Study it for a minute. Remember where you were and what you were doing. Now here comes the hard part. Be honest!! Ask yourself, if you did not have first hand knowledge of what was going on, would your image convey that to you. Most of you, if you are being honest, will answer no.
Why is that? Simply put you didn’t have a clear vision or plan for the image. Now, if you didn’t know what you were attempting to convey, how can anyone else possibly have a chance to see or experience it?
After you figure out what you want to convey, and only then can you begin to make the technical decisions to create that image.