Photography is a curious art form. Heck, give a chimp one of the latest cameras and they would probably take decent photos. Don’t believe me? How about this link to a monkey taking self portraits and other photos? (OK, I know a monkey is not a chimpanzee)
Most people know that exposure, shutter speed, depth of field, rule of thirds, the golden ratio etc. are the basic vocabulary of photography. For an image to be successful, the basic techniques must be good. Notice that I did not say correct, as there are different techniques that can make the same scene and situation good, albeit in different manners.
If you ask people what makes a memorable picture, most people would say something about the content – Moonrise over Hernandez, the Naplam Girl, Flag over Iwo Jima etc. Those images are seared into the collective visual cortex and most people can recall them. Some people may mention fantastic light, and that’s certainly one reason why works by Fan Ho, Linda Connor and others are so admired.
So it’s not surprising that most photographers chase the light, they chase the content and they do artsy things to elevate their images above others. But sometimes they forget a fundamental principle: design elements, the same ones used by painters, are what differentiate between very good from the very best images.
Don’t believe me? Read this article on Eugene Smith, this one on Henri Cartier-Bresson, and this one on Craig Semetko and Henri Cartier-Bresson. I don’t know about you, but when I first read them, they took my breath away.
I’m sure some people may still think the content or that the fantastic light is king. Perhaps, but starting now, I’m going to pay more attention to good design. This will be especially challenging for panoramic format.
As an example, to celebrate the Leap Day, I took a couple pictures of my wife leaping, also a nod to Henri Cartier-Bresson’s leap photo. When I saw the preview on the LCD, I know I got something utilizing the diagonal lines. After I imported and processed the image a bit, I added the diagonal lines as a visual aid for me to understand the image better.
Is this image successful? If so, do the lines help to make it so? Let me know what you think.
p.s. for a hilarious tongue-in-cheek (at least I hope it’s tongue -in-cheek) “design element treatment” of the recent World Press Photo of the year, see here.