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1 - What's a Good Photograph?

The Exercise

Jot down everything you can about a photograph in five minutes.

Critical Thinking

Direct your critical thinking toward the photograph—not toward your critical thinking—or yourself.

Write down anything.

Brainstorm.

Don't judge.

The Goal of the Exercise

Most people see only the subject in the photograph.

Some see more, the gist of the photograph.

A few see and feel a lot more—the entire gestalt produced by the photograph.

By doing the exercise below, you can be a level-3 photographer.

1 Subject
2 Gist
3 Gestalt

Orientation

Make two passes through the exercise.

First Pass

Check off the categories below that apply to the photograph.

Define the categories as you see fit.

The categories may overlap with each other.

When a single term is listed, consider any opposite terms, as well.

For example, depth includes lack of depth.

There may be shades of gray between the opposites, too.

There are also boxes for adding additional categories.

Second Pass

Jot down comments in the boxes for the pertinent categories.

Privacy

The checkboxes that you click, and the text you enter below, go no further than your own computer.

If you move to another page, or close this page, what you've entered is NOT saved.

Printing

Page breaks have been inserted in the text.

Use portrait orientation with the scale set to Shrink to Fit, not 100%.

Here's a PDF version of this first section.

Solar System Metaphor

You'll surprise yourself.

The notebook and time limit are like a telescope.

You'll see a solar system.

We'll use our solar system as a metaphor for a photograph.

Here's a summary of the metaphor.

 
The Metaphor The Photograph
Type of Solar System Genre
Sun Purpose
Sunlight Reward
Gravity Tension, Causality, Narrative
Planets Ingredients
 

 

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What Type of Solar System?

What's the genre of the photograph?

Portrait

Street photography

Landscape

Still life

Art

Photojournalism

Snapshot

Found

Made

Write about the photograph's genre.

   

 

q  

Sun ~ Purpose

Using our solar-system metaphor, the sun is the purpose of the photograph.

Purpose includes many overlapping ideas.

Aura

Beauty

Communication

Imitation of a reality

Insight

Truth

Remembrance, for the photographer, for something related in the viewer's life

Uniqueness

Write about the photograph's purpose.

 

q  

Light from the Sun ~ Reward

Above, the sun in our metaphor is the purpose of the photograph.

The light from the sun is the something that lights up the reward areas of the viewer's brain.

What's the reward for the viewer?

If you're using one of your photographs, this reward may be different for you the photographer, than it is for other viewers.

The photograph creates one or more of the following.

Emotion, such as pleasure

Harmony, such as that from a pleasing arrangement of lines, shapes, tones, colors, i.e., visual gymnastics

Thought, such as insight

Transformation

Transcendation

Write about the photograph's reward.

 

q  

It's a Solar System

The planets, discussed below, are the many ingredients that went into the photograph.

These ingredients, like the planets, are part of a system.

Everything within the frame, and a few things outside the frame, are working together in a good photograph.

 

 

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Gravity

What's the gravity that holds the photographic ingredients together?

Tension

Tension is the photograph's gravity.

A good photograph has visual tension.

Paradoxically, when the tension is done well, like gravity, the tension:

• Is often invisible.

The photograph is transmitted without interference.

• Transmits a strong effect.

Causality & Narrative

Causality and narrative may also be the photograph's gravity.

Our brains seek relationships and stories as we go about our days.

We're looking for cause and effect, which often is only a correlation, not causality.

We're attracted to stories and we're story makers.

When we look at a photograph, we're sensitive to the photographer's intentional, and our imagined, causalities and narrative.

Write about the photograph's tension.

 

q

Gustav Holst, The Planets

 

Planets

As mentioned, the planets are the many ingredients that went into the photograph.

There can be just a few, or many.

The Pluto-sized planets of the photograph's solar system are minor players.

The Jupiter-sized ingredients play bigger roles, such as light.

Light

There's a section below about light, the Jupiter of our photographic solar system.

Color and tone

Journalistic approach:

Who

What

When

Where

Why

Depth, which may be expressed with composition, tone, focal length

History, time

Past

Now

Future

Technical (See Camera Buttons below)

Point-of-view of the photographer

Is the photographer absent, explicitly present, or implicitly just off stage?

Write about the photograph's ingredients.

 

Planets Continued

Complex or simple

Clarity or obfuscation

Balance or dissonance

Novelty, surprise

Purity, such as manipulation, camera brand and type, color v. B&W

Sincerity, authenticity

Morality and ethics

Privacy

Politics

Advocacy

Culture

Ethnicity

Sex and gender

Psychology

Opportunity for commentary, criticism

Presentation

Location

Subject

Value, including monetary

Write more about the photograph's ingredients.

We leave the solar-system metaphor here.

 

 

q  

Light

As mentioned, light is the most important planet in your photograph's solar system.

There are fours ways to describe light.

1) Direction

Texture & Volume

2) Size, which changes the contrast of the lighting

3) Color and tone

Time of day

4) Distance from the subject

There's a discussion of light in Beecher's Handouts.

Go to Light / 5.1 - Introduction.

Write about the light in the photograph.

 

Camera Buttons

Focus

Use of depth-of-field

Use of shutter speed

Exposure

Color balance

Focal length

Write about the focus, depth-of-field, etc.

Composition

Frame

What's on or near the edges and corners of the frame.

What's outside the frame, if anything?

Does everything in the frame contribute to the photograph?

Vantage point

Where was the camera placed in the scene?

Planes

Foreground

Middle ground

Background

Relationships between shapes, colors, tones

Rule of Thirds

Contrast, expressed with lighting, texture, color, and tone

Repetition

Focal point

Secondary focal point

Write about the photograph's composition.

 

Draw It

Sketch the photograph, crudely or with panache.

Drawing can improve observation.

Draw it.

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Gesture

Gesture is the obvious, human gesture.

It is also an added 5% sprinkle of something that takes a photograph up to 100%.

Gesture is like a comet.

Write about the gesture in the photograph.

 

Viewer's Participation

First impression

Lasting impression

Emotion

Narrative

Open to interpretation

Opportunity for fantasy, imagination

Admiration for:

Technique

Perseverance, such as Cartier-Bresson's Decisive Moment

Risk taking, such as Robert Capa's "If your pictures aren't good enough, you're not close enough."

Write about the viewer's participation.

The next section has a more philosophical approach to the topic of what is a good picture.