When I think about the fundamental components that are often required to produce a compelling photograph, the ones that often come to mind are Vision, Anticipation, Technique and Luck.
I feel that great photography is built from a combination of being able to recognize the particular aspects of the scene that excite you, and then using your own technical and compositional skills to effectively translate the scene into an image which communicates your ideas to the viewer.
One of the most important technical skills isn’t camera related, though, it’s being able to understand and anticipate how your subjects will converge, or how they might converge in the future. As you gauge the scene and figure this out, you can then put yourself in the right position to capture it, or adjust your creative approach in a way that matches the specifics of your scene.
And then there’s luck. I talked about this in a previous post. Luck is certainly an important part of the equation, but it’s not to be relied upon. Luck won’t get you very far if you don’t have a good handle on your other three elements.
As photographers, we’re not bound to the same creative limitations that most other visual artists face. Where most artists are forced to work within the restraints of their medium, our modern cameras can show everything in perfect detail, and this is not always a good thing.
Simply reproducing the world that exists in front of our lenses rarely results in compelling imagery. Showing every single element of real life, exactly as it happened doesn’t necessarily make for good art.
What makes for engaging imagery is showing only part of your scene and inviting the viewer to dive in and imagine the rest of the scene. This allow them to engage their brains and piece together the overall message of your story by filling in the blanks of what’s NOT there.
In addition, by abbreviating your subjects, your communicate a more concise message that emphasizes the very ideas and emotions that drew you to the scene in the first place. The goal with good photography is not merely to show the subject, it’s to translate your own feelings about the scene to your viewer and evoke similar feelings in them when they look at your photo.
You can do this much more easily with a simple composition that shows very little, more so than if you show too much. Remember the term “Less is More?” That’s why.
If you’re interested in more in-depth video lessons that go beyond simple tips, check out my Photography On The Brain course. In that exclusive series, I discuss aspects about creativity and photography in a deeper level and give you monthly assignments that challenge you to think about your photography in new ways.
Whenever I get an awesome shot, and I’m sure this happens to you, people often remark how lucky I was to get that image. Sure, with all great photography, there is certainly an element of luck involved, but to simply chalk it all up to luck totally discounts all of the hard work and effort that you invest in the process.
Your viewer doesn’t see all of the planning, physical effort, courage, patience, persistence, technical skill, experience and personal creative ideas that were involved in making that image: Getting out of bed while it’s still dark, staying out late, hiking back to trailhead by headlamp, traveling all the way around the country (or the world), the hours, days and years spent practicing and refining your technique, your expertise with the camera and your mastery of light and composition…
That’s what makes for great images.
The dictionary defines luck as “good or bad fortune in life caused by accident or chance.” It also goes on to explore luck as “that which happens to a person beyond their control,” as well as the idea that with some people, luck is a self fulfilling prophecy that is based on their own belief system. Basically, if you tend to think positively, you’ll more likely to experience good luck and vice versa.
Since “good or bad” events occur at random to everyone, I tend to agree with the notion that we can self-reinforce our own fortune in life. If live by the credo that “things always work out for you in life,” then they probably will. This applies whether you have a camera in your hands or not.
Good photography is about putting ourself in the right place at the right time. It’s about doing our homework, scouting locations, anticipating how the scene might unfold, and being ready with our equipment and competent with our technique, so that if, by mere chance, something amazing happens in front of us, we’ll be ready to capture it with our cameras.
Luck is by far the smallest part of the equation in photography. It can’t be relied upon, but it can easily have the biggest impact on our images, whether it’s the way that last bit of alpenglow kisses the mountain peak, the perfect fleeting expression flashes across a model’s face or when the sky clears just at the right moment and sends golden god beams down upon your subject.
In the end, it’s your skill and your experience that leads to great images. If you’re not already a competent photographer, it won’t really matter how lucky you are. The fact is that all photographers take advantage of luck when it occurs, but they don’t rely on luck to make good images and neither should you.