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Taking Captivating Photos Requires More Than Technical Savvy

When I first became interested in photography, I was young, inexperienced and naïve. I thought that all I had to do was see something unique, make sure my camera was properly set up and focused and snap the shutter. That was all there was to it.

That was a very long time ago, and I am pleased to say that throughout the past 40 years or so I have learned a few things. Although my initial insights into taking brilliant photographs were a bit arrogant and premature, I had always believed that “every picture tells a story.” I stupidly assumed that was all there was to it, but I eventually noticed that there were some things missing. Primarily amongst those were how to make images interesting and how to get people to like them. I once remember my friend John Max telling me that a group of photographs must hold together as a series with a strong, single message, but also, each image has to stand on its own within that series. He was spot on correct!

The Debate About What Makes a Good Photo

The making, and appreciating, of photographs is a very personal thing. Some photographers want everything to be perfect—the composition, the focus, the colors, the contrast. Others (myself included) like to see things with a sense of mystery, an unanswered question, a suggestion of events happening beyond the frame, an interesting composition, or simply speak to the viewer in some very personal way. The focus, composition, and colors are secondary to that. It is all a matter of personal taste—nothing more. And, of course, there is everything else in-between.

Between who is making the photograph and who is viewing it, there is a myriad of possibilities. It all comes down to two simple questions. Why is this image interesting?  What am I trying to communicate to the viewer?

Identifying Themes

And so I began to group my photographs into projects. Initially these projects were quite simple such as places I visited, my family, landscapes, etc., but that soon began to bore me. It was all too common and predictable—it had been done too many times before by too many photographers. I began to expand into themes that were more abstract.

One such theme was about solitude, another was on couples (how they interact), another was camouflage (the subjects blending with their backgrounds), another was on the number two (pairs of random objects) and so it goes. Why I choose these subjects or themes is sometimes a mystery, even to me.

I had never taken photographs with a certain theme or purpose in mind. I had always felt that working this way closed me off from the world. I had to be a bit more receptive to what was really happening around me. I tended to shoot very randomly and by looking over my photographs taken over a period of time, I noticed that I was drawn to certain unconscious themes that I repeated to photograph continuously over time. These themes would seem to jump out at me during my editing process. Sometimes I would be adding to already existing themes and other times completely new ideas became apparent. Once I had a group of images that I liked, assembling them in a particular order to tell my story was more difficult because there are no rules in this area. It is simple a matter of personal taste and hope that someone else will see it either the same way as you do or in a  way that they also can understand.

One example of this was on a recent trip to New York. I was with my wife and we wandered through the city, shopping, eating, hanging out, and looking.  As always, I only took photographs of those familiar things that seem to interest me in some very personal ways. I did not have a theme in mind—I never do, but as we walked along I knew that what I would probably be adding a photograph or two to the twenty or thirty themes that I have had running concurrently at a time.

However, when I got back home, I looked at what I had shot and wondered how it could be grouped as a series when all my shots on the surface seemed so random. Then it hit me. After all, New York street scenes seem just a bit too overdone. Instead of grouping my images as a place, or a particular thought, New York in 48 hours seemed to be closer to what I was trying to say. It is simply a statement of how we passed the time on our brief visit. Sometimes it is as easy as that, however, most of the time it is not.

I put these photographs up on my web site and you can see them by clicking here.

[via Black Star Rising]

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