I was just thinking today, that if someone asked me – what is required to make a great photograph? Then I’d have to come up with a top ten list of ‘things’ that I think contribute to making a good photo.
1. Being there. You must have heard the term ‘f8 and be there’? Well, it’s the essence of a good photo. Being in the right place at the right time, or in the case of landscape photography, recongising a good composition, and being submerged in beautiful light
2. Recognising the moment. Knowing that right here, right now, the light and the subject matter are combining to provide something you feel inspired to capture.
3. Being open to ‘anything can happen’. Often I’ve found photographers so intent on making an image, and rooted to the spot, that they can’t see the wood for the trees. If they only let themselves ‘go’ and disengage from the process of making a picture, perhaps they will see aspects they didn’t notice, or will research / roam the location they are in. I remember on one workshop taking a picture of some horses below the Cuernos in Torres del Paine. The composition was so obvious to me, yet a participant of my trip said to me afterwards ‘I didn’t see it’. And I’m sure it’s because they were so wrapped up in capturing what they were trying to ‘make work’ that they missed what was being offered to them.
4. Being able to recognise a good composition. Some people instinctively know when a composition works and just go to it like a duck to water. Others have to experiment over time to discover what lenses work and what sort of compositions work too. Nothing is cast in stone and each person has their own ‘vision’. Some are more focused / tuned than others.
5. Knowing that what you want to capture will fit onto your film or sensor. With experience, certain exposures work more than others. Soft light works best than midday light, but having experience can help you determine what will work. I guess this is now getting into the technical realm.
6. We’re now into the technical realms of photo making. But have you noticed that I’ve not even mentioned a camera yet? That’s because the camera is purely a tool that YOU direct. I’ve taken pictures on a crappy 35mm camera that have been better than images I’ve taken on Large Format. Seven is about exposure. Understanding dynamic range and how to correctly expose the shot to get what you ‘see’.
7. Which is important? Freezing time, or depth of field? Often I find with landscape I want to take long exposures when something is moving fast in the scene. I like to convey movement and the passing of time, but sometimes it’s not appropriate. Knowing when and how.
8. A camera. Yes, it does matter, but not as much as the other aspects I’ve described. Naturally, it’s an over-simplification to say a camera doesn’t matter, but the point is that it is not the most important element in taking a good picture. It is just a tool and some tools are better than others. Some can hinder than aid, and I’ve found that some cheaper tools hinder less than some expensive tools. I like a camera which doesn’t get in the way. It should be simple to use, and act as an aid or interface between what you see and what you capture. If you’re spending too much time fiddling with it, then it’s a hindrance, not an aid to capturing the moment.
9. I can’t think of any more.
So you see. It’s not about the camera. But you do need a camera to capture your ‘vision’. Those that say the camera does matter are missing the point. The camera is the last step. It is something you use to record everything esle that came before – being there, recognising a moment, understanding light and composition and determining the right exposure. Only then do you reach for your camera.