Photo by Jud Muir
Photo by Joshua Zucker
Photo by David Root
** This article is a re-edit and re-package of a previous article. **
I was thinking about how every photographer I know has a completely different path then the next. But what makes them similar? I was thinking about “modes” or “gears” that we shift into. But “phases” might be the appropriate word. “Phases” are stages of development. But you can refer to a “phase” as a “state” or “cycle” as well.
Here are 5 phases that we all shift into, cycle through, and/or embody simultaneously. Maybe there are more.
Books, teachers, shutter speeds, apertures, etc.
Experimenting, “developing” your style.
Productivity. Shooting and processing.
There is nothing else. There is no back up plan.
Burnout. Brakes. Rest. Reflection.
When I say, “Working” I don’t necessarily mean being paid. I mean working on your craft. That goes for “Obsession” too. Some of the most obsessed guys I know have a regular day job and shoot after work and on the weekends.
What phase are you in today?
Photo by Zack Canepari
In the article AVERAGES, we talked about feeling average about your photos. We talked about getting your numbers up and thus becoming “above average” but I think we can go into those numbers and distinctions a little more.
The idea is let’s say you are averaging 1 good photo out of 10 photos, then you are hitting at 10%. My suggestion to get those numbers up was to edit better, develop better skills and technique, and have more purpose. But I left out an obvious and crucial one, that is to shoot more.
If you want 1 good photo per day, then going by your averages, you need to shoot 10 photos per day. We know some days are better than others. Bad weather, bad attitude, boring scenario and many factors can lead to a boring day shooting. So if we bake those days into your average, then you need to up your shooting number on those days where everything is flowing properly. I say shoot 20.
Well what if you just shot 1000 photos and they all suck? I say shoot 19,000 more. This is about “clarity through action.” A quote I heard somewhere that applies here. If you want clarity, you have to take action. You have to learn photography. You have to shoot.
You have to hunt for that quality of photo that resonates truth for yourself and all of mankind. If you didn’t know, this is the search for magic beans path that we are all on as photographers. If you are reading this, you are on this mission. If you are reading this, you are part of the resistance.
Photo by Bill Burke
While we got over 500 hits on the site only 10 votes came it. I was surprised but I do know some people were having problems on some mobile browsers. I am actually going to leave the poll open and see if further analysis is required. But I don’t think that will be the case.
As I suspected, “All of the Above” got the most votes. Which means a good amount of you agree that there is not one most important ingredient to making a great photo. And since that was the purpose of this poll, then the results are inconclusive.
“Emotional Content” got the second place. This topic was also the majority of the commentary. While it is essential in a great photograph, we as a group have found that it is only 20% of the pie.
There was 1 vote for “None of the Above”. That means 10% of you believe that none of the candidates listed would make a great leader. That is just as valid and important to consider too. When I listed “None”, I didn’t mean “Nothing”. So from that we can infer 10% of a great photo could be a nameless magic ingredient. To keep it glass is half full I marked it in the pie chart as “Unknown”.
There are different ways to interpret the data. If we divided the “All of the Above” votes into mini votes for everything, then we would add a .4 % vote for each candidate. Therefore “Emotional Content” would win while other ones like “Timing” would make the scoreboard. Although “Unknown” would still be scoring higher.
But that wasn’t the goal of the poll. We wanted to find out your number 1 ingredient and a vote for “All of the Above” is not 1 ingredient. We could’ve left it off the poll but this gives us useful info too. According to a strong and united 40% of you, a combination of all these things is what makes a great photo.
On the other hand, 60% of you disagree. If we go by the numbers then “Emotional Content” is the leader, but the majority is not united. We cannot ignore the voices for “Mystery”, “Energy”, “Composition”, and the X factor of the “Unknown”.
Could it be impossible to create a formula for a “perfect” photograph? I think we need more data.
This was fun. More polls in the future.
Photo by Troy Holden
Ok I downloaded a poll plugin. I’m a nerd’s nerd and I like DATA. After the discussion in the last article, the comments became about the magic ingredients for a masterpiece level photo. That’s what I was getting out of it anyways. If we at least know the ingredients, maybe we can figure out how to bake these cookies.
After thinking about it all night, I do not think there is a magic formula for a photo that can ring truth spanning across all generations and cultures. But, if you are looking at this website and you know what we are doing over here, then you know that we are all in the same general type of genre/category/aesthetic or whatever you want to call it. So maybe we can have a formula for our little section of the photo universe.
Also, I think there might exist 2 ways to look at a photograph. One as a photographer. And one as civilian. For instance I think I look at photo books as a photographer, but I view the newspapers and commercial magazines as a civilian. This might not be true in every case, but generally I think I operate this way. So I made this poll to contain aspects of both types of viewing.
Vote here for what you think is the most number 1 important aspect of a great photo. What connects you most? What engages you as a viewer? We know it is a combo of all of them, but if you had to choose just one. What would it be?
If you choose “None”, then leave in the comments what you think I might have left off. Thanks in advance.
** Poll not responding on some mobile browsers. Not sure why.
Photo by Elmo Tide
Getting awesome feedback! Thank you all for reading these things and glad my random thoughts and ideas are resonating. If you have any questions that you think I should write about, leave them in the comments section or feel free to email me :
This came in from regular photo contributor Reuben Radding:
Here’s what I’m having a hard time with: new questions. When I started grad school I dedicated myself to finding new questions to replace the outmoded and fully answered ones like, “Is it documentary or fine art?” “Why black & white vs color? digital vs film?”, etc etc etc… And the idea was that if we accept these issues as a waste of thought, what is next? What are the next big questions?
I have spent two years busting ass, growing, learning, questioning, and I’m not sure I know what the questions are other than, “What is the specific energy or quality or whatever that makes a photograph really sing out when it obviously doesn’t depend on “correctness” or “important content”?
We all know this quality when we see it. And we all chase it. And different photos are strong for different reasons, but what is this elusive aliveness that no one can put in a lens review or a guide to composition? I’m only scratching the surface to find an answer for this yet, and I’m still looking for more questions that aren’t “Canon vs Nikon” or “Wide angle vs Normal.” Maybe, “How can I put everything I am into a frame?” or “Who the hell is Elmo Tide?”
Thanks Reuben. Firstly, I think this might be the impossible question. Let’s try it. I have mentioned story telling in other posts. I say if you can tell a good story then your photos are “good”. But that involves multiple frames and editing much like making a feature film. And I think you’re saying, “What makes 1 particular frame really good?” To me that’s almost like saying, “What is art?” Let’s look it up.
1. the expression or application of human creative skill and imagination, typically in a visual form such as painting or sculpture, producing works to be appreciated primarily for their beauty or emotional power.
“the art of the Renaissance”
synonyms: fine art, artwork
“he studied art”
2. the various branches of creative activity, such as painting, music, literature, and dance.
Ok we have some clues. Look at the first definition. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. We know about beauty so let’s scratch that one off. “Emotional power”. That’s the nectar right there. You touched on it when you said “aliveness”. The viewer is feeling something looking at the photo. Maybe a “good” photo steers them in a particular emotional direction.
This is a list from Wikipedia :
Robert Plutchik’s theory says that the 8 basic emotions are:
Looking at this list it is no wonder why joy is favored as such a premium and why bad news dominates every tv channel. People need to get charged up emotionally in either direction.
This makes me think of Robert Frank’s “The Americans”. While 100s or 1000s of photographers have traveled across the country and made books about it, his became one of the most celebrated photo books of all time. And it’s because it had a darkness to it. A sadness. And in the 1950’s that kind of emotional exploration was new and sophisticated.
I don’t know if this is theee answer, but it’s an answer. Emotional content. Maybe if you can shoot something in a strong emotional state, and somehow that emotion transfers over to the viewer, then maybe you have just made a “good” photo.
Second. I don’t know who is Elmo Tide. But what a great example of no social media, no website, just Flickr and epic photos. I feel lucky that he somehow found Hamburger Eyes and decided to submit photos, a few rounds of photos actually. If you are reading this Elmo, we are huge fans and can’t wait to see more.