I am often asked, “What the key to making a great image is?” It is always interesting to me that those that have more of a technical type personality will say that technical skill is the key. These personality types tend to go into all the details of the math behind a lens, the analytics behind an f-stop opening, and how the menu systems in their cameras have so much to offer. Those with more of an artistic type personality, tend to say it’s all about feelings, emotions and a great eye.
I pose this question, “Can you have a great image with technical proficiency and not artistic proficiency or vice versa? Is a technically well done image without the emotions, mood or passion lacking? Or is an artistic, deeply passionate image without the proper technical skills lacking?” The answer is, “Yes!” They both have something, but they both are also lacking. The marriage of the two must take place. It is then that we can truly start seeing great images.
I will be the first to admit, I am not very good at math and equations, and am not a gadget nerd that takes every possible setting in my menu systems in my cameras and dials them in for every situation. However, many people think and operate this way and are intrigued by these facts that take place in the world of photography. After all, the digital world has come about because of these types of thinkers. Where we would be today without mega-pixels, gamma rays and sensors?
On the opposing side of the coin as it were, we find the more artistic type personality – those who tend to care less about the technical knowledge, menu systems and dials used to create their images. You’ll more than likely find them photographing in Auto Mode. They just want to enjoy the freedom to “shoot” from their heart; getting into the ambiance and the scenes that unfold before them.
So let’s get back to the question at hand…
What is the key to making a great photograph?
My belief is that both the technical and the artistic go hand-in-hand to create a great photograph. I personally feel that one lacking the other is lacking a key component to a great image. The photographer needs to take the time to combine both components to make the best possible images.
Can you identify with one or the other? There is help for each personality.
The Technically Minded
Those that are more technically inclined tend to need more help “seeing”, feeling, and being emotionally present in order to create an image that can convey both. They tend to need help learning how to rely a bit less on the buttons, gadgets, knobs, and every little digital detail. It can be difficult for them to “let go” for a bit and just enjoy and feel the moments as they come – the air, light, color, sounds, sensations, and nuances of a scene before them. Having asked these types of thinkers how they felt after photographing out on location, many times, the answer is a question back, such as, “What do you mean felt? You mean when I was working with my camera, right?” They literally forgot to slow down and really absorb all that is around them.
The technical minded need to make a conscious effort, many times with guidance, to let go of their constant analytical thinking for a moment and understand; they can actually make an image without studying the digital level or latest gadget in their camera. It takes time, but it’s a habit that can be broken in order to create outstanding photographs.
I would suggest that a good way to help in becoming more proficient at the artistic side is to take a moment to ask these questions before clicking that shutter button:
1. What do I see – really see around me?
2. What do I feel – what does my chosen subject make me feel?
3. Can my image tell a story?
4. What do I want the world to see when they look at my image?
5. What do I want the world to feel emotionally when viewing my image?
You need to be careful to not do this too quickly, but truly take the time needed to look beyond the “basic” answers and work to find something that is deeper in you emotionally – to find that connection with the subject and within yourself. Find that which makes you “feel” something, whether it be joy, peace, sadness, excitement, or….
From the answers to those questions, take a moment and compose your image first. Then ask yourself if your composition accomplished your goals – your answers to your questions. Then, apply your technical knowledge to the image. Choose the best f-stop, dial in your shutter speed, and enjoy your moment!
The Artistically Minded
The more artistically inclined person has a tendency to struggle with the details of f-stops, ISO and shutter speeds. They dislike all the little “doo dads and gadgets”, so it’s easiest for them to just use the Auto Mode and let the camera have control. When a tripod is suggested, you just may hear, “But I don’t feel free with a tripod.” When one explains that “freedom” can be obtained through having more control over the camera settings, looks of frustration come. The “artsy” person has a harder time being bogged down by the technical aspects of photography.
By learning and understanding the basic exposure elements of ISO, shutter speed, and aperture controls through manual mode first and foremost, the artistic person comes to understand the creative control and freedom they will have once they gain this knowledge.
If they want to succeed with their photography, they will need to understand that all the tools, techniques, and camera systems are just as important as having a good eye – certainly a process which can be learned so they too can create stunning images.
For both types of personalities, and even for those who have learned how to combine passion and skill, there will always be challenges, but these can be overcome. Be patient and allow yourself to make mistakes and then move on. In due time, the end result will be the creation of images that will be all they can possibly be.
By David McKay, PPA Master Photographer; Cr. CPP
Article and photos: © 2015 David McKay. All rights reserved.