What Makes A Good Picture (for me)
Some time ago, in an earlier posting (“Photographer / Photographs“), I mentioned in passing the term “Class 1 Image.” This being a term I made up a few years back as a half-serious construct in describing the work of others, defining it as: “The only thing wrong with it, is that I didn’t do it.” In other words, an excellent image that I wish was mine.
Now I’d like to get into that, in a more in-depth way, as to how this “Class 1″ business pertains to my work and the work of others.
While realizing how subjective the following may be, and that any views or opinions expressed herein are solely my own, I nevertheless believe that with 50 plus years of experience (and interest) in Photography coupled with a resume as long as your arm, there does exist a valid basis for what I’m about to say.
So on those occasions when someone makes the point that I do “good work,” my usual response goes something like: “If you do something long enough, you either get good at it or you’re a fool or a fanatic. By now I’ve been all three.” Therefore rather than some mind-numbing treatise as to what constitutes an artful image or how one defines “Fine Art Photography,” as a Serious Nature Photographer, let me simply tell you What Makes A Good Picture (for me).
To begin with, Good Composition Is A Must. Is the picture well-balanced? Are there visual distractions that “dilute” the image? Does the background “work”? Is there evidence of an “Awareness Of Light“? Finally, is the technique adequate to realize / achieve the photographer’s vision?
Next, Is It Original? Is this un-familiar subject matter or a new slant on something familiar? Unless it’s for learning purposes, why replicate what’s been done before?
Is It Worth Looking At? Is there something compelling about it that attracts the eye? Does It Work At A Distance? You don’t have to be up close to appreciate it; there’s a strong enough graphic quality that still looks good from afar.
Does It Work Under Low Light Conditions? It shouldn’t require a spotlight to look good. (Finally) Does It Possess An Ineffable Sense Of Rightness? Weston wrote about “revealing the essence of the thing,” a kind of “photographic distillation” if you will.
So there you have it, along with the understanding that there are surely many other criteria, but these are the ones that come to MY mind. Of course, there will be many exceptions to these six points that still achieve “Class 1″ status, but in general this is what I look for in my best work and the work of others.
By the way, in another previous posting (“16 Behaviors of The Serious Photographer“), the point was made about the importance of “ruthless editing.” If you have trouble choosing between two (or more) images, consider my “Burning House” analogy: Imagine the two (or more) beautifully printed enlarged pictures are in very heavy frames, your house is on fire, and you can “save” only one. Which will it be?
And here’s a final take-away: When I was a floundering freshman in college, the best piece of advice I ever got was “If you know what to do, do it. If you don’t know what to do, find out, and then do it.”
Warren Krupsaw, a one-time student (and house guest) of Ansel Adams is a nature photographer concentrating on landscape & detail. After participating in the first year of a new graduate program in Photography at M.I.T. with Minor White, he earned his M.F.A. in Photography under Harry Callahan at the R.I.S.D. in 1968.
Book: Portraits of Passion and Other Dalliances