The art of (not) telling the whole story...What Makes a Good Photograph, Part 1 and 2

Nee7x7Nee7x7 Secret Dgrin JunkieRegistered Users Posts: 459 Major grins
edited September 19, 2008 in Technique
Thoughts on What Makes a Photograph "Good"...

We tend to go on ad infinitum about what makes a good photograph... the focus being spot on, the lack of noise, the composition, good exposure, etc, (and we'll often point out these sorts of "flaws" when critiqueing each other's work). But the funny thing is that I have found that the photographs that REALLY grab me often aren't necessarily the ones with perfect focus, lack of noise, good composition, exposure, etc...


Part One - Not telling the Whole Story

In my own photos, I'm often guilty of trying to include too much in the scene, and what I usually get is a boring, busy sort of snapshot photo... representational, but without any particular message other than "this is where I was, this is what I saw". I've heard the mantra "Simplify, simplify" and recently I have been making a conscious effort to do that whenever I go out shooting and I've been rewarded with some nicer photos as I move in that direction.

But I still feel I want something more in my photos...something I haven't attained yet. And that is what led me to really start to analyze what it was about the photos that demanded my attention and made me go wow mentally. And what I found was that one of the aspects of photos that had that wow factor was that often there was something implied outside the frame, but not included. Something purposefully left out to allow our minds to fill in the blanks. (A recent one of Andy's -The Un-People - being an example).

Sometimes the thing not included is something we feel SHOULD be there, as in the case of photos where part of a person's head or face is purposefully cropped off, creating a sort of visual tension in the viewer. A person walking off the edge of the photo, instead of walking into it.

Sometimes the thing not included is easy for our minds to fill in, such a photo of a kayaker in white water where you can't actually see the kayak or the ends of his oar, but you know they're there in your mind.

Sometimes it's a purposeful LACK of focus on what would normally be considered the main subject, with the focus being on some small detail instead, as in a waterfall out of focus but with a leaf on a rock a little apart from the scene in sharp focus, or a street scene with people out of focus, but a cigarette butt on the ground in sharp focus. Or it could be a wavy depiction of a scene reflected in water or a building's windows instead of the actual scene. The concept here being to imply something rather than tell the whole story, to leave at least a part of it to the viewer's imagination.

Part Two - Relationships

Another aspect of a well realized photograph is the way it depicts relationships. While not necessarily relationships between people in the photo, that is one aspect of it. What I'm talking about here is more how the main subject (whether a person or something else) relates to the environment around it.

The most creative portraits I've noticed usually include something that tells us a little about the person. Rather than just being a nicely composed, perfectly lighted and tack sharp photo of the subject, there is something more that makes it special and not run of the mill. Having the subject interacting with something in the scene, not just staring at the camera often makes a portrait much more interesting. In portraits, this could be the inclusion of something the person owns or a hobby or their work...their pet dog or their fishing lures or their computer. Showing how they interact with something that is a part of their personality and livelihood.

But the interaction need not be only between the person and something within the scene, but could also be with something outside the scene...even with the viewer (or the photographer - remember the National Geographic photo of the Afghan girl with the piercing green eyes?). The key here is in expressing relationships, as well as evoking an emotional response.

In photos that are not studio related, then showing the relationship of the subject to it's environment is another key to a well realized photograph. Instead of just a house, the more interesting photograph might include a little of the snow covered mountain in the distance, or the nuclear reactor next door to give a feel of where the house is. The main mantra here would be "foreground, middleground, and background", trying to include something in each of these three areas to draw us in. But instead of just trying to create photos with those elements, the more creative process is to have the relationships developed through those things.

Sometimes the relationships are expected, as in a mother and child, father and son, fisherman and his boat...but when you include the unexpected it can make them even more exciting. The incongruous arrangement of things normally unrelated often makes for very interesting photos. A photo of a matador fighting a bull in a dusty arena with a woman in the stands wearing a fancy red dress smoking a cigarette and not paying attention to the action in the ring would be an example of this sort of photo...having things connected in a scene that are unrelated or a bit strange. Many of the best photojournalists use this sort of technique to tell a story.

Anyhow, those are a few of my thoughts this morning... Please feel free to add your own!
http://nee.smugmug.com[/COLOR]
http://www.pbase.com/rdavis

If at first you don't succeed, destroy all the evidence that you tried~

Comments

  • digital faeriedigital faerie One frame at a time Registered Users Posts: 667 Major grins
    edited February 26, 2005
    clap.gifclap.gifclap.gifclap.gif
  • fishfish Site Megalodon Registered Users Posts: 2,950 Major grins
    edited February 26, 2005
    15524779-Ti.gifclap.gifclap.gif
    "Consulting the rules of composition before taking a photograph, is like consulting the laws of gravity before going for a walk." - Edward Weston
    "The Edge... there is no honest way to explain it because the only people who really know where it is are the ones who have gone over."-Hunter S.Thompson
  • 4labs4labs Major grins Registered Users Posts: 2,089 Major grins
    edited February 26, 2005
    Nee7x7 wrote:
    The most creative portraits I've noticed usually include something that tells us a little about the person. Rather than just being a nicely composed, perfectly lighted and tack sharp photo of the subject, there is something more that makes it special and not run of the mill. Having the subject interacting with something in the scene, not just staring at the camera often makes a portrait much more interesting. In portraits, this could be the inclusion of something the person owns or a hobby or their work...their pet dog or their fishing lures or their computer. Showing how they interact with something that is a part of their personality and livelihood.

    !
    An excellent thread and I think a great challenge theme..Thnxs for sharing your thoughts..
  • Nee7x7Nee7x7 Secret Dgrin Junkie Registered Users Posts: 459 Major grins
    edited March 2, 2005
    Thanks you guys! Didn't know if I was just rambling or if this made any sense! Well, nice to know at least 3 people thought it had value, Laughing.gif!

    I'm wondering if this was the right place to post this thread or does it belong in Wide Angle instead? If so, could one of the admins move it there? Thanks!

    ~Nee rolleyes1.gif
    http://nee.smugmug.com[/COLOR]
    http://www.pbase.com/rdavis

    If at first you don't succeed, destroy all the evidence that you tried~
  • NirNir Major grins Jerusalem, IsraelRegistered Users Posts: 1,400 Major grins
    edited March 2, 2005
    Thanks Nee for opening my eyes a little (I was having trouble focusing with them closed...)!
    __________________

    Nir Alon

    images of my thoughts
  • Nee7x7Nee7x7 Secret Dgrin Junkie Registered Users Posts: 459 Major grins
    edited March 2, 2005
    Thanks Seymore and Nir!
    Sometimes I go off on tangents, Laughing.gif!

    Glad you liked this one... rolleyes1.gif

    Cheers!
    ~Nee :smooch
    http://nee.smugmug.com[/COLOR]
    http://www.pbase.com/rdavis

    If at first you don't succeed, destroy all the evidence that you tried~
  • USAIRUSAIR Picking and Grinning Registered Users Posts: 2,646 Major grins
    edited March 2, 2005
    Nee
    Thank you Nee this is very helpful to me.clap.gifclap.gifclap.gifclap.gifclap.gif

    It always amazes me how you can have two photos that are essentially the same
    and all it takes is one little change to have an ordinary photo turn into an extraordinary photo.

    Fred
  • JohnRJohnR Mac and Nikon user Registered Users Posts: 732 Major grins
    edited March 2, 2005
    Very interesting reading...thanks! What you said makes total sense and makes me want to go out and try it. :)
  • Tim KirkwoodTim Kirkwood A.K.A-Inspector Gadget Registered Users Posts: 900 Major grins
    edited March 2, 2005
    clap.gifclap.gif Thanks for the insight and thinking material Nee.


    Very well written!

    Tim
    www.KirkwoodPhotography.com

    Speak with sweet words, for you never know when you may have to eat them....
  • AngeloAngelo Turning frowns upsidedown Super Moderators Posts: 8,937 moderator
    edited March 2, 2005
    Nee thanks for a great thread. Some wonderful thoughts and all right on!
  • Nee7x7Nee7x7 Secret Dgrin Junkie Registered Users Posts: 459 Major grins
    edited March 3, 2005
    Awwww...Gee!!!
    Thanks you guys! You say the sweetest things!
    I'm blushing!!!

    Cheers!
    ~Nee :curtsey
    http://nee.smugmug.com[/COLOR]
    http://www.pbase.com/rdavis

    If at first you don't succeed, destroy all the evidence that you tried~
  • BertBert Big grins Registered Users Posts: 18 Big grins
    edited March 3, 2005
    What a wonderful thought provoking post. Thanks Nee. thumb.gif
  • Nee7x7Nee7x7 Secret Dgrin Junkie Registered Users Posts: 459 Major grins
    edited March 5, 2005
    Thanks, Bert!
    Appreciate you kind comments!
    Cheers,
    ~Nee wave.gif
    http://nee.smugmug.com[/COLOR]
    http://www.pbase.com/rdavis

    If at first you don't succeed, destroy all the evidence that you tried~
  • AnsonAnson Major grins Registered Users Posts: 207 Major grins
    edited August 7, 2005
    Hello Nee
    Nee,

    ..exactly what I was looking for based on my latest attempt at photography
    http://www.dgrin.com/showthread.php?t=16111

    ..your bull fighting scene (analogy), especially turned a light switch on for me! ylsuper.gif
  • Nee7x7Nee7x7 Secret Dgrin Junkie Registered Users Posts: 459 Major grins
    edited August 7, 2005
    Thanks, Anson!
    Anson wrote:
    Nee,

    ..exactly what I was looking for based on my latest attempt at photography
    http://www.dgrin.com/showthread.php?t=16111

    ..your bull fighting scene (analogy), especially turned a light switch on for me! ylsuper.gif
    This thread has been *asleep* for awhile...but I'm glad you woke it up (and that it also awakened something in you!). It's one thing to *talk* a good photo, but to make one...ah, there's the real challenge (and one I'm still struggling with myself!)

    Cheers!
    ~Nee rolleyes1.gif
    http://nee.smugmug.com[/COLOR]
    http://www.pbase.com/rdavis

    If at first you don't succeed, destroy all the evidence that you tried~
  • gubbsgubbs Super Moderator Registered Users Posts: 3,166 Major grins
    edited August 12, 2005
    Sorry Nee, I missed this the the first time round, excellent stuff, and so eloquently written.... Thanks thumb.gif
  • sharon is sharinsharon is sharin Beginner grinner Registered Users Posts: 1 Beginner grinner
    edited May 31, 2006
    I just have to learn how to see differently so I notice and incorporate those different elements. But you're so right...those are the photos with the Wow Factor!

    sharon
  • Nee7x7Nee7x7 Secret Dgrin Junkie Registered Users Posts: 459 Major grins
    edited June 5, 2006
    Wow...Thanks Gubbs and Sharon~
    Gosh, I didn't realize this old posting was still around! Thanks for the great feedback you two (and sorry I've been a little slow to respond...I've been hacking a bad cold over the past week but I'm finally on the mend...whew!)
    Cheers!
    ~Nee :)
    http://nee.smugmug.com[/COLOR]
    http://www.pbase.com/rdavis

    If at first you don't succeed, destroy all the evidence that you tried~
  • claudermilkclaudermilk Major grins Registered Users Posts: 2,756 Major grins
    edited June 5, 2006
    Wow, old thread from the dead. BUt I'm glad it popped up on my radar. I've lately been thinking along the same lines, but this just snapped things into crystal-clear focus--one of those aha moments. Thanks for the original post. I just got a bunch of cool ideas to try out at a familiar venue (dare I say, starting to become tired?) thumb.gif
  • SeefutlungSeefutlung Unsharp at any Speed Registered Users Posts: 2,781 Major grins
    edited June 5, 2006
    What you are sorta making reference to is Gestalt psychology ... where one is shown a partial picture (not literary) and your brain fills in the blanks. Example, you walk into a person's house for the first time and spot a bowl with water on the ground ... well your brain fills in the blanks ... a pet probably a dog or cat. As photographers, we tell stories/communicate through our photos. We can lead people in a certain direction by what we choose to include or exclude or focus and not focus.

    28693895-L.jpg

    The symbolism in this snap tells a story ... the candles, hands clasped, kneeling, flowers in and about the door ... all contribute to the story of the un-timely death of a merchant. Through Gestalt we complete the picture ... small market in an lower scale neighborhood ... probably crime related ... the merchant was a friend and helpful to the surrounding community.
    My snaps can be found here:
    Unsharp at any Speed
  • Nee7x7Nee7x7 Secret Dgrin Junkie Registered Users Posts: 459 Major grins
    edited June 5, 2006
    Interesting take on this theme, Gary. Probably more "heady" than what my pea brain had in mind, lol! I was actually thinking more in a literal sense, but somewhat along the same lines as your input. In my photographs I tend to want to include far more information than necessary and often end up with a cluttered image and in doing so, the viewer is not engaged as much (in other words, they become bored and move on...).

    But if there is something to draw the mind of the viewer into the scene and allows them finish the story, it holds their interest longer. It's sort of like the LOST series on TV...only not as aggravating, because you give enough information to allow the viewer to reach a reasonable conclusion! Just enough of a puzzle to satisfy but not frustrate.

    Does that make sense? I hope so, because I'm a bit dim-witted today from this lousy flu bug, so forgive me if this sounds like a bunch of nonesense! It's been so long since I wrote the darn thing in the first place, I need to re-read it myself so to be sure I'm even following my own logic~ rolleyes1.gif

    Cheers!
    ~Nee
    http://nee.smugmug.com[/COLOR]
    http://www.pbase.com/rdavis

    If at first you don't succeed, destroy all the evidence that you tried~
  • SeefutlungSeefutlung Unsharp at any Speed Registered Users Posts: 2,781 Major grins
    edited June 5, 2006
    I think we're all communicating on the same level here. Provide enough info to complete the picture but not too much so that it is cluttered.
    My snaps can be found here:
    Unsharp at any Speed
  • Helen SHelen S Big grins Registered Users Posts: 27 Big grins
    edited June 7, 2006
    What a fantastic piece. thumb.gif

    I'm still only new here, but have learned so much in the last week or so... and realise I still have such a long way to go. Not being too much on the creative side, this has given me some insight into what some of my photos have been lacking and hopefully as time goes by I can apply that to my work.

    Many thanks Nee for an excellent article.

    Cheers, Helen
    www.ospreyphotography.com

    Canon cameras, Lenses and accessories.
  • LOVEphotosLOVEphotos Major grins Registered Users Posts: 107 Major grins
    edited June 7, 2006
    GREAT info thumb.gif
  • almostlightheartedalmostlighthearted i've landed. Registered Users Posts: 23 Big grins
    edited June 22, 2006
    to me, photography is about triggering the imagination.

    great post!
  • Van IsleVan Isle Major grins Registered Users Posts: 384 Major grins
    edited January 15, 2007
    up from the dead again! Very well put. It's about knowing the "rules", and how or why to break them. Your post is most excellent in describing the overarching whys and hows. Thanks from a newbie.

    VI
    dgrin.com - making my best shots even better since 2006.
  • bikingbetsbikingbets Major grins Registered Users Posts: 160 Major grins
    edited January 10, 2008
    Bump!

    Thanks from another newbie!
    Betsyiloveyou.gif
    Canon 40D, 70-200mm f/2.8L IS, 50mm f/1.4 USM, 85mm f/1.8 USM, 24-105mm f/4L IS, EF-S 10-22mm f/3.5-4.5 USM, EF-S 17-85mm f/4-5.6 IS USM , 580EX ll
  • PichizPichiz Beginner grinner Registered Users Posts: 1 Beginner grinner
    edited September 19, 2008
    Very nice, thanks !
    clap.gifclapclap.gif
    I'm new here, trying to learn something instead of the flames and rumors on dpreview.com. What a good thread to start on this forum !! Very nice, I'll try to follow the recommendations.
Sign In or Register to comment.