Beauty is in the eye of the Beholder - What makes a good picture
What makes one or two photos stand out among so many others is no secret, nor is there a single element that makes a photo "excellent." Rather there is a list of basic fundamental considerations, that if followed, will greatly enhance your chances of getting a “keeper”.
Experience comes by keeping these fundamentals in mind and then applying your own creativity to develop a style of your own.
The following list will get you well on your way to understanding what makes a good picture and provide you with the basics of not just good photography but excellent, well thought out, quality imagery.
Paying attention to light is the single most important step you can take to improve your photography. Having good natural lighting can make the difference between a faded, rather dull image or a vibrant warm feel that draws you into the scene. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines photography as the art or process of producing images of objects on photosensitive surfaces. Photography literally means ‘painting with light’. Light is an energy source that produces an image of whatever it last reflected from on its travel through space. That recording medium, can be either film, a light sensor in an digital camera, or, our own brain.
Once you learn to “see” light in the way that it interacts with our environment it becomes easier to understand how the recording medium will represent an image produced by the light falling on the surface of its sensor, regardless of what that sensor may be.
When working with light, there are six important things to consider:
1. Direction - Where is the sun located, is the subject side lit, or back lit? Often, simply moving your location to photograph from a slightly different angle can greatly improve you chances of getting a superior picture. Modern cameras are good, however, they usually cannot compensate enough if lighting wrong.
2. Quantity - How strong is the light falling on the scene? The strength of light sets the stage for selecting the proper ISO and shutter speed. Different types of natural light can produce a wide variety of subject appearances — even though these all have the same light source and positioning. There are contrasts all around you. Once you become aware of how effective contrast is in your photos you can deliberately seek it out. Some types of contrast that work well in photos are the contrasts between old and new, light and dark, rough and smooth, solid and blurred or warm and cold.
Another thing to consider, is the range of light in the scene within the capability of the camera sensor. Our eyes are far more capable of seeing a range of light from the brightest to the darkest within a scene. Camera sensors are much less capable. Generally, if you have bright blue sky, you must consider options to brighten the shadows or accept lost details within the shadows.
3. Quality - What kind of light is illuminating the subject. The temperature of the light plays an important role in how the scene will look. Normal midday sun has a temperature of 5500K while morning and evening light both drop into the warmer 3000 to 4000K range. Depending on the the type of light illuminating the scene, the overall emotional feel and aesthetic of the image will change radically, thereby changing its meaning.
As you can see on the chart, along with time of day, the type and extent of cloud cover is the other most influential cause of lighting variation. It primarily influences lighting because it changes the balance between direct sunlight and diffuse skylight, which in turn affects the apparent contrast and color temperature of the light source. Generally, if you want “mood” feeling to a picture, stick to the time of day within two hours of sunrise and sunset.
Light and color go together. While some folks love black and white photography, I love color. Color is an element of the light spectrum that often creates brilliance and impact on an scene. Much of the sense, timing and patience developed over a lifespan of taking pictures has to do with waiting for the “right” color.
4. Composition - Stunning photographs have a sense of compositional form and balance that is pleasing to the eye.
a. Balancing Elements
Placing your main subject slightly off-center, as with the rule of thirds, creates a more interesting photo. Try to including other objects of lesser importance to fill empty space.
The “Rule of Thirds” divides the image into thirds in both the horizontal and vertical directions by means of imaginary lines to make nine blocks. The crossing points of these lines, namely one-third of the way in from both the vertical and horizontal edges, make favorable areas for the of primary object of interest in the image.
Try to include something of interest in the foreground if possible. Find something that’s interesting that doesn’t compete with or distract from your main subject. A typical example would be to include a nearby fallen pine cone when taking a waterfall scene. The foreground should play a supporting role to the main subject.
Before photographing your subject, take time to think about where this image would best be viewed from. The point of view can greatly impact the way an image is perceived and can completely change the understanding of how a subject seen. Rather than just shooting from eye level, photograph from high above, ground level, the side, from the back, long distance, or, close up. If you want to set your image apart from the thousands of others, generally, this is the way to do it.