Thursday, November 07, 2013

What Are the Most Important Elements of Any Photo?

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I find myself thinking about what I consider are the most important elements of a photo. Are they mostly a photo's technical and craft aspects? Or, does a photo's story or emotional context trump the technical/craft stuff? Are both of those general categories equal? Does it change from photo to photo? Perhaps depending on genre or something else? (Degrees of importance, that is.)  I mean, it's all important, the technical/craft elements as well as the story or emotional, but is one often more important than the other?

I guess I should explain what I mean by technical/craft versus story/emotional elements.

To me, the technical and craft elements include everything from exposure and post-processing to things like composition, lighting, and style. Story and emotional context has to do with how the photo makes viewers feel. How they perceive the subject(s) in the photo, that sort of stuff.

I've snapped photos that I considered to be quite good in terms of their tech/craft elements but were, in my opinion, lacking in emotion, story-telling, or presentation of the subject.  Conversely, I've captured images I thought were flawed (in quite noticeable ways) for their depiction of tech/craft yet were quite good in conveying emotion, feeling, or story.  And because of that, I thought they were good photos in spite of their technical and/or craft problems. The key, I suppose, is knowing when one set of elements or the other (when one set is lacking) is good enough, powerful enough, to make up for the flaws in the "lacking" elements.  It' s not enough to say, "I know this image is over-exposed and the colors are off but the story it tells (or the emotions it conveys) makes up for it."

Instead, I would have to be able to say, "I know this image is over-exposed and the colors are off but the story it tells (or the emotions it conveys) is truly remarkable and makes that other stuff so much less important."

That sort of thing doesn't happen often, of course. Not often at all. Luckily, in terms of editing the keepers from the non-keepers, I rarely snap a photo that obviously sucks from a tech/craft perspective but is so damn good in terms of story/emotion that it's an automatic keeper. (Or vice versa.) If or when I do, I have to slap myself upside the head, hard, for messing up the parts that suck. Nothing worse than shooting a half-awesome photo or one that sucks in one way but is most excellent in another.

Anyway, just thinking out loud.

Pic at the top is from a couple of years ago: the exceedingly curvaceous Madison. 5' Photoflex Octo for my main. Couple of kickers either side. Snapped in the living room of a residential home with the front drapes pulled closed. (Fairly busy street out front. Didn't want to possibly cause a car crash or invite the cops courtesy of a neighbor.)


Anonymous said...

Excellent out loud thinking

Winston Cooper said...

Jimmy, even though I have read through your Guerrilla Glamor book I still have a hard time distinguishing between Glamor and Art Nude, particularly, Figure Study. The beautiful shot on this post is a case in point. How would you classify this shot of the "exceedingly curvacious Madison" and why..????


jimmyd said...


It's not a distinct line that separates those genres. There's a fair amount of gray area. For me, the distinction between glamour and art nude has to do with the intent of the photo. A glamour pic sells the model, i.e., the model's allure, often sexual allure. An art nude or figure study has a different intent, one that examines the beauty of the female (or male) form without focusing on the personal allure of the model. Sure, the two overlap but, like the Supreme Court said when they were asked to define obscenity, when I look at glamour nudes versus art nudes, I know it (the difference) when I see it.