Sometimes as photographers we forget the very basics of picture making during the excitement of actually taking the photo. This excitement has a tendency to cloud our vision. By attempting to keep sight of three basic questions, we can create more successful photographs. What are those questions? Simple. Where? What? Why? If you keep these three Ws in mind every time you trip your shutter, you will more likely than not, create successful photographs. Of course there are exceptions to every rule, so let’s consider this another set of guidelines to better yourself as a photographer.
We are going to examine one photograph and see how I asked these three questions before shooting. Then followed up by answering them to create the final photograph. Don’t forget that you should also think about this process when editing your photographs. In addition, don’t forget when to reject a photo and think creatively prior to taking your photographs as well.
Successful Photographs Where?
Where? Where in the world is this photograph taken? Will the photograph you are about to create make your view ask, “Where?” The harder your viewer has to look to try and figure out the answers, the longer they will view. This is of course within reason. There is a fine line between failure and successful photographs when providing the answer to the where question. The longer they view, the more successful the photo. Stick something to a person’s brain and people return. So you really have to look and analyze the photo you are about to take.
What do you see in the photo that is attached to this post? The focus is on a rider. A rider who is behind some muddy and obviously wet cycling clothes. He’s eating something. Standing next to a propane heater. It’s dark out. All clues yet, not giving you the answer. Then in the foreground, a bike, a really muddy bike. It happens to be my wife’s bike, but that is irrelevant. It’s in a stand though and that says something – it needs work. A little TLC. Look around the room. Clothes hanging everywhere. Lights are on. Dartboard. Nalgene with a USCF sticker on it. United States Cycling Federation. A race? Look to the bike. A number plate hanging from the handlebars. Look deeper. Water bottles all over the place. Same with the food. What do hard core mountain bikers need during a race? Fluids and energy.
All of a sudden we have one paragraph attempting to explain the “where”. The underlying question that is still not definitively answered here is: What is the EXACT location? So we keep looking for more clues to that answer.
Successful Photographs What?
What? What are we photographing? Well that has been answered in the previous paragraph to some extent. Mountain Biking. Some kind of race. It’s dark out. What kind of races head into the night? Long races. There is one obvious rider. One person you cannot really see, and two guys that are not riding. Relay racing? Team racing. It’s night time, so it has to be some kind of endurance race. Everything is boarded up. Heater. Jackets. Mud. It’s late season. Look at the mud. Even the color of the dirt lends itself to more of the answers.
Successful Photographs Why?
Why? Why are we photographing it? Besides the simple fact that we are photographers and we like a specific scene or are getting paid to shoot the scene, etc. I will tell you why I took the shot. Because of paragraphs one and two. There is a complete story in this one photograph.
But why else take this photograph? The scene has great light. It is an unusual situation. How many photographers are up at an hour like this? This photo has marketing potential to the bike manufacturer, to any company who has gear in there, and to the race coordinators. It works to add backup story to a set of photos about this race itself. It shows what people are doing when they are not racing. The photo highlights different perspective. An intimate perspective. I liked that the scene unfolded with some interpretation. I liked the way that at first it is confusing, but then leads to more and more discovery. Do you see the dog? Do you see the clock?
Don’t worry, these shots don’t happen every day. Sometimes not even in a month’s worth of shooting. Don’t ever tell your clients that though. You as a photographer will work, really hard to accomplish great, successful photographs. This will usually occur when you feel like you are shooting pure trash. When you are the most tired. Potentially most convinced that you are failing as a photographer. Suddenly you create something that has potential.
The bottom line is the more photographs that you create at any given moment the more successful photographs you take home. You need to photograph often. You need to photograph thoughtfully. If you are photographing a personal project, you don’t need to keep shooting if things aren’t working. I recommend working through it though. You will become a much better photographer when you do.
Always remember to ask yourself, where am I and how can I make my viewer want to know the answer. What am I photographing? Why am I photographing this particular photo? You will create more successful photographs if you do.