Photography is not about cameras, at least from my perspective. Most photographers take photos for one purpose: they enjoy it. For many, it is an indescribable passion. Often, when they share their photos with others, that joy is multiplied many times over as they watch others enjoy their work as well.
Cameras? They are the artist’s tools. Each photographer will tell you what their “must have” gear list is when they go out to shoot. Their list is as unique as they are. No one list is “right” or “wrong.” The end result will depend on the perspective of the photographer.
When you look at photos and they touch you in some way, I’m sure you’re not even thinking about the equipment that was used. You are admiring the subject and how that one click of the shutter froze time just for our pleasure.
What challenge we as photographers often run into is that the general viewer thinks that photographers just click a shutter (which just about anyone can do with the cell phone in their pocket these days) and then want to get paid.
They don’t often see the true value of the work. The general viewer in my experience does not appreciate the time, effort, travel, weather, and other factors a photographer has to deal with in order to take a fabulous shot. I honestly don’t think the average person is trying to devalue the work, they just truly have no idea what goes into a real work of art.
This post is to bring to the attention of the general public that what photography is really about is the perspective of the person behind the camera, the photographer. Every picture has a story behind it. The photographer is the story teller.
“You don’t take a photograph, you make it.”– Ansel Easton Adams, American Photographer and Environmentalist
Take a close look at the photo that I’ve attached to the top of this post for example. (Click the link, then click image for a larger image). This photo is telling a story. At first glance, you see that it’s an interesting photo, very unique. You may like it or maybe not. But, let’s take a look as the photographer tells the story behind the photo and see if your perspective changes at all —
My photo “Rain in Ancient Town” was shot in southern China- phoenix Town, which shows the scene of people traveling in the rain during the rainy season. Tripod was used for this picture and I used slow shutter on purpose to combine the static and dynamic status of tourists. On the background there are old residential buildings and an old stone bridge, this combination enabled a more spiritual atmosphere for the photo.
I live in the United States and I’ve never seen people travel this way. I also find the architecture very interesting. The photographer states they used a tripod to steady the camera and used slow shutter speed (tripod and shutter speed = pre-planning the shot, out in the rain).
The photographer was going for a “spiritual atmosphere.” Do you think they achieved their goals? Would you purchase this photo? Do you think this is an award-winning photo? What does it take to produce an award-winning photo?
According to the Professional Photographers of America (PPA), there are 12 elements that they use for the Gold Standard to judge a work of art to see if it is an award-winning photo:
- Impact is the sense one gets upon viewing an image for the first time. Compelling images evoke laughter, sadness, anger, pride, wonder or another intense emotion. There can be impact in any of these twelve elements.
- Creativity is the original, fresh, and external expression of the imagination of the maker by using the medium to convey an idea, message or thought.
- Technical excellence is the print quality of the image itself as it is presented for viewing. Retouching, manipulation, sharpness, exposure, printing, mounting, and correct color are some items that speak to the qualities of the physical print.
- Composition is important to the design of an image, bringing all of the visual elements together in concert to express the purpose of the image. Proper composition holds the viewer in the image and prompts the viewer to look where the creator intends. Effective composition can be pleasing or disturbing, depending on the intent of the image maker.
- Lighting—the use and control of light—refers to how dimension, shape and roundness are defined in an image. Whether the light applied to an image is man-made or natural, proper use of it should enhance an image.
- Style is defined in a number of ways as it applies to a creative image. It might be defined by a specific genre or simply be recognizable as the characteristics of how a specific artist applies light to a subject. It can impact an image in a positive manner when the subject matter and the style are appropriate for each other, or it can have a negative effect when they are at odds.
- Print Presentation affects an image by giving it a finished look. The mats and borders used should support and enhance the image, not distract from it.
- Center of Interest is the point or points on the image where the maker wants the viewer to stop as they view the image. There can be primary and secondary centers of interest. Occasionally there will be no specific center of interest, when the entire scene collectively serves as the center of interest.
- Subject Matter should always be appropriate to the story being told in an image.
- Color Balance supplies harmony to an image. An image in which the tones work together, effectively supporting the image, can enhance its emotional appeal. Color balance is not always harmonious and can be used to evoke diverse feelings for effect.
- Technique is the approach used to create the image. Printing, lighting, posing, capture, presentation media, and more are part of the technique applied to an image.
- Story Telling refers to the image’s ability to evoke imagination. One beautiful thing about art is that each viewer might collect his own message or read her own story in an image.
- Their site goes on to state, “The use of these 12 elements connects the modern practice of photography and its photographers to the historical practice of photography begun nearly two centuries ago.”
Now that we have real standards to use, how do you think this photographer did? Was this photo just as good as a point and shoot project? Just a click of the shutter and the photographer had an award-winning shot? Not in this case.
Congratulations to the photographer by the way, Chen Li from China. They were the winner of the “Open Travel” category of the 2014 Sony World Photography Awards.
I hope that maybe, just maybe, next time you see fine art or other photography for sale, you’ll stop and ask yourself, “I wonder what the story is behind that photo?” And if you really love it, you won’t mind paying for it! Thanks for reading and sharing.
Beauty can be seen in all things, seeing and composing the beauty is what separates the snapshot from the photograph.” – Matt Hardy, UK Photographer