What makes a good photograph?
Difficult question. To tell you the truth, it is probably impossible to answer, and a truly great photograph can just communicate with the viewer. Great photographers often do not follow any rules. But for beginners in photography (myself included) it is a good idea to understand some basic grammar of the language of photography.
In my admittedly short encounter with the medium, I have come up with some basics of photography that, I believe, if followed could make the fundamentals of decent photography. I call it the Holy Trinity of Trinities in photography.
The Holy Trinity of Trinities
- Film Speed or ISO
- Shutter Speed
- Post Processing
- Color Correction
- Special Effects
I would like to discuss about these in some details over the next few articles. Please note that I, buy no means, intend to imply that I am an expert in photography, or that these instructions can complement a course in photography by an experienced professional. These are merely my views on the subject, but I do believe they might be useful for beginners in the field.
OK… so, with the disclaimers out of the way, let’s start with composition.
Most photographs fall, composition wise, in one of three categories: wide shot, mid shot and close shot.
Wide shots are often used in nature photography. A wide angle is used, with a wide depth of field (more on depth of field when we talk about aperture in exposure) so that a large section of the scene is captured where most of the scene is in focus. But for any shot, even where a number of objects are shown in the scene (for example, in a nature shot, there may be grasses in the foreground, trees in the middle and mountains and sky in the background), it is always a good idea to have a single subject. A subject is the point in the photograph where the eye starts to concentrate.
Consider the picture here. There are a number of things to observe in the picture. There are the shrubs and the road at the very bottom. The tree in the middle, the mountain behind the tree and the sky and clouds at the very back. However, while looking at the image, most of the time we concentrate on the tree and its branches. The tree with its crooked branches is the subject of the picture. It has the most texture out of all the objects in the scene, and it is where the camera is focused, even though most of the image is in focus.
The multiple shrubs and the road create the foreground of this picture, the tree is the subject, and the mountain and the sky provide a background to the whole scene.
We have to consider all these three parts of a scene while composing the shot. The subject helps you to select a focal point in the scene, and also simplifies the image for viewers by giving them a point to concentrate on. The foreground builds to the subject, and the background helps to frame the whole scene.
We have to consider on these aspects for other kinds of photographs as well. Take the mid range shot here. The subject of focus in this shot are the horses, but we have grass at the foreground and the trees and the sky (with a stadium light) as the background.
The difference of this image with the previous one is that the range of focus is much less here. Even though the subject is in focus, the foreground and background are somewhat out of focus. The depth of field here is less than that in the previous image. The somewhat blurry background helps bring out the subject and allows the viewer to concentrate more on the horses. The foreground helps build to the subject.
In these types of shots, usually there are multiple objects to look at. It is the photographers duty, as before, to simplify the image by composing it correctly, and select the proper depth of field to bring out the subject as much as possible.
Then there are the close up shots. In shots like the one here, the range of focus is quite shallow. In most cases, only the subject is in focus. The foreground is fuzzy, and the background is only a blur of colors.
In the picture here, the yellow flowers are in perfect focus. The red flowers and part of another yellow flower in the foreground are out of focus, and we can hardly distinguish anything in the background.
Please note that the depth of field, or how much of the image will be in focus, in these photos are chosen consciously by the photographer in these images. We can control that by setting the aperture, but we will discuss them later.
What I wanted to show here is that every photo has three parts in it. A foreground, that builds to the subject, a subject that draws our eyes to the photograph, and a background that frames the whole image and gives it a context.
I would like to stress here that, like any other art form, a photograph does not need to follow any rules absolutely. There are many images where these rules can be broken to create interesting compositions. However, these are good rules of thumb to follow in general.
In the next part we will look at how to use exposure to a photographers advantage, and control various aspects of it to create interesting images.