Last weekend I went on a book design course at the World Photo London, festival. The course was led my Stuart Smith of Smith design, who make around 30 photo books every year. The number one consideration of the workshop was editing, and Stuart recommends that you get someone else to edit your work. Photographers have so many other associations to their images, i.e. the experience they had when taking the photo. The important information is what can be taken from the image itself – everything else is supplementary. It helps to trust someone else who has a more neutral response to your images.
This has led me to think about what makes a good photograph and also to revaluate my own work. A lot of the photographs that I thought were going to be in my book project are now out. Some photographs that I thought were maybes are now definitely in. I have gained a new way of looking at my work and I now know that I need to strive even harder to make more interesting photographs.
What makes a good photograph? I saw a quote recently by Magnum photographer Constantine Manos “Taking good pictures is easy. Making very good pictures is difficult. Making great pictures is almost immposible.” Great photos are easy to spot. We know them when we see them, but hard to pin down and define what exactly makes them great. For me a great photo has all the elements of a good photo (composition, good light, aesthetics, expression, capturing a moment, telling a story) but then something else. That something else is hard to define and is varies depending on what you are looking for. It could be mistery, subtlty, a feeling of uneasyness or wonderment. It has to be something that sustains your interest, forces you to want to know more, and makes you keep looking – rather than flicking onto the next one. There has to be an element that causes you to remember that photo and will make you go back and look at it again and again. Something that the photographer brings to the image that is greater than the sum of all of its parts, and gives more than a depiction of a scene, or what one might have seen with the naked eye.
In this digital age where “everyone is now a photographer” (Martin Parr), is it becoming more and more difficult to take a great picture? I don’t think so. There are more good pictures, and a great deal more bad pictures, but the great ones still stand out. I am setting my own goals higher and will be striving to take better pictures.
Thanks to Ruby for giving such an open expression to my camera and helping me to get a bit closer to where i want my pictures to be.