Friday, October 28, 2011

Is there a formula for taking a good picture?

Union Pacific 3090 in La Fox, Illnois

Nope.  The most important thing is that the picture "sings" to me.  Others will use different terms (eg. "beauty is in the eye of the beholder"), but "singing" is my metaphor, and I'm sticking with it.  Some pictures will sing to one or two people; other pictures will sing to thousands.  There's no predetermined formula.  It also means that there are many good pictures.  All any picture has to do is sing to a few people and it's a success.  It's just more of a success if it sings to thousands.

But there are rules of composition, like the rule of thirds, leading lines, vertical vs. horizontal formats, contrast, etc.  Following these rules doesn't automatically make a good picture.  But I HAVE noticed that most pictures that "sing" to me will incorporate at least a couple of the basic principles.  Deconstruct your favorite photographs, and you'll start seeing those concepts over and over again.

When you write, you don't have to use every word in your vocabulary.  You choose the words that will work for what you're trying to say.  For photography, choose the concepts that will help to build the picture you're going for.  You don't have to use all of them; just a couple.  And just like using the wrong word can ruin the point you're trying to make, some pictures are ruined by not choosing the right compositional rule - or using it incorrectly.

So, my advice would be to build that vocabulary of compositional concepts and try to make your pictures using a few of them.

But there is no formula.  That's what make this so interesting.

Here's a test.  The picture above is my all-time most popular picture on Flickr.  And I consider it one of my best.  There are several compositional rules that this picture follows.  It doesn't follow ALL of them.  But it does have a few.  Can you spot them?

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