The It Factor

Spread the love
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  

There was a question posted on a popular nature photography forum the other day, where the poster was asking when and how photographers self-critique their own photos. There was a wide range of answers. Several mentioned consciously thinking of the technical aspects that others would nitpick on. Another photographer mentioned that he doesn’t know all of the technical stuff anyway so he does whatever pleases him regardless of technique. My response was that I ask myself one question. “Does this feel like the story I want to tell? If the answer is yes, then I try whatever I need to do to get the shot. If no, then I try something else.”

Most pictures that I take fall into the latter category, and I suspect that is the case for most other photographers as well. However, it is that small percentage of “Yes” photos that defines a photographer’s vision. A “successful” photographer typically has a very low percentage of successful shots because they are constantly taking chances in the quest of getting that great picture. What I mean by great picture isn’t necessarily a textbook perfect photo. Photography how-to books are great when you want to take learn the basics of photography. To get to the next level though you can’t fall into a trap by thinking of formulaic rules while shooting. Photography is an art. Not a science.

That brought me to my next argument: “There could be 10 technical things wrong with the shot, but if it captures the spirit of the moment then it is a successful image. On the flip side, a technical masterpiece can still be worthless if it doesn’t have that one thing, “It” factor, that unexplained thing it is that gives it charm.”

Keep in mind that evaluating photography is purely subjective. The images that I think have “It” factor might not mean anything to you and vice versa. But some great examples in my mind are:

Ansel Adams’ “Clearing Winter Storm” – Yosemite Valley’s Tunnel View might be the most iconic scenic landscape on the planet and the most photographed. It has been photographed well by millions of photographers. Yet Adams’ black and white classic from the 1940’s still stands out in my mind as being THE image of Yosemite and perhaps the greatest scenic landscape photo ever. I don’t feel this way because of the technique, burning / dodging, composition, photographer’s reputation, etc… many have done a great job at the same things as well since. Why I feel this has the “It” factor is because when I think of Yosemite or when I go to Yosemite, this photo is what I see in my mind. I feel it. To me, Clearing Winter Storm is synonymous with Yosemite. I can’t avoid thinking of it nor do I want to avoid it.

William Albert Allard’s “Portraits of America” book – Bill Allard is a long-time National Geographic photographer who is best known for his revealing photos of American culture. His photos and stories of the Amish, Hutterites and Cowboys played a major role into shaping the Geographic’s legendary reputation. Allard’s photos have IT Factor not because of technical excellence (his photos would probably be picked apart in a “fine art” critique) but because they capture the soul of his subjects.

I can’t think of two any different examples than the two photographers I mentioned above. That brings me back to my point that technique doesn’t make or break an image. It’s the content of the image that matters. All great photos have substance. They connect with someone. The photo might connect with a million people or just one person. In either case, that is a successful photo. I think we can all learn a lot from seeing other people’s pictures as well as our own, and evaluating photos on a deeper level than merely judging a photo’s merits on aesthetics.

Rodeo at Cowtown Coliseum, Fort Worth Stockyards, Texas Picture Caption: Rodeo at Cowtown Coliseum, Fort Worth Stockyards, Texas

The photographer who posted the question responded that he felt that my rodeo picture posted here connected with him. I was flattered and was glad that someone could relate to what I felt while shooting this. My thoughts while shooting this was, “This is crazy. I could potentially be capturing a frame of someone’s death!” My heart was beating like mad and I tried to incorporate those feelings into photo. From a technical standpoint this photo isn’t very good but I don’t think I could have captured this moment any better than this. So I asked myself, “Does this feel like the story I want to tell?” Yes.


Spread the love
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  

3 thoughts

  1. I feel much the same as you do. In fact I just recently commented on some pet peeves with photo critiques in my own blog. So many photographers are so focused on the technical aspects of photography that they lose sight of what really matters.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *