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 doesnâ€™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. â€œDoes 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.â€
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 â€œYesâ€ photos that defines a photographerâ€™s vision. A â€œsuccessfulâ€ 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 isnâ€™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 canâ€™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: â€œThere 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.â€
Keep in mind that evaluating photography is purely subjective. The images that I think have â€œItâ€ factor might not mean anything to you and vice versa. But some great examples in my mind are:
Ansel Adamsâ€™ â€œClearing Winter Stormâ€ â€“ Yosemite Valleyâ€™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 Adamsâ€™ black and white classic from the 1940â€™s still stands out in my mind as being THE image of Yosemite and perhaps the greatest scenic landscape photo ever. I donâ€™t feel this way because of the technique, burning / dodging, composition, photographerâ€™s reputation, etcâ€¦ many have done a great job at the same things as well since. Why I feel this has the â€œItâ€ 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 canâ€™t avoid thinking of it nor do I want to avoid it.
William Albert Allardâ€™s â€œPortraits of Americaâ€ book â€“ 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 Geographicâ€™s legendary reputation. Allardâ€™s photos have IT Factor not because of technical excellence (his photos would probably be picked apart in a â€œfine artâ€ critique) but because they capture the soul of his subjects.
I canâ€™t think of two any different examples than the two photographers I mentioned above. That brings me back to my point that technique doesnâ€™t make or break an image. Itâ€™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 peopleâ€™s pictures as well as our own, and evaluating photos on a deeper level than merely judging a photoâ€™s merits on aesthetics.
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, â€œThis is crazy. I could potentially be capturing a frame of someoneâ€™s death!â€ My heart was beating like mad and I tried to incorporate those feelings into photo. From a technical standpoint this photo isnâ€™t very good but I donâ€™t think I could have captured this moment any better than this. So I asked myself, â€œDoes this feel like the story I want to tell?â€ Yes.