“A great photograph is one that fully expresses what one feels, in the deepest sense, about what is being photographed.” ― Ansel Adams
This Ansel Adams quote echoed in my mind for days after reading it several years ago. I always loved photography even as a young boy but I had never thought of photography as an expression of how I feel in the “deepest” sense. As I looked through an old photo album, I began to realize that every photo I have ever saved in an album or shared with others were photos expressing feelings about what was being photographed. They were telling my story. Of course my stories captured in most of my photos were of little interest to anyone else. Nevertheless, my photos certainly expressed a story about an interesting location, my life experiences, people we met, joy expressed, major milestones and accomplishments … they were all about my stories.
As if some great power was involved, I picked up Brenda Tharp’s book within a week of reading Ansel’s quote, Creative Nature & Outdoor Photography, and almost immediately read…
“The purpose of composition is to lead the viewer through an assortment of elements and objects that when combined tell the story you want to tell.” My photos told a story alright, but I had no idea how best to tell the story I wanted to tell others that would capture their attention and interest. I had completed workshops and courses on how to use my camera technically, but I had to admit I was quite naive as to how best to compose my images to tell stories others would want to spend time viewing.
I am very much still learning and developing my frame vision, but I have learned several very important things about what makes a remarkable photo in the last few years. First and probably most important, a remarkable photo tells a story that each viewer imagines when they view the image. A remarkable photo results in an emotional response from the viewer. . . and it may be a different emotion than what the photographer was trying to convey.
There are no absolutes in art, but I have found, and several authors would suggest, that a remarkable photo tells a story by focusing the subject matter on a main character. . . a focal point, eliminating all non-supporting elements or distractions in the image. So a remarkable photo that tells a clear story to the viewer has a main character and only elements included in the frame that supports the main character and the storyline.
It turns out photographers, like all the classic artists over the centuries, have many tools they can use to call attention to their main character, supporting them in their role as the lead actor in their image story. Here is a list of some of the more common design elements we can use in our photos to draw attention to our main character:
Focal Point Enhancers
- Light Value – We are attracted to light more than the dark portions of our images.
- Contrast – Viewers will be attracted to the area where the lightest light meets the darkest dark.
- Color – Warm, red-based colors tend to attract viewers’ eyes.
- Color Saturation – Saturated colors get our attention.
- Lines and perspective – are tools that can lead the viewer right to our Main Character
- Frames – elements that surround our Main Character can call attention.
- Sharpness – detail focuses our eye on the main subject
- Size – A large Main Character will certainly catch our eye.
It stands to reason, if these design elements can focus our viewers attention, then the opposite of each one of them will help us hide any distractions in our image frame. For instance, an image element out of focus, or blurred will not be nearly as distracting as it would be if it was in focus.
Whether you are shooting your next family get-together, or fine art subject, focus your frame design on a main character by using one or more focal point enhancers… and probably more important, eliminate those non-supporting elements in your image frame.
Good shooting, and may the remarkable images be yours.