We've all seen really beautiful pictures. A quick glance through Time Magazine's photos of the year or National Geographic or Rolling Stone or Nylon make us very aware that there are great photographers out there. Problem is, just looking at these photos doesn't make us better photographers. I've tried to will some of their greatness into me by staring deeply into the pictures but alas, it doesn't work!
I've also done the deep diggin' into what cameras are being used, which lens the photos are taken with, the f-stop they're shot at and what kind of film is recording it all. While these are all great things to know technically they really can't help you produce better pictures any more than knowing what kind of guitar Sigur Ros uses to create such mesmerizing music. The most perfect guitar in the world couldn't make me play like them and in the same vain the best photographic equipment won't a better photographer make.
So what is it? What's that super-duper-alla-kazaam of a something that makes a photo so great? Simply - it's knowing what to look for.
If you think about the following guidelines in relation to the above picture it may help you visualise what I'm talkin' 'bout. Now...without further hesitation I give you my three basic guidelines on what to look for in order to enhance your photographic eye and use that to make compelling pictures...
1. A good photograph has a theme. It's about someone or something. It may even tell a story about that subject but the main point is that the subject is clear and unambiguous. So going into your shot you should know what you want the theme of it to be and this should be easily distinguishable to your viewers as well. To take it one step further, good photos most often represent a universal theme - one that everyone can relate to.
2. A good photograph focuses attention. Ask yourself how you can draw your viewers eye to the subject of your photo. This is often done by having one major subject of interest, one thing that really stands out. In order to have really focused attention you may have to get in closer to an object, gain eye contact with a person, compose the subject so they stand out within the frame of your viewfinder. There are many ways to do this - but thinking about the focus is half the battle. If you're aware of drawing attention to the subject, you'll likely be doing it.
3. A good photograph simplifies. In order to do this you really just need to ask yourself if you have included only that which draws attention to the subject. In other words, have you eliminated everything that is non-essential or distracting? Have you zeroed-in on the key element in the scene? This doesn't mean that you have to cut out all backgrounds, just be sure that the surroundings contribute to the story-telling aspect of your shot and that they add an element of understanding rather than draw viewers away from your subject.
There you have it folks. Now when you sell that one shot and make millions I want a cut! heh.