What are the essential components to a good photograph?

Everybody has a different perspective on life. There are many ways to exchange
perspectives through including through art, literature, and music. Perhaps one of the
most profound yet difficult ways of sharing a perspective is photography. Today nearly
everyone has a camera on them at all times, yet not everyone is a photographer. Put
simply, photography is not about taking pictures but making pictures. Every aspect of a
professional photo should be thought about and planned before the shutter is released.
It is to this end that every photographer has to answer the following question: What are
the essential components to a good photograph? Generally a good photograph must
have the basic parts of a photograph correct like exposure and composition but it also
must tell a story and add perspective to a the event it is photographing.

To start, the picture needs to combine the basic elements of photography. These
include exposure, composition, and focus. Exposure is the amount of light that is
recorded in the image. As Peter Tellone described in one of his articles, “what we hope
to accomplish is to capture that dynamic range of the scene into our image”. Exposure
is not about being bright enough or dark enough, it’s about getting the best contrast and
range of light. Deep blacks and stunning highlights combine together to create a
breathtaking scene. If you look at any picture by Ansel Adams, you’ll see this principle in
action. He exposes them in a way that brings out the brilliant whites while keeping the
dark blacks for contrast. Composition is how the image is arranged. This is most clearly
described by Diane Smith who stated that composition will “invariably make a good
shot worse and is unlikely to make a bad shot better”. The third basic element, focus, is
just getting the parts that need sharpness to be sharp and the parts that need blur to be
blurred. If your photograph doesn’t include what is taught in basic photography classes
it will look incredibly amature.

Additionally, if a picture is worth a thousand words, those words ought to mean
something. To further use the analogy, a thousand instances of the word “the” would not
be interesting, just as a low quality, poor composition photo would be uninteresting. For
example, Teju Cole exposes how famous photographer Luigi Ghirri makes his photos
“stand out like brilliant individual lines of poetry amid the undifferentiated prose of much
larger pictures.” The picture spark interest in a way that doesn’t just last a few moments.
Ghirri’s photo, Salisburgo, shows a scene of 4 women standing in front of a mountain
landscape. The color choice is somewhat muted in a way that, at first, the women look
like they are actually in the mountains, but upon a second look you see that they are
standing in front of a map for a ski resort. In other words if you look at the photo for
longer, it gets more interesting. This is the fundamental component of a good picture
that is analogous to poetry. Poetry is never read and fully understood once; it requires a
thorough investigation to see the minute nuances.

Probably the most important component of an amazing photo is how it tells the
story of the event in one still image. The way this is done is different for every time of
photo. For instance in portraiture the photographs need to “capture a moment, feeling,
or personality” as professional photographer Ben Soper says. We experience life with
emotion, time, and perspective which by nature aren’t part of a photograph. We, as
photographers, must add in the perspective on the event. This is especially important in
live action photography such as sports or photojournalism. In sports photography you
need to see certain parts to get a sense of the action. If you don’t see the “goal” the
context is lost. While you may know that the man in the air with a basketball is about to
dunk, you don’t feel it unless you see the hoop too. In terms of photojournalism, Teju
Cole from the New York Times describes interestingly how good protest photos look like
they were from “comic books” with “superhero-esque” subjects. Basically the photos
make you feel like you were there and you, like you saw what happened before and
after, and like you feel the emotions that the subjects are feeling. It is this that makes
the photograph good.

Above all, photography is not a passive endeavor. One does not simply snap a
photo and get to the front page of Time Magazine. Every photograph is taken with
intent, with many meticulous details planned out ahead of time. To some it may appear
that photography is a talent that some have and some don’t but that’s simply not true.
The most stunning photos are clearly defined as to how they look so brilliant. They must
first meet the basic needs of photography then fulfill the need for the picture to look
interesting and provide perspective to the scene.
Works Cited

Cole, Teju. "Luigi Ghirri's Brilliant Photographic Puzzles." The New York Times. The

New York Times, 28 June 2016. Web. 05 May 2017.

Cole, Teju. "The Superhero Photographs of the Black Lives Matter Movement." The

New York Times. The New York Times, 26 July 2016. Web. 07 May 2017.

Diane Smyth, Tim Clark, Rachel Segal Hamilton and Lewis Bush. "Photography Theory:

A Beginner's Guide." The Telegraph. Telegraph Media Group, 09 June 2014. Web.

03 May 2017.

"The Ultimate Beginner's Introduction to Exposure." Photo & Video Envato Tuts. Web.

03 May 2017.

Soper, Ben. "Photography." E-mail interview. 4 May 2017.
Answers below.

From: Zack Moeller [mailto:zackmoeller123@gmail.com]
Sent: Monday, May 01, 2017 2:05 PM
To: Soper, Benjamin
Subject: Email interview

Dear Mr. Soper,

Hello, for my senior passion project I need an email interview from a professional photographer.
I would appreciate it if you could answer the following questions.
1. What made you start photography? I was a hobby that I really enjoyed. I had my father’s 35mm Canon
and I took it to Spain and loved every minute.
2. What is your favorite type of photography (landscape, portrait, etc.) and why? I like portraits that
capture a moment, feeling, or personality.
3. What is essential to a good photograph? Perspective.
4. Who is your biggest inspiration / influence? I do not have a photographical icon. I aspire to improve
upon my own set of standards.
5. What should every beginning photographer know? Don’t under value your work or your time. The
worst thing you can do for yourself and the industry is work for free or for very little money. If you are good,
show your work, be proud of your work and don’t get under paid. That being said, you can always be better,
so take criticism and strive to improve.

Thank you for your time; I look forward to reading your response. It would be great if you could
respond by the end of the week.

Best wishes,

Zack Moeller