Thoughts on Life, Art, Photography, Technology, Teaching and Travel…..

Key Ingredients for Great Photographs

Woman looking at Photographs – Brataslava, Slovakia by Patrick Keough 2012

I’ve taught all aspects of  photography for 30+ years at the college level and have conducted countless critiques in a variety of settings and formats in the US, Central America and in Europe. I have come to the realization that there are some common denominators when it comes to evaluating (critiquing) photographs no matter what part of the world you are in.  Photography is a universal language and excellent photographs have the power to transcend regional and language barriers.

Screen Shot 2013-07-13 at 1.51.41 PM

Now that I’m semi-retired and moderating a Photo Sharing and Critique Group on Facebook, I’ve been giving a lot of thought to the ingredients that go into a great photograph and how to critique it appropriately. I think it’s  important to have a basic understanding of the History of Photography (and art for that matter) before you can offer a fellow photographer a serious and in-depth critique of their pictures. Most people don’t realize all the variables (ingredients)  that go into the capturing of a great photograph.

Photographs from El Salvador by Patrick Keough 2013

Photographs from El Salvador by Patrick Keough 2013

The following are some questions you need to be asking yourself when making photographs. These are the variables I consider when critiquing a photograph.

• Before you snap the shutter have you identified your main subject? Are you thinking about depth of field? What do you want sharp in the photograph and what areas do you want to de-emphasize?

• What shutter speed is appropriate for the given shot? Is it an action shot that requires a fast shutter speed or do you want to create some illusion of movement by slowing the shutter in order to create a slight blur.

• Are you thinking about subject placement...leading lines and the rule of 3rds? Good composition and design can only enhance a good subject and give it more impact. Its ok to break the rules, but I suggest knowing them first before trying to break them.

• Are you anticipating the action/movement/gesture of the subject in order to capture a unique decisive moment? Are you exploring and investigating every possible angle, vantage point and expressive quality of the subject.

• Are you controlling light to create mood and drama or texture, shape and 3 dimensionality ?

• Did you perform basic post-production applications on your photograph such as contrast leveling, cropping and color correction.

Graffiti and Bikes in Amsterdam by Patrick Keough

All of these fundamental concepts and techniques relate to pre-visualization which is the cornerstone of good photography and insures that we create and capture images that go beyond the snapshot mode and offer the viewer a glimpse into your personal style and direction as a photographer.

Style has no formula, but it has a secret key.
It is the extension of your personality.

Ernst Haas

There comes a time in your photographic journey that you have to do some soul searching and ask yourself what exactly is your personal vision as a photographer. What makes your pictures unique and stand out among the rest.

Sunset in Guatemala with clouds and Volcano's by Patrick Keough 2103

Sunset in Guatemala with Clouds and Volcano’s by Patrick Keough 2103

Image makers still use the same techniques of photographic composition in their pictures as they did 100 years ago, however we are sharing (imparting) the “photographic content” in different ways with different more sophisticated tools. Our technologically evolving society demands that photographers constantly learn and grow- we as image makers can no longer be complacent in our knowledge and skills – things are changing too rapidly for photographers to be comfortable in their respective skill (knowledge) levels.

In my opinion…Photography is not a 9-5 job. It’s a way of life. A way of living. A way of SEEING and translating the world around us through the lens of a camera.

Here are some great web sites that address this theme in Photography

Dan Bailey’s Adventure Photo Blog

Rich Sammon Photograpy

Essential Ingredients for Great Landscape Photography

Recipe for a Perfect Picture

“ Your first 10,000 photographs are your worst. – Henri Cartier-Bresson


3 comments on “Key Ingredients for Great Photographs

  1. Patrick Keough
    July 13, 2013

    Reblogged this on Vasatransmedia.

  2. Karen M.
    July 13, 2013

    Since what I pre-visualize does not always appear on film or the digital screen, I take comfort in this quote.

    I have never taken a picture I’ve intended.
    They’re always better or worse.
    Diane Arbus

    Of course, I always try for better. And I agree, photography is a way of life. Although sometimes life gets in the way.

  3. wowApic
    November 12, 2013

    Well said!! And photographers are using the techniques with their powerful innovations and it becomes great forever.

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This entry was posted on July 13, 2013 by in Keough Journal, Photography and tagged , , , .
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