What is a photograph vs picture vs image? How can I learn to make more interesting, dynamic, and compelling photographs?”
1. Photograph vs picture vs image
A photograph is made by a camera.
A picture can be made with a camera, a paintbrush, a crayon, pen, or any other illustrative tool (digital or analogue).
An image is a mental picture you get in your mind.
You must first of all know how to differentiate between all these things.
As a photographer, you don’t only make photographs — you do more than that. You also make pictures (all photographs are pictures), and you also make images (your photographs will create your viewer to create an image in their head).
Ultimately as a photographer, you are an image-maker.
2. What makes a compelling image?
Ask yourself the question:
Why am I the only person in the world who can make this image?
For myself– good images are opinionated. Which means, your photos must show your opinion of the world.
Do you see the world as a beautiful, uplifting, and positive place? Or do you see the world in a more gloomy, and pessimistic way?
Personally, I think a great photographer is a life-affirmer. A life-affirmer is someone who says:
The world is beautiful, and my camera proves it.
Use your images to inspire, motivate, and uplift the hearts and souls of your viewer.
How to make stronger compositions in your photography.
a. Negative space
Create negative space for your subject– give your subject in your photograph some negative space to ‘breathe.’
By making your subject intentionally small and giving them negative space to move, you allow your viewer to engage their eyes. Any picture that encourages your viewer to look more is a good thing.
A basic compositional technique is ‘figure to ground‘ — to create separation between your subject and the background. You want a dark subject against a bright background, or a bright subject against a dark background.
For example, if we apply the ‘Gaussian Blur’ filter in Photoshop, you can still see the silhouette of the woman pop out of the frame.
If we make an abstract image, this is what we see in terms of the composition:
Pro-Tip: When you’re starting off in photography — to improve your composition, only shoot high-contrast black and white JPEG. This will allow you to visualize the world in terms of relationships between shadows and light. This will force you to simplify your scenes.
c. Diagonal lines
In the modern world, we have many diagonal lines from architecture and buildings.
To make stronger compositions, integrate diagonals into your pictures.
Pro-tip: Find an interesting background or scene with lots of leading lines and diagonals, and then wait for your subject to enter your frame (the fishing technique).
4. Color theory
To make stronger photographs, integrate color-theory into your photos.
The best way to study color is to study abstract painters, like Piet Mondrian.
The benefit of studying color painting– painters have more control over their pictures (when compared to us photographers).
As a practical tip, when you’re shooting photos in color — LOOK FOR VIBRANT COLORS.
The mistake we make as photographers is that we go out and take a bunch of pictures, and don’t even think about color.
The more you think about color while you’re out shooting pictures, you will build your ‘visual acuity’ and start to SEE colors more vividly.
Also as a tip — use Photoshop, or the iPad + ProCreate app to analyze your pictures after you shoot them, to see the colors better:
Some examples of color photographs of mine that I abstracted, to better understand the colors I was shooting:
5. How do I know what my best pictures are?
The art of choosing your best pictures (image-selection) is the most difficult thing in photography.
Practical suggestions to know how to choose your best picture:
- Wait at least a week before choosing your pictures: This will help you forget the memory of shooting the picture– therefore it will allow you to be more ‘objective’ when judging your pictures.
- Look at your photos as small thumbnails: By judging your pictures as small thumbnails, you can better determine whether your pictures ‘pop out’ at you– and you can also judge your compositions better as small thumbnails. Therefore, don’t look at all your pictures full-resolution or full-screen. By judging your pictures as small thumbnails, you will save time, and better see what your best pictures are. As a tip, If your pictures work as small thumbnails, they are good pictures.
- Follow your gut: Do your pictures punch you in the gut, or do they give you a luke-warm “meh” response? Only choose your pictures that really excite you, and pictures you are really enthusiastic about.
Here are some of my ‘contact sheets‘, for you to better understand how I choose my favorite pictures.
You can also see the benefit of shooting many pictures– the more pictures you shoot, the more likely you are to get a good one.
As a practical tip:
When in doubt, shoot 25% more pictures than you think you should.
By pushing yourself to shoot more, you are more likely to evoke an interesting reaction in your subject, or help your subject relax. Also, in photography, we often give up too easily. Push yourself past your comfort zone, to make truly great pictures:
Conclusion: ‘Good’ pictures is a matter of taste
Whatever pictures you deem as ‘good’ or ‘bad’ will be a matter of your personal taste.
There is no objectively ‘good’ or ‘bad’ pictures out there. What matters is whether you think the picture is good or not.
If the picture hits you in the gut, and reverberates in your heart, and embeds itself into your mind’s eye– it is a good photograph.