What Makes a Great Photograph? #3 Richard Avedon

What makes a great photograph? Some thoughts on the work of Richard Avedon:

About Richard Avedon

Why I love the photos of Richard Avedon

  1. Extreme minimalist compositions. Lots of his compositions are with a simple white background. Many of his most effective photos are just single subjects.
  2. His ability to dance, interact, and draw out a certain gesture, emotion, or soul from his subjects. Lesson: there are no “objective” photos. In the words of Avedon, “All photos are accurate, none of them are truth.”
  3. His love and appreciation for both the female and the male body.
  4. His constant experimentation with compositions. Note that some of his photos are center-aligned, others are top-heavy, some of them are cut off in strange places.
  5. Avedon shot until he died: One of the best traits of a photographer is to be prolific and productive until you die.

Composition techniques

Some things I took away when studying the work of Richard Avedon:

  1. Motion is good: I love a lot of his blurred photos.
  2. Extreme closeups are good.
  3. Shooting from a low angle, looking up, makes the subjects look even more epic!
  4. Black and white looks generally better than his color work. My theory: black and white probably will probably last longer than color photography as a more artistic aesthetic. Lesson for myself: Shoot more monochrome portraits.

Style and approach:

Most people know Richard Avedon as a fashion photographer. But he is so much more.

He’s one of the ultimate “human” photographers. He did a lot of street photography, documentary work, fashion, portraiture, and his emphasis was always on human beings and the human form.

Thus when studying his work, I’ve come to realize:

Don’t care so much about your technique, style, or approach.

More important:

Focus on photographing what you’re passionate about.

For Avedon, that was people.

Analysis of specific photos

Some very innovative compositions from Avedon which I love:

1. Bottom black heavy

2. Layers, depth, separation of black and white tones, drama and action

3. Silhouettes of faces, eyes

4. In the American West

Some of my favorite photos from Avedon:

Lessons I will apply to my personal photography

  1. Keep compositions super simple, but focus on hand gestures, eye contact, body gestures, and movement. Blur is good!
  2. Keep shooting until I die. Don’t worry about money; focus on making epic and timeless photos which will outlive me.
  3. Humans are the ultimate subjects to photograph.

For more inspiration, download the Richard Avedon app for iPad to see his entire portfolio.

Learn more about Richard Avedon >

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