The Most Important Secret to a Successful Photograph

Imagine trying to write an essay without knowing what you want to say. Suppose you know that the topic is winter, but nothing more. It would be difficult to write an effective essay without having a point of view. You could easily end up just assembling a random set of facts about winter. If, however, you decide to share your love of winter by writing about enjoying winter sports, you would be giving a focus to the essay, and bringing your own perspective to the story. Another writer with different feelings about the season might write about surviving harsh winter weather. Such stories are more engaging because they have a point of view.

Just like essay-writing, photography is a form of communication. If you don’t know what you want to say about your subject, it is difficult to make an effective image. A photograph also tells a story; it conveys the photographer’s vision, ideas or feelings to the viewer. The secret, then, to making a successful photograph, is in knowing what you want to say.

When you take a picture, there’s always something that makes you lift your camera to your eye. This is an emotional pull, and is your gut reacting to a scene. But how often do you stop to ask yourself why you have reacted? If, instead of just pointing and shooting, you pause to analyse what has drawn you to the scene, then you can make a better image of it.

Photographers have an arsenal of tools at their disposal. Once you understand what has attracted you to a particular subject, you can select the appropriate tools from your toolbox to most effectively convey your message to the viewer. For example, horizontal lines lend a sense of tranquility and stability to an image, whereas diagonal lines express action and change. High key images have a more uplifting mood than low key ones. Warm colours give an image a different feeling to cool colours. Making your subject appear tiny within the frame gives a sense of isolation, whereas filling the frame with it allows us to examine its details.

Before you click the shutter next time, consciously ask yourself what it is that has attracted you to the scene you want to shoot. Is it a color? A texture? A particular element of the scene, like a barn? If it’s the barn, then what is it about the barn? Is it the fact that it’s the only structure for miles around (so it tells a story of isolation)? Is it that it is old and run down, but still standing (so it tells a story of survival)? Is it reminiscent of days gone by, and nostalgic? Once you know why you are attracted, you will then know the best way to make your photograph so that it tells your story. The secret is in understanding what you want to say.