It is probably the question, paramount to all others, that should be addressed by new and old photographers alike. What makes a great photograph? Joel Grimes, in the first of his series of videos called ‘Behind The Lens’, very broadly touches on approaching this question in the brief video below, and if you’re looking for a textbook defined answer to the question, well, you won’t find it there. This, is a good thing, because it’s sort of impossible to define, and what Joel does is be more suggestive. What he points out is that creating a great photo is above all else a creative process, and to be creative, it must be personal.
Furthermore, he stresses again that which I find myself repeating to up and coming photographers and critics of photography, all the time – that pristine technical execution isn’t the hallmark of a good image. It’s important to know, but is really a starting point. I liken it to martial arts; An uncle of mine who’s been a student and teacher of Shotokan Karate for some 40 years says that belts, really, indicate little, and that achieving the black belt is merely an indicator of some time spent, and basics covered. It’s at this point that he feels the learning really begins. Photography is the same in my opinion, that you should have the technical basics down, but they are simply a starting point – a means to materialize your vision.
Joel speaks to that feeling that getting caught up in equipment used, and all the technicalities, should only come after a decision has come about the vision itself. Only after you answer the questions of ‘what’ and ‘why’ should you then fall onto your technical side to figure out ‘how’ to do it, though this is generally where most teaching starts. Essentially, what you are trying to do is figure out what your heart wants, and make it happen with your brain. This is how great photographs are made, and also keep in mind that just because some people don’t like it doesn’t mean it’s not great.