Parts of a Photograph
When we look at a photograph, our eyes latch on the main subject and zero in. Only then do we understand the photograph and respond to it emotionally.
The photographer sends a message to the viewer: "Look, my cute child", or, "How beautiful nature is!" But does the viewer clearly and easily understand this message? The viewer's brain analyses the parts making up the picture. These parts must reinforce each other for the photograph to succeed, its message to be delivered.
Take, for example, the photograph's corners and edges. If they are brighter than the central subject then the viewer's eyes will be drawn away from the subject to the bright areas which will fight for the viewer's attention instead of reinforcing the message of the photograph. Above, the photograph on the left has a bright left edge which draws the eye away from the bird.
Therefore, when I start working with a photograph I first darken any unnecessarily bright corner or edge. If there are bright areas near the subject that detract from it, I also darken those. Above, the photograph on the right has a darker left edge which does not distract the eye.
These are techniques I picked up from years of making black and white prints in the darkroom. Making adjustments and corrections in the darkroom was difficult and expensive, so one quickly learned those with the most impact.
Then there is the matter of the subject and background. The background is almost as important as the subject of the photograph. An unsuitable background destroys a photograph but a suitable one helps. Why then do we see bad backgrounds in so many photographs? When looking through the camera, our brain deemphasizes a distracting background – almost filters it out - as we concentrate on the subject. However, the camera, a machine, cannot distinguish between useful and distracting items in front of it and makes the photograph neutrally. When we see the photograph, the distractions that our brain had told our eye to ignore become painfully obvious.
So we must consciously try to arrange the photograph in the viewfinder so that the subject is free of annoying distractions.
Another part of the photograph is the sharpness of the subject. Our visual perception - our brain's ability to make sense of a scene – relies on the edges (boundaries) in the scene. The brain loves subjects with sharp edges because it can quickly "read" them. A blurry or out of focus picture, on the other hand, presents mushy edges to the brain which must try harder to read it.
Contrast is another important part of the photograph. Low contrast often creates gloom. Higher contrast makes the photograph more energetic and readable. But too high a contrast may be jarring and harsh.
Sometimes we take pictures in low light. So we must increase the camera ISO, which in turn increases the graininess of the photograph. It is better to have a grainy but sharp photograph, rather than a blurry but low-grained one.
So the next time you raise your camera, think of all the parts that make up the final picture you have in mind. Making these parts work together will help you create a better photograph.
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