24 November 2011

The stuff that good clicks are made of

The reason photography is classified under arts is simple - it is subjective. You cannot define a good photograph - you can only define your idea of a good photograph.

I was once asked to explain how I would differentiate a good photograph from a mundane or bad click. In return, I asked her whether she preferred a beer mug or a wine glass for drinking water. She chose to drink in the beer mug. I told her that I would personally prefer the wine glass. Whose choice was correct? Neither was wrong I would say. The wine glass appealed to me - maybe out of habit or out of social norms that beer is usually served in a beer glass while water can be served in wine glasses. But why did she choose the beer glass I wondered. She had no logical explanation for it - it was 'her choice'. And that was my explanation to her question - it's an individual's choice!

So why did I blabber about this incident you may ask? I did it to simply prove a point - art is subjective; our appreciation of a work of art is based on our perception of that piece. We often hear about masterpieces from Picasso or Da Vinci and wonder what separates these works of art from the creations of other artists. While I or you may not be able to decipher the works of these masters, there are those who will do anything to have these in their list of prized possessions. So you see, my idea of good photography is MY IDEA - you may not disagree with it; or you simply might. So I am going to try laying down my idea of a good click, hoping that I can get feedback on and will be able to improve my criteria for a good capture.

1. The message
You pen your story not with ink, but with color & composition. What story is your image narrating? What are you attempting to depict through your clicks? It shouldn't be a day's work for the viewer to figure out the message in your photographs.

The image of the left has two possible subjects - the setting sun and/or the bike. Both could be the subjects in the image but since the bike is not completely inside the picture, the message is not clear. What are you trying to say? "guess the bike?" If yes, then what is the beach/sunset for?

The image on the right provides more clarity on the message - it screams "check out the bike with the beach/sunset backdrop!".

2. Step out of the crowd
Be different, be yourself. Admiration for your favorite artists should not creep into your style in the form of blind imitation. Create your own style. We all know how much we adored Anu Malik's blatant plagiarism :)

3. What am I lookin at?
Your image should guide the viewer to your subject in it. If the viewer is struggling to locate the intended subject in the image, obviously he/she will run into bad weather trying to get the message of the photograph. Cut him some slack, don't make him work for it.

4. Dump the clutter
Try to get rid of matter not relevant to the subject. For example, if your image is aimed at showcasing the beauty of a car then get rid of the bits of paper or any other disturbing artifacts/people in the frame before you compose the image.

5. Hold it steady
When not using a tripod, it is easy to introduce camera shake into the picture, especially in situations of low light. Though it may look sharp on the miniature display that your camera is equipped with, it maybe a completely different story altogether on your computer screen and worse - in prints! So make it a habit to keep your hand steady.

6. Colorful or colorless?
Try to take pictures in black-and-white. While you also have the option of shooting in color and then converting it to b&w during post-processing, shooting and reviewing in b&w on the camera gives you a completely different experience - that of judging light.When we shoot in color, we usually pay attention to the colors in the frame and not the light. Shoot in b&w every now and then - either to understand light or simply to break the monotony.

This image has no post-processing done to it. This is a shot of a dining table in a dark restaurant. The table had a dim overhead lamp which lit a minimal area over the table. Shot in b&w, I really liked the effect.

7. Post-processing - now even you can fake it!
Why do most contemporary photographers indulge in the highly debated act of post-processing? That is because they want to bring the mental picture to life. If you were an artist who painted with a brush, you could have used the colors that you wanted and bring your imagination to life. With a camera, alas, not everything is in your control. People don't smile, don't look in the right direction, don't wear the right clothes or everyone is just having a bad hair-day! Whatever the case, you are unable to compose the scene to suit your mental picture. Fikar not biraadar! Tools like Adobe Photoshop, GIMP (open source & free), Adobe Lightroom (RAW file processing) are here to help you bring your imagination to life :) 

But don't overdo it. An image should at best, look "polished" but not "altered". Nobody likes to look at a picture that has "what you see is not what it was" written all over it. In the below images, the one on top has mild saturation applied to it to bring out the green. The bottom image on the other hand, has gone overboard with the saturation slider and screams "fake! fake!". Resist the temptation to post-process to such a point.

So those were some guiding lines followed by me when I have to decide a good image from a bad one. Note that the above guidelines apply more to personal/artistic clicks and need not be valid in the commercial field. For example, post-processing is part and parcel of commercial work. If it weren't, believe me, your simple girl next door would make more heads turn than all the Katrina Kaifs and Bipashas combined :)

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