“How do I take a great photograph?” That is the simple seven word question I received in an email just recently. I was struck by the irony that such a question only took 7 words to ask and perhaps thousands to answer. So, I set out to answer it in as few words as possible. This is what I came up with; Subject, Composition, and Timing – Always in that order.
Perhaps this will be my new mantra, I’ll simply repeat this over and over again until it’s attributed to me. Could the answer to such a common question be as simple as that? I believe so and I’ll explain why in many more words below.
First, let me address this particular email. The first thing I would tell you if you were in one of my workshops is that we never “take” photographs. Saying you took something discounts the effort you put into whatever it is that you are doing. I prefer “create”… How do I create a great photograph. If you’re a photographer who consistently produces great photography then you are creating images not taking them. Perhaps this stems from one of my favorite lines I read in a book a while back (author unknown); “Man is closest to God when he is creating.” That aside, Subject, Composition, and Timing… In that order.
Subject is the most important ingredient to successful photography. Often I see images that lack great composition or even timing (of the day) but they nail an interesting subject and I can’t pull my eyes away. It’s memorable. Sure, composition and timing would certainly strengthen the image but it stands out on its own and lingers on in my memory. Subject trumps composition and timing… Think paper, rock, scissors.
Composition is second to subject. If you have an incredibly boring subject or something that’s been overdone (think cat photos) all the composition in the world isn’t going to turn your photograph into something great. On the other hand, if your subject is great (or even really good) composition can make or break your photograph. In fact, you could have the best subject in the world and completely botch it by composing it in some awful way.
Finally, timing is muy importante as well. If you’ve got a great subject, good composition, and great timing you’ll have a great photograph. Timing can be the time of the day (light) or simply what the subject is doing at any given moment.
By now you’ve probably realized that each of these elements are incredibly important in the construction of a great photograph. Almost equally so. When all three of these elements, subject, composition, and timing, come together you are sure to walk away with something memorable. Something great.
Feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments section below.