4 Things All Great Photos Have in Common, Part II

Episode Transcript:

[opening credits]

Howdy my photo peeps. Josh Cripps here from Professional Photography Tips and today I’m going to be analyzing a few of my own photos to show you exactly what’s missing and how I can improve these shots.

If you haven’t seen part I of this video, The 4 Things Every Great Photo Has in Common, I highly recommend you go back and watch that first. In that video I break down the recipe that every great photo uses in order to give you a framework to analyze your own images. So this video will make a lot more sense if you go back and watch that one first.

As I mentioned in that video, the main points to every great photo are Subject, Composition, Technique, and Light. So let’s take a look at a number of photos and see what’s missing.

Here’s the first image, a beach in Santa Cruz. What does the image have going for it? Great light for sure, and nothing is blown out or out of focus, so decent technique. The composition is acceptable in a boring, bland way. So what’s missing? Yup, it’s the subject. Sure, clouds and light can be a subject themselves, but they’re got to be really unique or special, and even then they’re almost always providing a backdrop for an earthly-based subject. Same with this beautiful sunset in Alaska. The light is bonkers, but where’s the subject?

So my rule now is subject before light. Find something that’s worth shooting, like this arch, and set up a seascape composition that works regardless of the clouds. That gives me a stronger start to an image. Then throw in some amazing light like this as the icing on the cake and you have a pretty good shot.

For this next shot let’s take a look at another seascape. Here I’ve got a good subject, this cool seastack, but my composition doesn’t do anything to show it off, I’ve blown out the image, and the light itself is harsh and ugly. But if I move much closer to the seastack, I wait for sunset, and a use a filter to help tame the vibrant sky then I’ve solved those issues and made the shot.

Here I’ve got a perfectly boring shot of a tortoise in South Africa. It’s a good subject, it’s technically an acceptable image, and the light is nice and soft. So why do I feel such a big yawn when I look at this? Because the composition does nothing to show the tortoise off in an interesting way. But if I wait a few minutes until it does something interesting, and I change my point of view to take advantage of that I’ve now got a photo that makes you look twice.

Now let’s take a look at this bald eagle photo I took in Alaska. It’s an interesting subject, the composition is ok, and while the lighting is boring, it’s not downright bad. Here what makes the image fail is technique. I was using a poor-quality lens and didn’t have a fast enough shutter speed (1/400 s) to freeze the eagle in flight, hence all the blurry details. So if I correct those faults: better, sharper lens, and a much faster shutter (1/1600 s), all of a sudden I can make a much better image.

For the next shot, let’s try to figure out what’s wrong here. I’ve got a great subject: these vast fields of tidy tips. I’ve got a good composition that emphasizes the endless expanse of flowers, and I’ve got just about perfect light: soft on the foreground, and dramatic in the sky. What could be wrong? Well, the problem was I was very close to the flowers but only shooting at f/10 and so if I zoom in to the foreground you’ll see the image is clearly out of focus, which ruins it for me. But if I simply stop down to f/18 now I’ve got the depth of field needed to recover the quality in the shot.

Finally, let’s look at the importance of light. Here’s an ambient light shot of my friend Kate. She’s beautiful but still this mage is uninspiring. But if I darken the ambient exposure by a stop, light her from the front with a softbox, and splash a little more light onto the wall behind here I’ve turned this boring alley into a studio and all of a sudden I have something much more interesting.

But what about for natural light. Here too it makes all the difference. This is one of my favorite beaches in the world, which makes it a great subject for me for a photo. I’ve got a compelling composition set up, and other than a blown out sky the technique is good: enough DOF, and a long shutter speed to add silkyness to the water. I’ll add a filter to take care of the sky problem, and I’ll leave everything else exactly how it is. Then I simply waited for the vibrant colors of sunset to hit, in other words, for the light to get better, and this was the incredibly different result.

There you have it, everyone. I could sit here and analyze images all day but hopefully that’s enough of a starting point to get you going on your own. Thanks so much for watching and be sure to check out some of my other videos. You can also subscribe to get awesome new videos when they’re uploaded. Or visit my website, joshuacripps.com, for landscape photography, workshops, tutorials and more. Until next time, have fun and happy shooting.

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