Artistic Merit and Photography

When photographers shoot, They ought to try to remember these five things


Photograph by Holly Springs Photography


In the 16th and 17th centuries, European art academies, and especially, Académie Royale de Peinture et de Sculpture, created by France's King Louis the 14th, created a "Hierarchy of Genres," which was a means of classification and identification of great works of art. In her written work, The Drama of The Portrait, Laura Bass suggested that the hierarchy was "based on a distinction between art that made an intellectual effort to "render visible the universal essence of things" (ritrarre in Italian) and that which merely consisted of "mechanical copying of particular appearances" (imitare). [You can read more about the Hierarchy of Genres HERE.] We plan to explore this hierarchy as it applies to photography in a later post. But for now, we would like to consider what gives our work merit and we will suggest that it applies to Bass's statement of rendering the universal essence of things, which is to say, to tell a story in a single frame.

So here are some things to consider when you are shooting, in order to obtain the highest level of artistry in any photograph or any subject matter.





So you have your camera pointed and you are looking through the lens, what are you seeing exactly. Is it moving–emotional-sad, happy, blank–and is it a capture which is going to cause an emotional response–laughter, anger, compassion. Perhaps, you are photographing a moment in a story, for example, the first moment that a new mother gets to meet her newborn baby. These days, most photographers will hold the shutter release button and depending on the professional grade of their camera, take up to 12 pictures per second. Later, these photographers might have weed through 700 hundred photos to find the single, best one. Whether you are making your selection in the moment, that is, not holding your finger on the shutter release and using your instinct to snap at the precise moments or whether you are making your selection in post, you might want to consider looking at these pictures in an unbiased way, through the eyes of cynic, or idealist, another mother, a father or brother, or even better, an art critic. Thinking about impact during your shoot will certainly help you to take better pictures.




Technique and Direction

Technique and direction can mean many different things but for the sake of helping aspiring photographers, let us just say that it pertains to methodology. Now, a methodology doesn't need to be set in stone, and it doesn't need to be all encompassing either. You can apply various methods at different times. Some photo sessions may benefit from no direction from the photographer at all, and during other sessions, direction may be mandatory, to ensure a better frame, better lighting, and ideal expression of the moment. Consider our hypothetical situation presented above, a mother and her newborn child. Will talking to your subject interrupt the magic of the moment? Will not directing them result in lousy photos? Can you feel this conundrum? Here are some ways to deal with this dilemma.

The first is planning ahead. Make sure to have a discussion with your subject ahead of time and plan for contingencies. Let them know what your plan is. If they are aware you might talk to them during special moments, it will certainly be less disruptive to the shoot and the moment. After all, they were most likely paying you to captures these moments as beautifully as the could possibly be captured.

The second is more exact. In the situation with the mother and newborn, we would suggest doing your best to capture the moment journalistically in the first minute(s); then, direct your subject to get the best possible shot, adjust their pose in order to get the best possible light and frame and possibly adjust their expression to better capture the emotion of the moment.  





This is a very broad topic which we will investigate in more detail in a later blog entry, so for the purpose of these tips, we are going to limit composition to mean CONTENT. The question of content is, for a single impactful photo, is all of the information needed to clearly tell the story present in the frame. In our mother and newborn scenario, think of the additional items that can be framed. Should we see the hospital bed frame? Should we see the father? Should we see electronics? You might be thinking, "NO. This photograph is simply about the mother and the child" And that is fine if that is what you are going for. Remember, the tips in this blog post are not about what you are delivering to the client; they are about the artistic merits and photography. Perhaps, to make a more impactful photo, you would include the father in the background because he had tears of joy. Perhaps the bedsheets show the wear from a difficult delivery. Or the medical equipment, shows a spool of cardiac readouts that must have been running for hours. Remember to keep your eyes open for the necessary information in order to get your best possible shot.



Style, Lighting, & Color

Some of these aspects are issues for post processing of your image, but of course, it is always prudent to consider these aspects when creating your raw photo, and also, before you even arrive at the shoot. Will you be using ambient lighting or will you be setting up gear. What color is the room and the wardrobe? What style or genre of photography will you be invoking? Are black and white photos the end results? Should you be using special filters to adjust the color or other variables in camera. While you are shooting, you might take notice of colors in your location. You may notice that certain angles provide better highlights? Ask yourself whether this is a shoot that will require everything to be in focus. If so, will there be enough light to dial down your camera's iris in order to gain a greater depth of field. And if the goal is to have everything in focus, what techniqque will you use to create separation of your subject from their background? Will use use light to do that or can you rely on color? Considering these variables before you shoot and during your shoot will provide much better results.



Technical Precision

We have saved this tip for last because it is probably the most obvious. Start with the basics by making sure that you have a proper exposure, that you are getting this exposure through the correct means (shutter vs. iris vs. iso), that your color settings (or film) are correct for the shoot, and that your images will be in focus. Remember, you can make a picture softer during the processing, but you cannot remove motion blur in post from your original. Know the effects of your exposure settings and the limitations of your dynamic range before you shoot and practice with them so that you have experience and understanding of what is too bright and too dark to be fixed during your post processing.


Staff Tipc