Whether you’re a professional photographer or just a person with a camera (or phone) wanting to take a decent picture, there’s one thing that’s vital to a great photograph.
It’s not your camera settings. Or your background. Or the time of day. Or any other technical quality.
If you want a photo that doesn’t suck, you need to make it tell a story.
It doesn’t have to be a long story. It doesn’t have to be an important story. But there needs to be a story.
This bears the question: how do you tell a story with a photograph?
It starts with asking yourself: why am I taking this picture? What do I want people to see or to understand when they look at this picture?
It can be as simple as wanting to tell the story of beauty in a forgotten bridge, or as complex as the story of suffering behind the eyes of an indigenous native.
The saying goes:
“A picture is worth a thousand words.”
This is because a well-made picture can convey a story in a way that’s more succinct, direct and poignant than words ever can.
But you’ve gotta have a story to tell first.
Photography is unique as an art form. A painter cannot paint without first having an idea. A writer cannot write without first having an idea. In photography, it’s different. You can just take out a camera and push a button without thinking. A picture will come out.
This doesn’t make it a good picture. And it doesn’t mean you should take pictures this way.
In a great picture the idea comes first and the taking of the picture comes second.
You can spend hours, days, weeks and years perfecting the technicalities of photography. And perhaps you should. But unless you’re telling a story with your pictures, they will suck.
Harsh. But true.