We live in a photographic era: just a decade shy of the 200th anniversary of the world's first recorded photograph, the science of the field has advanced so rapidly that today everyone is a...
We live in a photographic era: just a decade shy of the 200th anniversary of the world’s first recorded photograph, the science of the field has advanced so rapidly that today everyone is a photographer. In this day and age of selfies and Snapchat, Instagram and Facebook, we can probably all admit to having taken ourselves a little too seriously as amateur photographers at some point.
This overwhelming prevalence of photography, though, can leave one questioning just what it takes to excel in the field. In short, what sets an exceptional photographer apart from an amateur? The best photographers today contribute to the rich diversity of the field, but they also share some essential qualities that result in images that transcend the every day and enter into the exceptional.
A key component of high-quality photography, just like any art form, is composition. No talented photographer will simply lift and shoot a camera hoping that frame will be fantastic. The skilled photographer will devote significant time to finding just the right arrangement of compositional elements. Also essential is the role of lighting, particularly when working in black-and-white photography. What is illuminated (and even what is not) can become the focal point of the composition, so it is essential that an image be not too intensely or too dimly lit.
It is also crucial that the photograph allows you into a moment in time. Whether the composition is packed with cues or is a minimalist perspective of the human form, those photographs that excel are those that transport the viewer, either to another moment in their life or another moment in time altogether. Quality photography can be an escape into another world, and it is that illusion of escape that makes provocative photography all the more powerful: a tasteful glimpse is all it takes.
Perhaps what is most elemental among the great photography of today is that the images themselves prove inspirational. Whether that inspiration takes the form of luring the viewer into the picture’s world or motivating the viewer to attempt a similar compositional approach, the best photography energizes those who see it. This level of inspiration comes from the root passion of the photographer, but he or she will know that success has been achieved if a similar passion resonates in those who view the image.
Of course, these aspects are easier said than accomplished. If these characteristics were easy to achieve, we would all be photographers on par with masters like early 20th-century icon Alfred Stieglitz or contemporary fashion favorite Helmut Lang. It is, though, the challenges meet all elements that separate the unknown from the universally renowned, the amateur from the professional.