What Makes a Good Photograph? (part I)

As you can imagine this is probably the question #1 that all emerging and not so emerging photographers do. In fact most people, from art collectors to economists. But let’s focus on photographers and art collectors, as you’re more my kind of readers: I wouldn’t know how to explain all this in “economic-financial code” though.

Forget the gear. If you’re into digital, there will be always those who prefer Canon to Nikon, as there will always be a fight between who’s the best: the iMac or the PC. I obviously use Canon and Mac. For analogue I use an old Agfa Silette and my dear Asahi Pentax (that I use since my 13yo). But you know what? I couldn’t care less about the gear you use: the most important is you to know it, to have a good and intimate relation with it so you two can play together and have wonderful times.

If you know how to play with your camera as your most intimate toy, you know how to focus, how to get the best aperture, etc. So it doesn’t matter for here: you have plenty of boring-technical-sponsored blogs and articles about all that.

I’m not talking either about light, as it would be redundant once we’re talking about photography.

I’m talking about interestingness.

by ©Nana Lutea

by ©Nana Lutea

About the difference between subject and object.

by @Jessica Hilltout

by @Jessica Hilltout

by ©Pierre Gonnord

by ©Pierre Gonnord

And some other details that you should be aware of, like being emotionally far away from what you’re doing. Or at least, after you did it. The Artist’s Blindness.

We all saw beautiful sunsets at the beach with our lovers, and for you, that sunset picture that you took was amazingly beautiful, probably the most beautiful sunset ever and you kept in a picture that you sent through instagram, you pin it, you facebook it, you tumblr it… Like that photo of your baby drooling that you sent on several emails to all your friends. Or the photo of your no-face-expression cat that only the owner understands. I know it’s hard, but please: keep those moments to yourself. It can be the most beautiful sunset, baby or no-face cat… but it’s your own moment, not ours. They are not interesting photos. They can be cute, or nice. Dot. They are just about the object. Not a subject to the viewers.

And when you want to create dialogue, you can’t forget the viewer, the ultimate part of the triangle creator/subject/viewer. (see The Conspiracy of the Triangle).

In photography, the creator is the one who starts the conversation, who brings the subject. And on this, if you don’t bring it in an interesting way or an interesting subject you’ll not have any answer from the listener/viewer: the one who will keep the dialogue with you. Or not.

First let’s talk about the so called “artist blindness“.

Mr. Gypson, by ©GBénard

Self Portrait as Mr. Gypson, by ©GBénard

Most of the times we somehow get emotional ties to a photograph we take, as only we know the circumstances or the work we put there that is invisible for others, so for us, that photo is not only what is visible, but all the story behind… that nobody sees apart from us. But sometimes, the story behind is more interesting than the photograph itself, and the story is told only in your mind, not in what you show. See for example the “Spirit of Ecstasy” (image bellow) that I wrote about in “Tell Me a Story“.

The Spirit of Ecstasy, by ©Gonzalo Bénard

The Spirit of Ecstasy, by ©Gonzalo Bénard

As a cyber curator in few different visual platforms and judge on different photography online contests, I get hundreds of submissions per day. To be honest, I don’t know how my eyes can see such tremendous amount of sunsets, cats, smiling lovers and babies drooling per day without getting nuts. Officially nuts, I mean. Maybe “96,73%” of the photographs I receive is not worth more than being called “picture” or “snapshot”. They are completely uninteresting. They lack everything. Only probably “2,64%” is worth to see though. And a surprised “Oh! That’s good!” only comes to “0,94%” of the submitted photos. Where is the interestingness factor on the photographs?

I know that everybody takes pictures and snapshots nowadays. Everybody has a mobile phone with camera, instagram, ipad (and how ridiculous is to see people walking around taking pictures with their iPads? They even use it in double sense, they create shade on their face so they can see and they shoot… they have no idea what they’re doing! Unless showing that they have an iPad like everybody else). Living in Paris you don’t see any single tourist without a camera in their hands. They travel with them glued. Even if they’re in a queued line to take the same photo like everybody else when the touristic bus stops, they have to take their own. That’s their moment, even if the picture they take is as bad as the others. You can’t imagine the amount of people asking me in the streets of Paris to take photos of them with their phones or pocket cameras: “Please, can you take a photo of us with the Votre Dame’s door behind?”.

All these shots are completely uninteresting except for the people who’s in them. And only few people are able to make interesting photos of these touristic places: You must have a great eye and be always aware of details. Details can make a photograph. Be patient, be aware and wait for the detail to happen or go find it your self. Dare to be different.

Sometimes you get great photos being hidden behind another photographer, waiting for him to relax, and take the shots yourself. Especially if he’s taking photos of people posing: they are not worried with you, but posing for the other, the moment he relax, most of the times curious things happens so you can shot.

Don’t be emotional when you’re doing photography. Be a professional. Be conscious of what you’re doing. Make it meaningful, make it interesting, but don’t leave your emotions being attached to it. Let the emotions being abducted in the image itself.

by ©Shadi Gharidian

by ©Shadi Gharidian

Artist’s Blindness is that. Sometimes we’re so emotional attached to that moment that we lived and shot, that we didn’t realize that the photograph itself could mean nothing to the viewers. Maybe it’s a shit photo, but you’re so emotional connected with it that you’re not aware of that at all. Artist’s blindness is quite normal and usual in photographers, painters, etc. So the best thing is to have one or two honest friends or colleagues who can tell you the truth: don’t ask to someone who loves you like your grandmother as they will always tell you how great it is even being half blind.  Ask for honest opinion from someone you respect. And take it in a not personal way. That’s why also some professionals do “portfolio reviews“: with time and others expertise you’ll learn how to go out from the artist blindness by yourself. But let me tell you, even the most expert and professionals artists have this. As I said: It’s normal and usual. I do often ask someone else to check a photograph that I can be myself in doubt. And the other’s vision is important for me to understand the image without the emotional side. Just don’t trust in your “grand mother” on this. Even less in your lover: they will lie to you without knowing.

by ©Roger Ballen

by ©Roger Ballen

In the composition, as I wrote in “Flip the Compo“, if you leave the right space empty, you’re inviting the viewer to fill the gap. But if you don’t put something real interesting on the left side, the viewer will probably change the street to another with better windows. Or with better views. Make the viewer to be and to feel inside of your photo, to be and to feel himself there with you at the same moment.

One of the coolest things I’ve heard from my models of “B Shot by a Stranger“, was that they felt voyeurs of them selves when they saw the photos in which they were. Curious, isn’t it? How can a photograph make you feel voyeur of your own self if they were there as the observed one?

by ©Gonzalo Bénard

by ©Gonzalo Bénard

That feeling of voyeurism is part of the interestingness of the photos: We all have a bit of voyeur, especially if we’re a photographer, and even more if we have the camera in our hands, the biggest toy for a voyeur. A shameless observer as we should be as photographers.

Smoking High, by ©GonzaloBénard

Smoking High, by ©GonzaloBénard

And this makes the difference between “capture” an image and “rapture” it, as I wrote at “On Photography, One Advice“:  “Learn everything you can learn about, pay attention to all the details you can, but shoot only when you’re able to forget all that you’ve learned and saw, so you can feel the rapture, not the capture.” And you don’t need an E.T. to abduct.

– >go to:  “What Makes a Good Photograph? part II
Please feel free, if you have any doubt or question, to leave it in the comment box.


Feb, 2013

– post by ©Gonzalo Bénard for 2HeadS
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Preview and Purchase now:

GBenard IEnergyss  cover The Sacred Book of Gss

The Sacred Book of G” is a stream of consciousness, a thought provoking intimate journal written byGonzalo Bénard. After 3 days of brain death he reborn with a deep loss of memory. He reborn without any sense of his past — of his own roots — of his own self. Before that he’d spent his time creating defences to disguise his autism. He had lost it too. New born G had no memory and no defences.

I, Energy” is a book on Cosmic Consciousness, Quantum Physics and Old Shamanism written by Gonzalo Bénard who not only lived in Himalayas with shamans and in a Buddhist monastery but also in the Western Sahara with old shamans. A guide on healing and transcendental meditation and how you can master your own mind, leading yourself the collective consciousness.

Gonzalo Bénard is a lecturer, author, tutor of autistic teenagers, and a visual artist.His photography has been part of the annual programs of several universities around the world, mainly about the seriesOneness, Nudes and B Shot by a Stranger, and are in several private and public art collections such as Museum of Serralves, Cultural Centre of Cascais or Sir Elton John’s.
His photographs are also being used in Hollywood productions and TV series and you can see his work of photography at his webpage.

Follow @GBenard on twitter for daily updates.

On Amazon you can also purchase these 2 books of Gonzalo Bénard photography:
GBenard nude cover 1ss book cover

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