Your eyes, heart, mind and personality.
Above: I photographed this sunrise over Sydney Harbour earlier this year.
The most common question I’m asked is: “What gear do I need to take the best photos?”
Whilst there is no doubt that certain lenses will help you take technically better photos and certain cameras will help you take higher resolution images, I believe that these are not the most essential qualities to taking great photos.
Whenever I eat a great meal my first thought isn’t “Hmm, I wonder what kind of oven this was baked in?” or “What knives the chef used to slice the ingredients with?” Great meals are not created because a chef used great tools. Great meals are created because of the way he or she combines the ingredients and prepares and serves them.
The best and most expensive tools in the world will not guarantee the best and most appealing creations in the world. There are other more important qualities that influence whether or not something is great.
So when it comes to great photos I believe there are four essential factors that separate the mediocre photos from the great photos.
1. Your eyes
By eyes I don’t mean how well you can see. From my experience and a snap poll amongst my photographer friends most of us have less than 20/20 vision.
It’s not how you see but what you see that makes all the difference.
If 10 photographers were all asked to photograph a man walking by a cafe carrying a loaf of bread, they would all create vastly different images.
Some would just focus on his face, some perhaps on the hands, some might choose to shoot the image as a landscape and include lots of detail around him to tell the story.
How we see is the one thing that we all do differently. What we include in an image, what we leave out and how we frame it is a unique quality we all have and one of the most important qualities of a great photo.
2. Your mind
How you feel on any given day will have a huge effect on how you see and what you see. If, for example, you’re having a bad day where your car broke down, chances are you are not going to notice the gorgeous sunset or beautiful patch of light on the wall you just walked past. You may instead be caught up in your thoughts worrying about how to get your car fixed.
Your frame of mind is crucial to taking great photos. I’m not saying you need to walk around blissfully happy to be a great photographer but you do need to be in a frame of mind that allows you to notice things around you. If you are constantly in your thoughts going over all the crappy things that happened to you or worrying about what might go wrong in the future, you will miss out on noticing all the beautiful things that are right in front of you.
When you have a camera in your hand, try and stay in the moment, even if it’s for just five minutes, and see what happens.
3. Your heart
If you don’t love what you do, how are you going to expect anyone else to?
Many photographers spend a lot of time photographing subjects they think people will like. Or photographers will spend their time shooting what they think will look great in their folio because it’s what everyone else is doing at the time. The problem with this is that your folio will look just like everyone else’s and your work ends up blending with the crowd.
When you focus on subjects that are meaningful to you and shoot in a style that you love, your work will be unique to you. When you are working on subjects that you are passionate about, you will naturally spend more time doing it. The more time you work on something you love, the better the final result will be.
Nobody has had the exact same life experience as you and it’s this unique quality that gives you a point of difference from all the other photographers out there.
The most successful artists in history all have one thing in common: they love what they do.
4. Your personality
A beautiful photo captures people’s attention for a short time but it’s the personality of the image that captures people’s hearts. Beauty without depth becomes boring to look at.
The combination of all the characteristics that make you the person you are give you your unique personality. Are you a deep thinker, a hopeless romantic, sarcastic, funny, serious, radical, alternative or quirky?
Great photographs also reflect the personality of the photographer that took them. An image can be technically correct and boring at the same time. It’s all the little quirky elements that make a image interesting — just like the quirky qualities of our personalities make us interesting.
Look for ways you can inject your personality into your images. It might be tongue in cheek humour or sarcasm or intelligent social commentary. It doesn’t matter what it is as long as it’s you!