5 Secrets To Successful Photos
What separates a good image from a mediocre one? As a photographer who has conducted over 50 shoots in the past few months, this is a question I've asked myself countless times. Through this continuous exploration and practice, I've become adept at recognizing the essential components that elevate an image to greatness. In this article, I'll share my insights and reveal the five crucial ingredients that contribute to the creation of a remarkable photograph.
Composition is the foundation upon which every good image is built. It basically means the arrangement of parts within the frame and how they interact with each other. For me, this includes the model, background, and clothes. A well-composed photograph guides the viewer's eye and tells a compelling visual story, or just strikes the viewer with how powerful it is. Even if you are photographing because it looks cool, a strong composition will enhance the so-called “cool.” To achieve a strong composition, consider elements such as leading lines, the rule of thirds, symmetry, and balance of colors and subjects. While the traditional techniques are overused, you can build on them and make your own versions. However, don’t be scared to break the rules if you feel that it makes your image stronger. One of the things I love in particular is symmetry. There is just so much you can do with a well-balanced photograph. On top of that, you can go as far as incorporating the rule of thirds, which I know is so overused it’s dead. Still, it works, and it does so for a reason. I’ve written a more in-depth article about composition, which dive deeper into the techniques. I welcome you to check it out after reading this one.
Color is a powerful tool in photography that can evoke emotions, set the mood, and add depth to an image. Color is something I use a lot in my work. Not just any color, but strong, contrasted, and sometimes conflicting colors. If you consider yourself a good photographer, you will understand how to use colors effectively to enhance your visual aesthetic. The choice of color palette can vary from vibrant and bold to muted and subtle, depending on the subject and meaning of the photo. That said, go with your aesthetics. There is nothing in the rule book that says that you need to use strong colors in one instance and muted in others. For me, I tend to use strong colors in all cases. If I can’t, it is replaced by compositional elements such as bold lines and unusual poses.
Let me describe some common color compositions. Starting off with complementary colors, they are those that are situated opposite each other on the color wheel, create contrast, and add visual interest. This is my favorite tool to use as it immediately draws the viewer to the images. Another one I tend to use, albeit a bit less, are analogous colors. They are adjacent on the color wheel, produce a harmonious and soothing effect. This can be especially good in editing. One more color technique that exists but you dare not use is selective color. It looks cool on photography forums; however, it is so 2016, I can’t. One way to do it smarter is to photograph a scene that is largely one color, and then place a subject that is of a conflicting color. It does the same job as selective color in Photoshop, but it looks more organic and professional. A few weeks ago, I was walking past a tourist shop and saw a large print of a very erotic photo of a woman’s stomach sprayed with water. The underwear was red, but the rest of the image was black and white. I can’t imagine anyone in 2023 who would buy such images.
The concept of the decisive moment was first introduced and put into the dictionary by the founding father of street photography, Henri Cartier-Bresson. It refers to capturing a fleeting moment that encapsulates the core of the scene or subject. It is about seizing the perfect instance when all the elements align to create a unique and captivating image. Essentially, it is about knowing when to press the shutter. According to other photographers, I work a lot with movement. This is true, as I like to take a lot of frames during shoots and usually ask the subjects to move or use the wind machine.
In order to really know when to press the shutter, you need to be extremely attentive, anticipate the future, and direct (if you can) the subject to do exactly how you want it to look like. Spoiler: it won’t be exactly how you want it; it will be unexpectedly better. There are some subjects that move by themselves, and you are just a secondary figure in their performance who is capturing their motion. This is especially true with dancers. Below is an image I shot of a ballet dancer where the moment was everything. Anticipating actions and reactions within the frame is key to capturing that split-second moment that can't be replicated.
Each good image starts with an interesting subject. In order for the photo to be good, it has to be interesting and new for the viewers. The subject is the focal point of the image, the main character in the visual story. A powerful subject can evoke emotions, convey a message, or capture the viewer's attention. It could be a person, an object, a landscape, or anything that holds significance in the context of the photograph. For me, it is always the person and their clothes. Not only do I want the styling to be interesting, but also for the person to look unusual, unusually beautiful. If you are working with portraiture or people in general, you need to be a sort of casting director and know who to pick for the project. Choosing the right subject is essential for creating a good image. Sometimes, simplicity is key, and a single, well-defined subject can speak volumes. Other times, a combination of subjects interacting within the frame can convey intricate narratives. For example, recently I shot an editorial with three different models in the frame.
Light is the soul of photography, and understanding its qualities and behavior is fundamental to making stunning images. The interplay of light and shadow shapes the mood, texture, and depth of a photograph. A good photographer knows how to control and shape light to achieve the desired effect. If you are shooting with natural light, then the time of day and the direction of light are the things to look out for. Soft, diffused light during cloudy days creates a warm and flattering atmosphere, ideal for portraits and landscapes. Harsh, direct light midday sun can cast strong shadows, adding drama and contrast. It is much harder to work with. I tend to always shoot in a shady (pun intended) area. Additionally, backlighting can create silhouettes, adding an element of mystery and intrigue to the photograph. I use reflections a lot. For example, it is not uncommon for the sun to reflect from office buildings in an interesting way. I use that to create interesting on-location shots with nothing more than a camera.
In conclusion, a good image is the result of a solid blend of composition, color, the decisive moment, subject, and light. Each of these components contributes to the overall impact and aesthetic capability of the photograph. As a photographer, you should hone your skills in each of these areas, as it will elevate your work and help you convey your vision effectively to your viewer.
What are some ways you tell good images from bad ones? Share in the comments below!
Illya Ovchar is a fashion photographer based in Europe. In his work, Illya aims to tell stories with clothes and light. Illya's work can be seen in magazines such as Vogue, Marie Claire, and InStyle.https://models.com/people/illya-ovchar
If only it were so simple as dealing with the five factors listed. Your analysis of what constitutes a great image hardly scratches the surface. Making a great photograph is far more complicated and more often or not the factors differ from situation to situation and image to image from genre to genre. In some genres such as wildlife it’s far more clear cut, the same could be said for documentary in some respects. What made Nick Ut’s unforgettable image win the Pulitzer? Being there? Putting yourself in the story? Having a connection with unfolding events.You mention Henri Cartier-Bresson and while the decisive moment is often trotted out what would have been the result if he had waited for the splash? That would have created another moment. In the context of photography there are decisive moments occurring all the time. There is not just one and the moment you pick from the many on offer depends on the story or narrative you wish to tell. As for composition it’s often more about the relationship between what’s in the frame and how we react emotionally. The powerful image of the small girl crying by Vivian Maier where the mother has been left out the frame touches on far greater and much deeper factors than you mention. This image taps into the human condition. It taps into the life experience of the viewer. Who has not been lost or distressed as a child? Electing to frame out the mother a decision made by Maier is possibly what creates that feeling of isolation. The thoughts and decisions made before taking the shot.While all of the above studio shot images display technical proficiency none could be considered to be great images by a long chalk, the best that could be said is they are competent. While they would all satisfy a brief and sit quite happily in some glossy publication none could be described as great.Photographers can often get carried away imagining their sharp colourful competent images are great. They are not and to think otherwise severely limits the horizons of the photographer. I’m not exactly sure all what makes a great image but the most important factor is the mind of the photographer.
The title refers to successful photos, which are quantifiable and a worthy topic but something you didn't really address. The text, instead talks about good images, which are subjective and better dealt with on a philosophical level, which you did not.I have no idea if your images are successful, but can only assume they are since you make a living from them. I have my own opinion about whether or not they're good, which I don't believe I need to share.
U didn’t even need to share this. 😂
Apart of what has been said by other comments here I would just like to add that thinking that there are rules and frames that successful work adhere to is the most fundamental missunderstanding of what makes a successful image since a successful "anything" can only be judged from the environment of its creation and where its ambition and then its way of re-presentation and its surrounding in showing it.And what is a good image is then another very different ballpark. Is it an image that adheres to these rules as we then should understand as a "correctly" made image with composition/colors/moment/light and then makes it a "good" image or even an outstanding image.I think this points to someone being largely unaware of how the photographic image has been used and the possibilities of the photographic language is able of.Maybe a little reading up on writers such as Benjamin, Sontag, Barthes to take the understanding of imagery (not just the photographic) to a richer and varied view of what a good image is.Theres an old cliche is that a good photographer always comes back with a picture that fulfils all you asked/wanted from him/her but a great photographer comes back with something you never expected.
Great shots as always, Ilya! One might even call them “exemplary” heheh
Unfortunately your choice of words made a lot of these long winded blokes come out and attack you. Your title said “successful” images which can be quantified in myriad of ways, however, within your article, you switched to “great” photos which let them put you on the chopping block.