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Monday, September 1, 2008

Good Luck Happens

Six of my top reasons for photographic success

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Over Memorial Day weekend, I was visiting Carmel for a family gathering. I brought my camera along, of course, although I wasn’t planning extended photo sessions. I went out for a few sunrise and sunset photo sessions, visiting some favorite locations in nearby Big Sur, and trying out a new one, Carmel Beach. I’m so pleased with the results; I got to thinking about why I had good luck on this trip. Here are my top six reasons for successful photographs. These reasons assume that the obvious technical concerns such as sharpness, exposure and composition are in good order.

Number One: Passion For The Subject. I’ve been making images in the Big Sur area for three decades now, and I’m passionate about the extraordinary energy and beauty of that landscape. I often encourage my online students to work on subjects about which they’re passionate. Once the list of qualified themes is narrowed down to only a few topics and effort is concentrated there, I’ve seen wonderful improvement in the photographer’s portfolio.

Number Two: Familiarity. When you get to know a place by returning there often, you gain invaluable knowledge about the light and the weather patterns. You learn what landscapes are best in different lighting conditions. You try out different compositions or return to favorite compositions in hopes of the “perfect storm,” where light and clouds and image design come together. You add depth to your portfolio from that location. In the Monterey-Big Sur area, I have many such locations. I have a mental file about what landscapes are good when the fog is thick, or those that will have more potential if the sky is clear, for example.

Number Three: Willingness To Play.
Have you ever returned to a location so often that you realized that you’ve been taking “the same” composition over and over? I think we all have. When I’m drawn back to the same location often and don’t want to repeat myself, I’m more willing to experiment. If I’ve already recorded a reasonably successful image there, then there’s no risk, no failure possible! If I make a fresh image—fine—but there’s no pressure to succeed and no great loss if a successful image isn’t made.

Number Four: Visual Literacy. Being aware of other photographs that have the same themes as yours is important so that you have a mental memory bank of what has been done already. Improve your photographic “visual literacy” in your field, and you’re less likely to create cliché work. This assumes that you’re trying to create fresh imagery vs. re-creating what others have done!

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