In a traditional approach to photography you learn a lot about the mechanics of exposure, composition and "photoshopping". But mechanics are just that, mechanics. And, at the risk of sounding redundant, they become mechanical. They produce images that look mechanical. Successful photography is about images that tell the story of the subject and communicate a message about the subject to others. To create those images, there are six traits or characteristics that go far deeper than simple mechanics or technique. These traits, which photography shares with writing, are ideas, element choice, organization, fluency, voice or style and conventions.

1. Ideas-

It has often been said that light is the heart and soul of photography… not so! Ideas are its heart and soul. Ideas bring the story into existence. Ideas allow photographs to spring to life. Ideas come from our interests. Ideas shape the message being told which in turn generates the content.

  • An interest in paintball can lead to photographing the competition.
  • An interest in bicycles or motocross can do the same.
  • An interest in people can lead to portraiture.
  • An interest in architecture can lead to photographing buildings.
  • An interest in geology can lead to photographing the landscape.
  • An interest in history can lead to photographing sites of local significance.
  • An interest in… well, the list goes on and on.

But, on the downside, there is a huge problem with ideas. They can easily lead you astray so you have to limit them within a project. The more narrowly defined the project (to a point), the more the ideas are going to fit. Now, some may say that limiting ideas in a project is "counter-intuitive" or "self-defeating." To a point they are right. But without some self-imposed structure, projects tend to wander and lose their focus. The message becomes muddled and, often, abandoned.

2. Element choice-

The objects that appear in the photograph are the elements. If we are photographing fire trucks, they will be the main element of the image and all of the other elements will support them. But this doesn't always happen. There can be competing elements in the photograph that keep the main element or subject from being clearly identified. Unless you are shooting against a totally blank background in a studio, there will always be a number of elements in the photograph. How you arrange or use those elements to tell the subject's story through the photograph is of ultimate importance.