What Makes A Photo Work?

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Photo Judges Should Leave Well Enough Alone!

The original image as presented for feedback.

I think our Anonymous Photographer is having a lend of me! Okay, I confess that I know who the Anonymous Photographer is. He has been on a number of workshops with me and it was great to see this photograph turn up for review.

But I won't do anything with it. Why? Because I can't see anything that will make it better. I can do things that will make it different, but not necessarily better - and so I think the best thing I can say is, congratulations.

However, let's go through the process. Let's look at exposure, lighting, colour harmony and camera angle. I can't fault the approach.

It's true that there may have been a better angle, but looking at how the main rock is balanced either side by smaller rocks, and knowing there are lots of other boulders in the near vicinity, I imagine that moving the camera too much one way or the other will introduce new variables and complexities. Besides, I 'like' this framing. I find it balanced and pleasing, even though some may argue the rock should not be so central. I have no trouble with central compositions when presented like this.

So what about cropping? What happens if we concentrate the viewer's attention on the central boulder by cropping off the sides of the image?

I think the result is a cramped composition that has less sense of space and place. Without the area to the sides of the boulder, it becomes more of a record shot than an emotive landscape. So cropping off the edges does not help, in my opinion. What about trimming some of that blue sky away?

If I hadn't seen the original, I'd consider this a good photograph as well, but it has lost some of the colour contrast. I like the way the blue of the sky is picked up in the foreground - albeit subtly. Is there enough blue sky in this crop? Was it better before? What happens if we remove more sky?

I think this cropping is too severe. We've lost the reason for the blue reflections (we can't see the blue sky anymore) and there's not as much breathing space, either top or bottom.

However, it's been a worthwhile exercise. Often a photograph can be improved and simplified by cropping out unnecessary elements, but in this situation, I think our Anonymous Photographer has already done it!

Check out our e-book on How To Win Photo Competitions - you can find it here.

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