Earlier this year a lady on a Facebook forum posted an image and invited comments. I told her honestly that I did not like it as the highlights were seriously blown, there was no focal point in the image and that it did nothing for me. She took a little umbrage at this because for her the image was fine. The reason for this though had to do with the back story behind the image that I was not aware of. Because there was nothing in the image that grabbed my attention I had judged it essentially on the technical merits.
This was further brought into focus when I helped out with the Phil Jacobs Benefit. Donated to be auctioned where images by some well known New Zealand photographers and in fact one of the images came from a reasonable well known set. What struck me was that several images if entered into a competition today would likely be given a “not accepted” grade. So this got me thinking about what makes a good image and how should we view it.
I believe that when we shoot with our cameras we essentially have the choice to take snapshots, documentary images or create photographic images. When entering an image in a competition the last thing you want to hear the judge say is that it is a snapshot because generally it is a derogatory terms in such circles.
But what is the difference and why it is important. Basically I am going to define the terms as such.
A snapshot is a photo that records a person, event or location that’s primary purpose it to capture a point in time. The main value is the image lies not in what is on the screen (or paper) but rather in the emotional connection that the viewer has with the background that the image represents. As the adage that a bad photo is better than no photo totally applies to snapshots, we will accept poorly composed, or lighted images.
A documentary image is also a photo that records a person, event or location however it is not intended to stand alone but rather it will be used along either text or other images to tell the story of the event. Sometimes these images are strong enough to stand alone but not always and again the same adage as above applies.
A photographic image is also a photo that records a person, event or location, however the image is strong enough to not rely on a knowledge of the background story. A photograph also has to be technically perfect to the level that the photographer was attempting.
So does this matter. Bruce Girdwood who is a very talented photographer and judge spoke to the Hutt Camera Club earlier in the year and he stated that you should make images based on what you like and not what another judge thinks because ultimately it is you that you are trying to please.