What’s a “good” photograph? What is a “correct” photograph? In fact, what is a photograph: what are its defining characteristic(s)? I think it’s important to think about these things and be at least working toward an answer, even as your answer evolves.
Is a photograph a straightforward depiction of reality, or does it evoke the sensations, the experience and the emotion of that moment? Is this a blurry pic or does it take you to a moment of summer sunshine, shimmering haze, magic, nostalgia and memory? (Alright, so I’ve stacked the answer!)
It depends! It depends on your intent and it depends on the situation and subject.
Intent is a key word for me and describes a condition of having an end in view. The end can, in fact almost always will, change and grow as you create your art, but without some intent, how will you know whether you are proceeding successfully?
Your situation describes what is happening while you work. It is sometimes created by your intent and sometimes it creates your intent… What I mean is: If you are walking around with your Nikon and see an interesting or momentous event taking place, you may very well decide to deploy your camera to capture the scene. You will want to help viewers of your images imagine what this experience was like; what happened. You’ll be aiming for a realistic portrayal. I doubt that you’ll be adding a lot of filters in post, or performing any alterations to the scene, because those activities would not convey the truth and “the truth” – whatever that means – is paramount here.
This is photojournalism, and some of the most haunting and harrowing images of the last century come under this rubric. The images will inevitably have an emotional resonance, but that is a byproduct of your primary intent, not the primary intent itself.
On the other hand, if you are in your modest or elaborate studio photographing some wildflowers you picked from the sidewalk cracks and vacant lots during a walk, you will have arranged the studio to suit your methods; in my case with a flash unit or even two, my glass table, my hunk of black velvet, etc.etc. So your intent to photograph these subjects out of their native habitat has determined your studio set-up and has already taken you into an imaginative creative space.
Are you going to photograph each plant by itself, on black, to create a botanical survey? Or were you struck by the feistiness and indeed the beauty of these humble specimens, which leads you to want to evoke these qualities? Each intent is equally valid and will determine which lens and what lighting you use, how you frame the subjects, and myriad other decisions not so conscious.
To be continued…