What Makes a Great Photograph: My thoughts on the winning image
at the Manfrotto DCP Annual Awards Night 2016
I’ve been shooting with DCP Expeditions for about a year now and they were kind enough to invite me as a guest for the Manfrotto DCP Annual Awards Night 2016 – It’s something like the Oscars for Wildlife photographers in India. I don't shoot wildlife but for some unfathomable reason, since they invited me - I ended up there on Sunday evening :)
The Photographer Of The Year award was given to gentleman named Mohan Thomas for an image which I liked so much that I just had to do write up about it.
The more I see it the more I like it! From a learning perspective for myself as well as other photographers I felt it would be a good idea to put some thought to why I feel it’s such a great image.
Please note – these are my personal views based on me looking at the image and I have absolutely no idea what the judges / jury liked about the photograph. If you want their view – you’ll have to ask them…but in the interim, here are my views as a neutral observer who has absolutely no connection either with Mohan Thomas or the Judges apart from the love of photography.
A strong composition is great. A story in the photograph is even better. You put both together and you get an unbeatable image.
The average viewer doesn’t care what you went through to get the shot.…it also doesn’t matter to him whether you used Nikon, Canon, Pentax (my Spotmatic still works!) or Olympus, it doesn’t matter to him if you used a fast pro lens or a consumer grade lens, he doesn’t care if you’ve shot it in manual mode, manual focus and spot metering or if you’ve just put the camera on auto mode with matrix metering and used some 39 point auto focus tracking – the viewer just gets to see the final product ..and that final product has to hold his attention, has to make him blink and look again.
That final output has to make the viewer just stand there and say “wow”. Infact when I saw this photograph large via the projector that was used during the function I didn’t just say “wow”…I almost used the “f” word aloud!
So here are some thoughts from me on why I liked the photograph so much. I've put them in the form of numbered points for easier reading...they are however in random order - just like my thoughts :)
1) Story – there’s a very strong story here…why that pose with that look of intense concentration? What happened next? Who got mauled? It can’t be the photographer cause he’s lived to tell the tale – so what happened? This image gets the viewer hooked and generates an almost Pinocchio like sense of inquisitiveness.
2) Angle / POV – An unwritten rule in photography that my friend and ace landscape artist Vikram Franklin taught me - “Bend”.
Irrespective of the subject, get an angle that a normal average run of the mill guy doesn’t use. I don’t know what Mohan Thomas did but he’s managed to get a different POV. This is not the sort of view that everyone gets!
3) Subject? - It’s never about the subject. Unless the subject is a celebrity and you’re the paparazzi. So I didn’t like the photo because it’s a lion….it is about that “moment” – that perfect moment and what Ken Rockwell calls “compositional structure”.
4) "That Moment" - I feel Susan Welchman who was senior editor at National Geographic explained things very well some time ago when she said - "great pictures just stop time. They capture something that did not continue. It just was then, and that was the perfect moment. It wasn’t the moment before. It wasn’t the moment after. It was that moment"
5) Eye contact –Confucius say: Image with eye contact always better than image without eye contact. Images with eye contact are always very captivating. And this one has got that eye contact bit just right. Its denotes power, it denotes a killer instinct....
6) Simplicity - If something isn’t helping the composition then it’s taking something away from it - That's a line that I've always believed in while making photographs.
Mohan Thomas has got nothing else in the image above that can take the viewer away from the “moment” that he's captured so well.
7) Keep It Simple Stupid – no clutter or distractions in the background. No trees or branches that cut the frame.
8) Depth of field is just right – ensures that we can see enough of the environment in a manner that adds to the story without taking our eyes away from the point of interest.
9) What Happened to the Rule of thirds? – Well he’s broken that rule! And he's done that so well. The subject isn’t placed on the left or the right – it’s in the middle but he’s got the eyes off-centre so you are not really looking at the middle of the frame though the subject is in the middle. You look at the eyes, and then there’s that empty space above where the animal is going to move when he leaps in the next second or so – he’s not going to leap sideways but he’s going to leap at you and he’s going to move in a slightly upward direction when he takes that powerful leap and the photographer has left that perfect amount of space above the animal that further reinforces the idea of how the animal is going to leap.
10) Colours that go well – very good colour combination and that’s another plus point in this image. Imagine the same frame without that green background and you’ll get a fair idea of what I mean when I say that the colours in the frame go really well together.
11) Light – no harsh shadows to be seen anywhere, no blown-out highlights, the contrast isn't "flat", very good handling of light and exposure. For a photographer there are only 2 types of light.... there's light where you can make a photograph and there's light where you can't. This image in my humble opinion is a very good example of light where you should do nothing else but make photographs :)
So the next time you go out in the field and are about to press the shutter, think about this image and think about these points that I've mentioned.
If you get even half of these points in one photograph - you've got an image that classifies as a "keeper".
Mohan Thomas is an Honorary Advisor at DCP Expeditions. He's a well known, award winning wildlife photographer based in Bangalore, India. To view some more of his work, do visit his website - www.mohanthomasphotography.com
(The photograph used in this article has been shot by Mohan Thomas and is owned and copyrighted by him. It has been reproduced here with his kind permission)
DCP Expeditions LLP is a photography company that is renowned for Nature Conservation & Photography Training.
DCP Expeditions also conducts photo-walks across locations every week in various parts of the country. For more information please visit www.dcpexpeditions.com