The Photographer's Riddle

Have you ever taken a photograph that simply blows you away? I'm talking about a photograph that brings you to your knees. It makes you tremble with excitement and you absolutely can't wait to share it with the world. You're boiling with anticipation to see the reaction of people as they look at your photograph. And then you show it to people. The reaction is one of disinterest. People aren't interested because it doesn't move them. It's probably not because it's a bad picture, but because there is no real reason for them to get excited. Maybe they don't understand what's happening in the frame. Maybe they just don't care about the subject matter or maybe they've already seen 1000 pictures earlier in the day.

But why then did you get so overwhelmed? Why were you so convinced that this picture would be a smashing success? What even makes a picture successful?

I was thinking about this phenomenon the other day and realized that with every photograph I take, I am emotionally invested in some way. As photographers, we attach ourselves to the subject matter. We involve ourselves in the story and therefore become emotionally attached. Photographers instinctively make their imprint on every image they take. I'm not saying that's a bad thing. I think as photographers we need to interact with our environment in order to truly understand what we want to say. The tricky part is (and here's the catch) that we need to remember that our experience of actually making a picture is very personal. The picture becomes the property of the photographer once that shutter is released. No one else knows exactly what the photographer was thinking while making a photo. Only the photographer knows.

And that is where the hang-up can come from. We think that everyone else is going to like our picture because we had such a profound experience making it. The truth is, our profound experiences don't always translate to the photographic form. So no matter how amazing your experience was, don't expect your audience to immediately respond in the same way. Each person will feel something completely different.

I've been rambling a bit, but I'm coming to my point. My original thought is more of a reminder to myself and it is this: When editing your photographs, do everything in your power to look at them from various perspectives. Imagine that you didn't take the picture. Imagine that you don't know the back story. Pretend that you are a child seeing everything new for the first time. And if you can't do that, ask other people to edit your work and select their favorites. Ask them why they choose what they do. And maybe, just maybe, the images they like the most will be the ones you think are the best.

And that, I think, is when you've made a successful picture. We all respond to good stories. If you can tell a great story in one frame, then your audience will inevitably want to see more.