Eight Steps To Making A Great Photograph

Eagle Landing In The Snow - Photograph By Scott Bourne

Great photographs rarely just happen. They usually take a great deal of work. Ansel Adams said “I don’t take photographs I make photographs.” So what goes into the birth of a photograph? What’s involved in making an image? There’s more to it than most people think.

Let’s look at the basic ingredients. Your situation may vary slightly, but chances are that most of these steps are involved.

1. First you have to have passion. Without an interest in photography that goes beyond making snapshots, nothing else happens.

2. You need to be inspired. You need to have seen something, heard something, read about something, felt something that moved you to devote your time to making a great image. Something or someone, somewhere was a catalyst for the picture. Knowing this and training yourself to recognize when this occurs is key to being able to repeat the making of great photographs.

3. You need an idea. After passion and inspiration comes the seed. An idea. You think of something. Maybe it’s very specific or maybe it’s just something that you see in your dreams – ill-defined. But in any event there must be the basis of an idea. Once you have the idea, you can move on to the next step.

4. The act of contemplation should come next. Contemplation means that you give deep consideration to an idea. That you study it almost religiously. You approach it with purpose. This is something that should take time. It’s almost like meditation. Reflecting on the thing that inspired your idea will get you closer to it and make it easier to illustrate in a photograph. Contemplation helps you see beyond the cliches that everyone else shoots. Contemplation is what sets true artists apart. Things don’t just happen to them. They experience them fully.

5. Follow all this with planning. Planning is key. You need a plan if you want to create fantastic images on a regular basis. You need to figure out what it is you want to do to illustrate your idea. The plan may involve research, deciding where to go, when to go there, what to look for once you arrive, thinking about timing, equipment, practice, etc. Whatever you include in your plan it is going to be the limiting factor. So spend a lot of time planning.

6. Execution is the next step. This is the hardest step for most photographers. It means getting off the couch and out into the field to actually DO the thing you have been thinking about. It means getting everything together, and making the shot. It requires getting the appropriate permission and sign offs. Finding the right camera settings, coaxing the most out of the model or location, and generally being involved in the act of creation. This is far different from the things you do up until this point. This is all action. No excuses. Get it done time.

7. Next up is post-processing. Taking the image from the camera to the digital darkroom to massage it so that everything shows up exactly the way you want it to. From the background to the foreground, from the subject to the lighting, does everything appear as you planned? You tweak the results here to make sure it looks great.

8. Finally you share the picture. This means that you post it online, print it, hang it where others can see it. Distribute it. All of the previous steps mean nothing if nobody sees your work. Letting the world know what your passion is, what inspired you, about your idea and your plan, how you executed and worked in post is the payoff. THAT is why we do it. To share our images so that they will live forever.

If you’re really a serious photographer this becomes an endless loop for you. Once one great image is finished and hanging on the wall, it’s off to the next one.

Now what are you waiting for? Great photos aren’t something that would be constrained by scarcity. You can make as many as you want to make. Go do something great. I am rooting for you.

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