BY DON WODJENSKI
Whidbey Life Magazine Contributor
September 28, 2016
A photograph reveals and deepens the mystery, when we choose to look.
Consider what our world would be like without photography. Unless you’re living off the grid, you’ll likely see hundreds of images today.
Billions of images are available to view online, anytime. Many of those images are captured by professional photographers on assignment—experts who have been schooled in the art and techniques of quality image creation. Multitudes of amateur shots of vacations, dinners, family and friends create a visual record of personal experiences, filling social media sites. Regardless of origin or intent, images have become our lingua franca, communicating a shared recognition of the world.
When we consider a photograph, we implicitly accept the photographer’s premise or suggestion of meaning in what we see. We emotionally connect with recognizable images that describe the world as well as photos that portray nature or the human condition in unexpected ways.
Do knowledge and experience matter in the creation of photographs? As a professional photographer and educator, I’ve met many photography students who felt that ‘something’ was missing from their photos compared to the work of professional photographers. Usually, a quick tutorial in camera operation solves many technical issues, and suggestions on ways to compositionally frame an image can help refine their skills. Image quality always improves with exposure fundamentals and thoughtful image framing becoming familiar through regular practice.
So what are the kinds of images we might consider to be worth a second, third, or longer look? Or, to put it a different way, what are the criteria for “quality” in an image? Most of us recognize quality in a photograph, but struggle to define its characteristics. Do we judge a photo solely by how it makes us feel? Are there images we respect for their creativity even though we don’t relate to the subject? What combination of visual elements and emotional content do we take into consideration?
To help answer these questions, I’ve invited a dozen well-known Whidbey Island photographers to share their opinions. These esteemed friends and associates are professional photographers with years of knowledge and experience. Collectively, they encompass traditional and current photographic trends. To illustrate their philosophy of what constitutes quality in photography, each has contributed a personal image.
To me, a quality photo is one that I want to look at twice, one that draws my interest and makes me think, one that shows the photographer thought about what she or he was doing and made lots of decisions before releasing the shutter. A quality photo contains vision (composition, craft, etc.) but also contains something of the artist. — Skip Smith skipsmithphotography.com/
Photography requires a combination of both right- and left-brain skills—artistic to compose and technical to produce. Find a subject that pulls you in like a good book. Slow down and really look at what surrounds us every day. — Earl Olsen earlolsen.com/index.htm
The Holga camera gives an unsharp image that is vignetted, blurry, with light leaks galore, and a dreamy look. I love it! With a Holga, I realized that I didn’t have to ‘take a photo,’ I could make an image. — Lorraine Healy lorrainehealy.com/
Photographs are crafted with an intent to capture the essence of the subject or the story. Most importantly, great photographs evoke an emotional reaction and are memorable. — Tom Hanify tomhanifyphotography.com/
This quote [by Alain Briot] best sums up my feelings. “Fine art photography is the expression of the artist’s emotions and not a straightforward representation of the world as it is…” — Dennis Hill whidbeypanoramas.com/
A “quality” photograph, to me, represents my curiosity for the intimacy of design, shape and form. I see with the hope of inspiring others to see beyond the obvious. To cause a reaction, negative or positive, means I have succeeded. — Nancy Duncan whidbeyartists.com/duncan.html
When an image literally takes my breath away, jars me loose from reality and throws me into an emotional state—then I feel such joy and I KNOW that I have co-created a “Quality Photographic Image.” … as opposed to a snapshot. — Louie Rochon louierochonphotography.com/index
A quality photograph draws me in and holds my attention like a meditation. Intent, simplicity, composition, design and use of light are most important in creating a quality photograph. — Linda Schwarz whidbeyartists.com/schwarz.html
The pause, the thought, and the emotion prior to taking the photograph makes the difference, for me. And, of course, luck… — Tom Trimbath fineartamerica.com/profiles/tom-trimbath.html
Landscape photographers have a golden hour, photojournalists only get a decisive moment. Good composition cannot be defined as much as it is felt;, it just is. An excellent photograph is one that leaves a lasting impression years later. — David Welton davidweltonphoto.com/#/special/splash/whidbey-island-photographer–weddings-portraits-fine-art–landscapes-by-david-welton/
I always approach my projects by “listening” for the shot. For me, I hear melody and harmony in color and texture, so listening really helps me zoom in on the visual energy. — Kim Tinuviel kimtinuviel.com/
Beauty is not necessarily quality. Newness and originality in a photograph might better reflect a response to reality, and maybe only reflect concerns internal to the photographer. — John Olsen johnolsenphoto.com/
To discover more about these fine photographers through their websites, click on their names.
For more on other artists living and working on Whidbey, visit my website featuring Artists of Whidbey Island.
Don Wodjenski is an artist, photographer, teacher and musician living in Coupeville. Recently retired after 20 years as an arts instructor with South Whidbey Schools, he remains active in the Whidbey arts community. Although never without an opinion on Art and Culture, he’s new to blogging.