When on a shoot recently my client asked me what the most important thing to get right was when it came to making a professional photograph. The short answer is that there is not any one thing that makes a great picture, but rather a combination of things.
Cameras: There is a misconception that having a top of the range camera will automatically produce a great picture. This is simply not true, a great picture captured in a camera comes from within the person taking the photograph and their unique view on the world. Of course a top of the range digital camera will allow for greater artistic control and will provide a larger image with higher pixel resolution and greater colour definition and so on, but at the end of the day you as the photographer and your skill is what makes the picture a keeper. How you decide to frame up an image, how you see your subject, what story do you want to tell etc
Lighting: Another important factor in creating a great image is understanding light, the effect it will have on your subject and knowing how to control it. Whether you are using a studio set up with controlled lighting or using the natural light of the sun as a photographer you must understand how to best light your subject to achieve the look you want and how to control and manipulate your light source/s. For example; food looks best when photographed with the key light – the main and strongest source of light – being direct from behind or from the side. Additional softer lighting is usually then directed in or reflected from the front or front side to “fill” the shadows and gently lighten the subject. A photographer should also be aware of the different colour temperatures of light and balance appropriately for it.
Subject: Then there is the subject itself and the environment it is set it. Here, the devil is in the detail. Always try to pick the best samples of your subject, the ones that will tell the story best. Thinking about food once again, you might want to convey a lunch time feast laid out for family and friends, or how juicy and sweet a piece of fruit is, or the indulgent luxurious and creamy texture of chocolate. Remember to pay attention to the background and the setting as this can help you to convey the story.
Post: Finally once the image has been captured to satisfaction, it is then taken through post processing. Now a-days that usually means Photoshop or some other photo editing software, although if you are old school and shooting on film it would mean the dark room. During this process the image can be treated, colour corrected if necessary, saturation adjustments, imperfections removed, cropped, effects added, etc. This part is the gloss, the final finishing touches, the cherry on top of cake. The main thing to remember here is that the foundation is the most important thing, if a cake is half baked it doesn’t matter how many nice treats you top it with it still won’t taste good!
So there a great number of skills and knowledge involved in making a professional picture, and sometimes it is a team effort, with large scale production shoots for an advertising agency for example, being the product of stylists, directors and producers as well as the photographer.