What Makes a Good Photograph, Excellent? – Part 2

by Brittany Horton on August 10, 2010

In my last post, I started a discussion on how to make a good photograph, excellent.

I started off with one of the four important fundamentals of photography, the composition, and today I am going to discuss the gaze, an unforgettable element of photography.

Gaze is “to fix the eyes in a steady intent”, according to the Merriam-Webster online dictionary. The gaze encompasses more than just the subject in a photograph; it is the pose of the subject, it is the look that a subject gives to the viewer, and it is the look that the viewer gives back when viewing the photograph. With photography being so subjective, I may find a gaze in a photograph more appealing than what you may find appealing.

Photographs tell a story, and the gaze, the pose, the look that the subject is giving the viewer is that story. As photographers, we get a say in what gaze we capture. Do we want to tell a story of happiness, maybe sadness, show emotion or fear? If there is a photograph of a young girl who is looking at the camera with eyes of fear, it tells the story of a young girl being scared. The pose is a large aspect of this gaze, and the pose that the subject is in helps to tell the story. Is the subject in action, are they still, or are they sitting or standing? The difference in the pose tells different stories to the viewer.

Example Two - The Gaze

Example Two - the Gaze

Example One - The Gaze

Example One - The Gaze

I have pulled two examples from an event that Louellen Coker photographed of two contestants from power pedal in 2009 that got their picture taken as a winner. The two photographs follow the rule-of-third that we discussed in the first part of this series, both photographs are good pictures, both are taken with the same equipment and using the same lighting, and both have the same pose. The difference between them is the gaze. These two photographs tell two different stories because of the look that is captured of the subject. The first photograph is an example of a happy face, someone smiling, they just had a good race, and they are happy that they won. You can see this story from the gaze that is captured in this photograph. The second image tells a different story. This gaze is more difficult to read, and it is interchangeable. The subject is looking intently at the photographer. He is not ecstatically happy, he is not sad, and there is not an emotion that this photograph screams. This gaze that the subject is giving the viewer brings the viewer in and makes them think. It draws them in. Drawing someone into a photograph is a great technique; you always want someone to study your work and just give away your story. This gaze that the subject is giving the photographer, that the photographer captured, and that the viewer is giving back, is what makes this good photograph, excellent.

There are no direct steps to getting the perfect gaze from your subject. The best way to capture the gaze is to take many shots of the same person at different intervals. Do not just take one picture of your subject, but try taking ten pictures of the same subject and composition with the same equipment and lighting. Then view them afterwards to see the differences in the gaze. Don’t try and capture one specific gaze, but instead try to capture a story.

In my next few blog posts, we will discuss the other two important elements to an excellent photograph: the lighting and the equipment.

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