Photography is subjective, but to be considered at a “professional” level, your images must meet the industry standards of a few key elements. Now, that’s not to say that every photographer has to take the same type of photos to be welcomed in the industry. How uninspiring would THAT be? But, they DO need to demonstrate their ability to conceptually compose an image based on what makes a “good” photo. My Top Five Elements For A Good Image are:
To best explain these, they’ll be broken up into one blog post for each. Today, we interpret the STORY/MESSAGE.
Not all photographers are photojournalists, or even shoot in a journalistic style, especially when it comes to portraiture. Most photographers who take a journalistic approach stick to weddings and other events. However, the journalistic style of photography is definitely on the rise in the portrait department. Those who do shoot journalistically have amazing story-telling images. Images that display great emotion, depict an event and/or capture a significant moment in time. It takes advanced skills to produce this type of work. Photojournalists must be able to:
- anticipate action – in order to be in just the right place at the right time.
- read emotion – and click the shutter right as it peaks (ie, when the teardrop falls, when the subject looks into the camera, ect).
- be curious & unafraid – because no subject will look at you when you’re just a fly on the wall (well, except maybe Rain because she loves to chase flies).
- know your equipment well – so you’re not wasting time fiddling with buttons, then look up to find the moment is over.
So, how do YOU improve your story-telling techniques? Well, I’m here to help. I’ve been told by many other photographers that one of my biggest strengths is the ability to tell stories with my images. This is done not only through the actual picture-taking process, but with the design and display of the products as well. With pet portraiture, it’s ALL about telling the pet’s story, including the kind of bond they have with their family, what significant events have made them who they are today, what they like doing, where they enjoy going, what their favorite toy/treat is, ect. The absolute BEST way to learn as much as you can about your subject is to have a Consultation meeting with your client. Meeting prior to the photo shoot gives you the opportunity to really get to know your client and their pet(s). It gives you all a chance to get comfortable with each other and learn about what you have in common, which makes for a great session.
When you’ve had a Consultation, you’re much better prepared for the shoot. You can pre-visualize every shot you want to accomplish. You know exactly what type of images the client is looking to get out of the session. You can strategically shoot for products that your client was most interested in. Which brings me to the second part of how I succeed in story-telling…the products. I show clients product samples during our Consultation so that they have an idea of what they may want to order. When a client tells me how much they LOVE the photo albums I offer, I’ll shoot with that in mind. Same goes for those clients who express their interest in big wall displays. If they’re telling me how they have this huge empty space on their wall that they want to fill with a giant canvas print, I’ll shoot with that in mind. So, how do I “shoot with that in mind?” Easy peasy…
When it comes to albums, you want a large variety of images, including posed portrait shots, action sequences (which are HUGE hits in albums), group shots, individual shots, wide shots and close-ups…really try to hit every angle possible. As for large wall displays, you want to focus more on getting a few REALLY good portraits. If the client says exactly what they’re looking for (ie, they want a group shot of their two dogs sitting next to each other smiling) then, by golly, don’t stop shooting until you get THAT shot. If they don’t have a specific shot in mind, definitely aim to get a group shot (if there’s more than one subject), and a few different poses and angles. And make sure the focus is right on, because if you blow up an image to a 30×40 display, it’ll be quite clear if it wasn’t in focus.
The other major factor is emotion. Getting a dog to smile can be extremely easy or extremely hard (at least that’s my experience). Some dogs are just happy all the time or smile as soon as you say a certain word or show them treats. Other dogs NEVER smile. I honestly can’t believe these dogs even exist, because a dog’s life is definitely something worth smiling about. But, anyways…whether your subject smiles willingly or not, you should try to get more than one emotion. Many clients don’t want images of the dog’s tongue hanging out, no matter how cute YOU might think it looks. So, be sure to cover your a$$ and aim to get some smiling, some funny, some serious, and even some sleeping.
Looking at the images included in this post, you’re probably thinking that all these dogs have the same look…that of sadness, loneliness or desperation. That’s because these were all taken at the Escondido Humane Society. These dogs all have a different story of how they became a shelter dog, but they all display the same emotion of wanting a forever home. But don’t worry, I assure you that each of these HAVE found homes with caring families and are currently living the good life. That’s partly because when people see how sad these dogs are, it tugs at their heart strings and urges them to pay a visit and possibly take one home. And THAT’S the impact of an image’s STORY/MESSAGE.
With all that said, hopefully you’re feeling confident about visualizing and strategizing a more journalistic approach to your next shoot. If you’ve got questions or would like some additional tips, please leave a comment below or feel free to email me directly. Meanwhile, check out these AWESOME story-telling images from world famous photojournalists. *Warning: it’s not pet photography, and some are a bit graphic.