What makes a good photograph? The standard, quick answer I give to this question is something that includes ideas of colour, light, focus, framing, subject matter or some combination of these items. These things are what mostly make a good photo, but what gets a good photo? That is a different question altogether.
The three P's
Whether you are or are not a photographer, or someone who just loves taking photographs, I am sure there has been a time where you snapped a shot on your camera, iPhone or whatever smartphone you own, and thought “wow, that’s a good shot”. Something worked, whether it was the time of day, the subject matter, the place you were in, the selected focus – one or several items came together that made a good photo. I love these moments because it brings with it a feeling of confidence in the creative process.
Getting a good photo is something a little more in depth and requires planning, preparation and perseverance.
Sirajul is a rice farmer in Bangladesh.
I followed Sirajul and his family for several days while they cooked meals, cleaned their home, chopped wood and cared for their livestock. I needed to get good photos, not only was my client expecting good photos, I had been planning this trip with a team for months and needed to deliver. We had located Sirajul in one of the project areas and he was willing to be photographed over multiple days, he was engaging and knowledgeable, he owned rice fields and he was a community leader. We had set the schedule to be at Sirajul’s home for 3 out of the 5 days we were in Bangladesh. In preparation for capturing Sirajul in good light and through previous experience photographing in Asia, I knew that I wanted to photograph in the rice fields closer to the end of the day and planned to do just that for 2 out of the 3 days.
It turned out that most of days were quite hazy, the sun was never as harsh as I was expecting and I kept second guessing my decision to wait. But, I persevered, I kept photographing Sirajul around his home and at around 3:30pm the time came to follow Sirajul to his fields. The light was starting to come through as the sun set over the rice fields, I took photos of Sirajul as he walked along dirt walkways and past the small homes and huts of other farmers. The idea was to have Sirajul working in his rice fields while the sun was setting, and my entire day was planned around that window of time, which may be a total of 45mins.
Waiting for good light
We got to the field, the sun was still a bit high which was ok because I wanted to get an understanding of how Sirajul worked. What direction did he work from, if he went from another direction would the light be better, what’s in the background, whose in the background, how can I incorporate the reflections in the water, what is the best shutter speed/aperture/ISO for this setting? The planning had come together, my perseverance in waiting for this time of day had paid off and now I was preparing to get the photos I had envisioned.
The light came, Sirajul worked the rice, I got muddy, my camera got muddy, but it all came together because I worked to get a good photo.
We can all make good photos, which is the beauty of photography - it’s accessible. But, getting a good photo requires a few more inputs. We can all do it in any aspect of life, and the payoff is always something to be admired.