Sunday was a great day to be out taking photographs. The thaw in Southern Ontario got the Hamilton Waterfalls flowing at full force. I took the opportunity to head to Sherman falls to capture some winter long exposures and I started thinking, 'What makes a great photo'? Now I am far from being a expert in photography, I am just a beginning amateur, but this analogy that I came up with is profound.
"Making a great photograph is like cooking, to get a great photo you must follow the recipe."
The subject and composition of your photo is like the main ingredient of your recipe. If you have an uninteresting subject or bad composition, your photo will be unappetizing; it would be like eating boiled brussel sprouts. You can make the photo of a uninteresting subject a little more pleasing by composing the image using the rules of composition; Rule of Thirds, Golden Triangles or Golden Spiral. This would be similar to tossing the brussel sprouts into a sauté pan after boiling them...we are starting to built some flavour.
The seasoning for your photograph is light. In cooking, seasoning can make or break a dish, light can do the same to a photograph. Besides the basics of exposure, light is the second most important photograph theory you need to understand. I encourage you to research light and photography, there are many great tutorials online. Understanding how light will improve your photos will be like the first time you realized that bacon makes brussel sprouts awesome.
Exposure for a photo is like the cooking time for a recipe. If you increase the temperature of the oven, you decrease the cooking time just like if you increase your aperture (make it smaller) you decrease your shutter speed (make it slower). If this part doesn't make any sense, I suggest you read up on the exposure triangle....Aperture, Shutter Speed and ISO.
Your camera and accessories (flash, lenses, tripod and filters) all make up your photography utensils. This is where most beginners place all there focus....buy the gadgets, the best lenses and bodies they can before learning how to actually use them. If they capture a photo that is a little soft or just looks awful they blame the the gear instead of trying to figuring out what they did wrong and improve upon it for the next time. Its 10% gear and 90% the artist. Think of it this way. You can take Gordon Ramsey's pans, knifes and utensils away and give him items from the dollar store and he will still turn out a 5 star dish. I can then give you all his stuff and the same ingredients and you make something eatable but far from something on Gordan's level. The point is that gear does not make you an artist. If you would like to see for yourself, take a look at the Photog Challenge on DigitalRev's Youtube page.
Study the recipes of other photographers images. 500px is a great website where you can view other photographers work and view the meta data for their images. If there is photo you like try to reproduce it and If it doesn't turn out try again. There have been many time's I have returned home, reviewed my photos and had nothing worthy of processing, But I figured out what I did wrong, went out the next time and tried again. Only practice will make you better....just go out and shoot.