Here’s the story: A fellow photographer and good friend of mine is currently in the process of getting ready to open a photo gallery in a small western town that derives a great deal of its revenue from the tourist industry. Though several galleries have come and gone in this town there is currently one that has been around for several years. The owner of that gallery is a local pro photographer who is very well-known in town and in the photographic community. I don’t know how well his name is known in the East but here in the West I suppose he could be considered “famous.”
A few days ago my friend was getting his hair cut at the regular place and his stylist who has been spreading the word of the new gallery for some time related a question one of her other clients had asked. When told of the upcoming gallery opening the customer said “Is he as good as (famous photographer)?” What a question! Of course the stylist told the customer to check out the gallery and decide for herself. Great answer. But that simple little question has a lot of derivatives. I’ve blogged before about the byzantine workings of my mind and it’s been working overtime on this one. Strap in and let’s take a journey.
The first question that comes to mind is how do we define “good” as it relates to a photograph and I’m not ashamed to admit that I don’t know. Oh I know when I look at an image whether I like it or not but I usually have no earthly idea if others will like said image as much as I do. I suppose it relates back to the old joke: “I don’t know if it’s art but I know what I like.” I’m paraphrasing of course but you get the idea. What it boils down to is that we all have a different definition of “good.”
The best example I can give is the image at the top of the blog. A few years ago I was at the Grand Canyon when all the conditions came together to provide me with some incredible images. The light was right, there was fresh snow, all told it was one of the 2 or 3 best mornings of shooting I’ve ever had. Some time later I submitted a group of 4 images to an art director for possible inclusion in a calendar. The image at the top of the blog is my favorite image from that group and I was 100% certain the art director would select this image for their calendar. WRONG! They picked one of the 4 images I submitted but this wasn’t the one. The image they selected wasn’t even my second favorite of the bunch. Clearly, their definition of “good” is different from mine. And this is not an isolated incident either. Time after time when friends or family ask if I have images of a particular type I have learned to give them a few images to choose from. Sometimes they pick the image I would have chosen but more often than not our choices differ.
Does this mean I don’t know what a good image is? Does it mean other people don’t know? Of course not…It’s only an indication that we all have different tastes and perceptions of what we like. And that brings us to the gist of today’s blog.
My friend and the Famous Photographer are in the photography business as just that…business. They derive their livelihood, or at least a good portion of it, from the sale of their images or by conducting workshops and guiding other photographers on tours. They both have their ideas of what makes an image marketable and they often judge the quality of an image by how many copies they can sell. Don’t get me wrong, both are tremendously talented photographers and they have each created images that I would be proud to call my own. They both have what photographers refer to as “the eye.” They have the vision to see an image where many of us just see a beautiful landscape. They truly can look beyond the trees and see the forest and I suspect that both will have very successful galleries. But what about photographers like me?
Well, I don’t make my living from photography. Oh sure, I’d love to be able to sell my images for a gazillion dollars. I’d like to tour the country in a huge motor home creating images and guiding photo tours but that’s not the driving force behind my photography. Mostly I just enjoy being there…I love watching the sun come up (though I often wish it didn’t happen so damn early) and watching the sun go down. I enjoy watching the way the light changes so quickly in the mornings and seeing how light falls on a landscape at different times of the day. I enjoy hearing a wolf howl in the Lamar Valley of Yellowstone or hearing a bull elk bugle on a frosty September morning. Most of all I enjoy knowing that I have the vision and the ability to capture images of these things that please me. I’m confident in my ability to judge which of my images are “good.”
In closing, is my friend as good as the Famous Photographer? I have my opinion but I’m going to let you decide. Next time you’re in Moab, UT, spend some time in the Tom Till gallery and some more time in The Edge gallery. I suspect you’ll find some amazing images in each of them. After you’ve visited them, drop an e-mail and tell me what you saw.
Have some thoughts on what makes a good image? Leave a comment and let’s talk it over.