Ahead of the launch of our photography exhibition Spirit of the North, artist and photographer John Kippin shares his top tips for creating great images (on your camera phone or otherwise).
What makes a good photograph?
For most of us a good photograph is one that is in some way special to us. It might be a picture of people or places that we like to be reminded of, perhaps something that we once were or something that invokes a particular emotional response. A ‘bad photograph’ might show something that we find disagreeable, uninteresting, or worse.
For some people the idea of a ‘good photograph’ is located within the technical and aesthetic requirements of photography. (i.e. that that photographs look like paintings).
Photography is deceitful by nature. It creates myths and fantasies and distorts and changes reality. It is both a window on the world and a mirror of our own intentions. It always needs to be interrogated with suspicion and is not intrinsically ‘good’.
An understanding of the relationship between the duration of the exposure (shutter speed) and the aperture (the blinds which allow light to be admitted to the camera) is still relevant and not in any way difficult to understand but few trouble to make the effort.
Even today, the camera in one’s ‘smart’ phone is the least sophisticated function of its operation, although the image processing software that surrounds it might be highly complex.
For those wishing to get the best from their photography, here are some simple (and timeless) guidelines for creating quality images:
- Keep the camera steady (If you are handholding it use a shutter speed of 250th second or shorter)
- Point the camera at something interesting and ask yourself ‘what is this photograph about?’
- Put the subject in the frame – remember, the camera will include even the parts of the image that you didn’t notice such as what is around the edge of the frame.
- Use a camera that does not have a shutter delay between pressing the button and the release of the shutter (timing is important and in this regard camera phones are not good).
Make your own prints
- Try to focus your opinions through your photography and think about why you are making your photograph.
- Do not present your photography with music or use image processing software beyond its most basic functions.
- Use standard, or near standard, focal length lenses. The majority of zoom lenses in my experience, only make good paper weights and cause backache.
Develop originality through research, thought, making images and reflecting on them – essentially the same process as making any work of art.
- Slow down, both in creating photographs, and in looking at them. The huge numbers of images available to us overwhelm our senses. Galleries provide special spaces for contemplation and reflection and it is worth giving them time.
These 10 points are a useful starting point for those who wish to think more clearly about the technical application of photography, but it is also worth mentioning that photography, although much in evidence, is little understood. In its various guises, it not only describes – but in many ways defines, our modern world.
Adapted from original text by Professor John Kippin MA PhD.
Spirit of the North will be exhibited at Bessie Surtees House in Newcastle from 22 June 2018. Find out more here.
Historic Photographer of the Year award
The second Historic Photographer of the Year Awards is open to amateur and professional photographers around the world. We’re proud to be partnering to create a new English History category, which celebrates our unique and incredible historic environment. Find out about how to enter.