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How Do We Measure Success in Photography? - Getting the 'WOW' Factor!

Updated: Jun 20, 2021

Photography's WOW moments!

Photography has an interesting history. I imagine that when Joseph Nicéphore Niépce discovered that he had actually captured an image that didn’t react to light, the first permanently fixed image that he could show to his friends, he experienced one of life’s ‘wow moments’.

The photograph, which is the earliest known surviving photograph made in a camera, was taken in 1826 from an upstairs window of Niépce’s estate in the Burgundy region of France and is known as ‘View from the Window at Le Gras’. The first colour image, taken by James Clerk Maxwell in 1861, probably produced a similar reaction, as I’m sure did the first digital image when it was produced in 1957, almost 20 years before Kodak invented the first digital camera.

Photography as an art form has such a steep learning curve that it produces many ‘wow moments’ for the photography student. Aside from capturing occasional stunning landscapes, for myself these moments came when I managed to capture an image with a nicely blurred background, when I captured motion in a scene, when I began to see how to work with different lights to create different outcomes and effects, such as the ‘starburst effect’. As was the case throughout the entire history of photography, progress in the art of photography is about continual practice and continual surprise when an effect or composition turns out as intended.

Playing with light

Here I experimented with silhouettes of trees using different light. In the first photograph the image was deliberately overexposed while in the second the image was properly exposed according to the camera's light meter and the fading light. Both photographs were taken on a late November evening. The final images are slightly different as a result of the different light. I see this as a first step in learning how a camera responds differently in different lighting conditions and getting to know how I can set my camera to get the most pleasing exposure or to experiment with different effects.

The importance of light

What makes photography a strange invention is that its primary raw materials are light and time.

John Berger (art critic, painter and poet)

The essence of photography is light; without light there would be no photography. The word photography itself means ‘drawing with light’. It is also about the balance between light and time; how much light will hit the sensor and for how long. Understanding the role that light and time play in photography will make the process of making images more rewarding. George Eastman, the founder of Kodak, once said,

Embrace light. Admire it. Love it. However, above all, know light. Know it for all you are worth, and you will know the key to photography.

Understanding the ‘exposure triangle’ has been a big part of my learning so far, and learning to read the camera’s light meter has helped me move from auto or semi-auto into full manual mode. I am assured that the process becomes more intuitive with time and practice. Added to this, I have tried to take lots of photographs and made a project out of improving my techniques in different areas.

Shooting up from ground level. I like the way the light plays on the left side of the image.

Most of my photographs don’t produce the wow factor but, as the photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson remarked, “Your first ten thousand photographs are your worst.”

In that case, I have plenty of room for more practice and more improvement.


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