How We Appreciate Great Photographs

Three Brothers - Merced River - Yosemite - 2010

What makes great photographs? On Tuesday and Wednesday this week, I attended (Tuesday) and watched (Wednesday) the first Google+ Photographer’s Conference in San Francisco. It was a great event and I enjoyed it very much. Lots to absorb, much to learn.

Something that is fascinating to me about where we are now with photography is how much it’s about “living online”. On Wednesday, Trey Ratcliff spoke about what he’s been learning about sharing images online – and what seems to provoke more significant responses from the rest of us. I thought his list of photographic elements found in great photographs was useful.

He spoke about his most popular images having five elements: water, distance, trees, path, and weather.

For each element, he briefly reflected on how we, as humans, value each of them – which he believes influences our response to images that contain them:

  • Water, especially fresh water, being within walking distance
  • Having trees – and shelter – nearby
  • Wide open spaces with prairies and grass – space to separate us from predators and grains for food
  • Some distance to see any weather coming
  • And a path or road – some sign that there’s human habitation someplace nearby

A good list, I think. Lots of great photos exist without any of these elements – but when landscape photographs contain these elements (think Yosemite, Point Reyes, Point Lobos, etc. in my portfolio), they’re usually pretty strong images. The image above – while not having much of a path or road, contains most of these elements. It’s a shot of Three Brothers in Yosemite along the Merced River in October when the river flow is slow and the reflections are almost perfect.

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