September 09, 2021

What makes a good photograph special?

By Lars Gesing
What makes a good photograph special?

Photography, especially fine art photography, is a deeply personal thing. There are no doubt some universal rules around composition, light, and color that will elevate any photograph. They are the preexisting conditions of a great photograph. But that is not what I want to talk about today. 

I want to talk about that “secret sauce” that makes my images different and special.

Simplify, simplify, simplify.

When I think of fine art photography and my images, what is a common thread is that they are often about simplicity and always carry deep meaning. To fall in love, we need to cut through all the clutter of our daily lives and see and feel with all our senses. Achieving that is the bar each and every one of my images has to take.

We all know that nature’s beauty can be so grand that it’s actually overwhelming. It’s that “I don’t even know where to look first” moment. That’s why I always look for simplicity in a busy environment. I guess it can be seen as a metaphor for our innate urge to look for that same simplicity in our convoluted lives in general. 

After all, if you take that simplicity and pair it with an emotional connection, it translates to a feeling of serenity, of being able to let the mind wander to the places it really wants to be. It’s why my images are generally so successful at leading to less stress and to calming us and our busy minds down as we look at an image on our wall every day.

There’s a reason, after all, why someone like Thoreau has been advising us for more than a century to “Simplify, simplify, simplify” our lives. A great fine art image can help do just that.

Photography is the art of connection.

My photographs are as much about what’s between my ears as they are about what’s in front of my camera. I firmly believe that an image only deserves to be called great if it tells a story, if it makes the viewer, you, feel something. Art is all about emotion. And so is photography. It’s that “being stopped in your tracks” kind of moment that makes an image special. Think about how many photos you scroll through on your social media feeds every. single. day. How many of those do you remember? Probably not a whole lot. I don’t either, and I do this professionally!

I’m pretty sure you remember only the ones that didn’t just show you something pretty, but it’s those few photos that actually made you feel, that took your mind on a journey. That’s a pretty high bar. That’s where images become special, where they reach the quality of working as a piece of art hanging in our homes, telling a story worth reliving day after day after day, reminding us of who we want to be.

Pairing vision, beauty, timing and technical skill.

That is why one thing I talk about constantly is the Sense of Home, the sense of inspiration that nature can give us. It’s what I seek to find every time I go out into nature with my camera — really every time I go out into nature, period. 

And when I do find a scene like that, one where I feel an emotional connection to the land in front of me, that inner peace that we feel when we come home, and all the above-mentioned pre-existing conditions like light, composition and color align, I make a photograph. 

The art of nature photography is the art of finding, being in and recording the moments when Mother Nature truly reveals her most magnificent beauty. I have found in all my years doing this work that it is often the subtle moments when nature shines her brightest. It’s like P.H. Emerson wrote: “Nature is full of pictures, and they are to be found in what appears to the uninitiated the most unlikely places.”

A great fine art nature image, then, pairs vision, beauty, serendipitous timing and excellent technical skill. I love chasing that powerful image that is created when all those things come together. When the stars do align for that perfect moment, it makes the image all the more special. That’s why we make these images part of our homes, part of our lives — because they are that powerful, they are that emotional, they are that beautiful — they tell the story of finding A Sense of Home

Did you like this content and feel like you learned something? There's more where that came from. Subscribe to my free THE ART OF SEEING weekly newsletter by clicking here.