"Why is nice bad? What kind of a sick society are we living in when nice is bad?"
- George in The Cafe
I'm not a fan of 'nice' photos. I need more than that. I need the photo to take me to that place.
But how on earth do you do that?
This won't come as a surprise to you, but I've found that the way to create better photos is to figure out what appeals to me. And that comes from
copying being inspired by the work of others. Well, let's be honest, at some point you and I both stood overlooking Yosemite Valley trying to recreate an image by Ansel Adams. And after I failed miserably, I found myself figuring out what elements of his images that actually appealed to me. It's easy to get lost in the technicalities of tone etc., but that wasn't it. Ansel Adams (and others) succeed for me because they make me feel like I'm there. It's been said for example that Adams did a masterful job of capturing weather, and that's a fundamental part of the three-dimensional sensory world that we live in.
What I strive for is not to copy a particular image, but figure out why I like it then create images that capture the elements that I respond to. And by the way, if your goal is to figure out what you think other people will like and use that to guide your work - forget it, you will never be successful.
If I take photos in a particular location, I find that my more successful images capture the feel of that location. The one below was taken after a long climb up the Shafer trail in Canyonlands National Park. We happened to visit at the tail end of monsoon season, so wild skies and scattered showers were common. The canyon itself has been carved by wind and water over millenia, so rather than zooming in on the dramatic cliff faces and rock structures, it seemed that the cloud formation was an essential part of the image.
So the word for today is 'context'. If (like me) you are trying to capture the essence of a favorite place, try to keep the context in mind. In the image above, I feel the sky is just as important as the spectacular canyon below, as it reminds me of the wild weather conditions that day.
To put it simply, a photo works for me if I feel like I am there - if it provokes some kind of emotional response to the location. That's always better than 'nice'.