Every shot is not a great shot even those taken by great photographers. That would seem obvious to most photographers but what is not obvious is the emotional value you may attach to certain shots. Your emotional value does not make it a great shot. As an example, let’s say I just spent an entire day tracking Big Horn Sheep. Every time it looked like we were going to see a small herd they scurried off. We were all hot, tired and thirsty. We stopped for a break, too tired to talk and just relaxed. The rattle of stones from above our resting spot interrupted our quiet respite. We looked up and saw a full-grown ram looking down at us. I quickly grabbed my camera and fired off a number of shots of him silhouetted against the sky before he dashed off. The ram was only about 30 feet away, but it was mid-day, bright sun and a cloudless sky.
When I got home and reviewed my images I had several tack sharp images of the ram although the sky was over exposed and half the ram’s face was in deep mid-day shadow and the ram was dead center in the frame. Is this fictitious image a great shot? I hardly think so but having documentation of a face-to-face encounter with a creature as elusive as a Big Horn Sheep is a great experience. If I showed that image to serious photographers the accompanying story would have greater interest than the shot. Our efforts to get a shot do not make a great shot. Great images are great because they stand on their own without a story. Effort is not a compositional element.
It’s very easy to confuse your emotional attachment to an image with the true nature of the composition. I have a shot that has won several different competitions and done well commercially. When I took the shot I loved the light, I was blessed with some nice compositional opportunities and I knew it matched a vision I had had for some time. I liked the final product. I had accomplished a goal but I didn’t think anymore about it. When I showed it to my wife she gasped and said, “I want it big, I want it framed and I want it over the fireplace.” I was surprised by her reaction to the image and by getting the same reaction from scores of other people.
I can remember early in my commitment to serious photography taking a photograph of a woman and her horse in a shaded glen. I loved the composition, I thought it was a great portrait and was eager to show a friend who was a very accomplished photographer. He looked at it and said, “Would you like me to show you how to eliminate the blue cast?” I was stunned. What blue cast? I still have the print, blue cast and all. It’s another reminder of the importance of feedback.
Competition is a great way to get relatively un-biased feedback. I don’t always agree with the judge’s opinion on either my own work or that of others but it sure is a convenient way of getting a reality check. One thing you can count on – all of them can differentiate between a great experience and a great shot.