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What Makes a Compelling Photograph?

I’ve recently started working through David DuChemin’s brilliant online course, The Compelling Frame. While I’m now on lesson 3, one of the first things we were asked to confront and answer for ourselves was one simple, basic question – what makes a Compelling photograph?

To answer the question, I decided to scroll through This Weeks Photo category of my blog and when I first answered this question in my journal, I noted few things –

  • A Compelling image goes beyond the technical perfection to something much deeper. A Compelling image is not “of” something. It’s “about” something.
  • While the image is about something beyond the technical perfection, it does start from a strong technical base – i.e. the craft of photography is not ignored by the photographer in pursuit of the art.
  • The images have a mystery, conflict, juxtaposition in them.

Revisiting the above after a month of first writing them down in my Moleskine journal, I think I still agree with what I’ve written above.

The Compelling image is about something much deeper than the subject itself. To me, Michael Kenna’s minimalist images, often of trees are about silence, peace and serenity. Edward Weston’s images of peppers are about shapes, lines, and light. Elliot Erwitt’s images of dogs are often about comical juxtaposition.

Going beyond the surface is what makes a compelling photograph to me.

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