I think everyone wonders at some point if there’s a secret formula to alluring photography. An alluring photo doesn’t necessarily have to be a “great” photo in the sense that it’s going to be discussed with academic reverence 50 years from now; but it’s a photo that has some intangible, magical quality to it. You just enjoy looking at it.
In practice, creating these kinds of photos proves trickier than expected and some photographers are content to leave their odds of making alluring photos in the hands of luck. I won’t suggest that there’s never any luck involved, but it should be least among all the things that converge for a captivating photo.
So what is the secret formula to a captivating photo? It’s not much of a secret. I’ll tell you below.
Yes, the camera matters. But not really for any technical reasons. Some people like a camera small enough to slip into a pocket, one that can be operated with one hand and will barely be noticed by others. Some people like a camera with a substantial grip and distinct shutter sound.
Both groups are highlighting a single point: the importance of using a camera you are comfortable with. From considerations of size and weight to button placement and menu design, having a camera that you actually enjoy using is a vital starting point.
If you look over at your camera and think, “I hate that thing,” you’re far less likely to pick it up and use it than someone who finds joy in simply holding their camera in hand.
The camera also matters in the sense that you need to choose the tool best suited to your intended purpose. If you plan to make large prints of panoramic cityscapes, your 10 megapixel point-and-shoot that you’ve had for 15 years isn’t the best option, but it may serve you well for candid street photography around your neighborhood.
The road to a captivating photo begins with the relationship you have with your camera.
The Place And Time
It’s possible to make an interesting photo absolutely anywhere. You don’t need to be in a special place to be able to extract something of visual significance from your surroundings.
But it certainly helps when you find yourself in a place you are particularly fond of. Whether it’s a quiet meadow, an abandoned building, crowded city streets or the beach, when you intentionally place yourself in an inspiring setting you instantly boost the odds of capturing an alluring photo.
The place doesn’t act alone in this capacity, however. The time of day (or night), weather or season can act in concert with the place to provide you with an increased chance of creating something magical.
Now, you can’t simply show up in a cool place, camera in hand, thinking that you can just snap any random scene and walk away with a great shot.
That’s not how this works.
Finding the right camera and the right place will only get you so far. In order to bring everything together you need to have the right attitude about what you’re doing.
If you feel a sense of self-imposed pressure to create, if you feel rushed, if you find yourself somehow unmotivated or tired, if you feel doubtful or uncomfortable, you’re not going to be in the best frame of mind to identify and capture that captivating shot.
I could have easily placed attitude at the top of the list, as it is ultimately the most important part of this three-part formula. However, I’ve found from personal experience that there are times when the first two parts of the formula completely override any lack of motivation, doubt or tiredness, spurring on a mindset most conducive to doing something creative.
The not-so-secret formula to creating a captivating photo can ultimately be simplified and expressed as “openness.” You must be open to the entirety of the creative process, understanding that your personal process may include smaller components not discussed here; and understanding that no matter how complete you perceive your process to be, it can still result in failure.
Having all the right pieces in place can’t guarantee success, but I think creativity is largely about giving yourself the best chance possible to make something you’re proud of.