Sometimes I get surprised when models post poor quality images of themselves. It makes me wonder if they understand what makes an image “good”. There are a number of factors that help determine the quality of a good image versus one that should never see the light of day. I’m going to try to point out a few factors. Please understand that It has taken me personally over a decade of dedicated hard work, study, and practice to develop an understanding and I have still much to learn.
Let me start by saying that style is NOT one of the factors. There are current trends in photography that I personally do not like and I’ve tried some of them out but they just don’t fit my esthetic. But style is personal. But the kraft of image making does have some hard and fast rules. One of those rules is that there are no hard and fast rules. (Whew! got that caveat out of the way!) But most of these rules apply unless there are clear reasons to break them.
I would love to illustrate with photographic examples, but I don’t publish my mistakes and I’m not going to use others photographs as a whipping boy. I might add that there are no perfect photographs, because perfection is subjective. Here are several “rules” and what to look for.
Focus: To me this seems obvious, however I see so many models posting out of focus images that it boggles my mind. In every image there is the “hero” part of the image. This is what the image is about and there are a number of things that contribute to our seeing what is important in an image. Whatever is the “hero” part should be in focus. Tack sharp. If it is an image of a person, the face, in particular, the eye should be in razor sharp focus. Now, it is possible in a great image to have out of focus areas. It’s even desirable. Photographers use this power to bring attention to a singular part of the image and to reduce distractions. We use something called “bokeh” or “depth of field”. If it’s a person, the nearest eye should be unequivocally in focus, even if there is very shallow depth of field and the image quickly fades to out of focus.
Exposure: I see so many images where either the subject is over or under exposed. This is a little bit subjective but not really. Without getting into a 3 page essay on exposure, the person should basically seem as bright as you would see them with your own eyes. Photography is a game of tradeoffs and sometimes a photographer has to choose to over or under expose the background, but the subject should always be properly exposed. With skin tones that feel natural.
Color: Every once in a while (too often) I see models post photos of themselves as Oompa Loompas. This is either because the photographer got the skin color all wrong or the model used a filter (don’t use filters without the photographers permission!). Either way the model ends up looking like they belong in a Roald Dahl novel. There is some latitude with color, but it should look right. Obviously there are processes such as sepia, black and white, and desaturation where skin color is not natural, but in a full color image you should not look like you are auditioning for Willy Wonka.
Distractions: In an image of a person, a skilled photographer works to make you the center of attention. There are a host of techniques we use to put the attention on you and get people to spend time looking at the photograph. We reduce, were possible distracting elements. Things that pull the eye away from you. For example: a gum wrapper on the ground, a tree branch behind that looks as if it is growing out of your head, a hair tie on your wrist, extreme light or shadows or huge color contrasts around you.
Light: Wow, this is a big one. But whether your photographer uses natural light or studio lights or both, make sure they use light well. I have two pet peeves with bad light. First is when a photographer has harsh light making hard, unflattering shadows and/or blown out areas on the face and body. I see this a lot with photos taken outdoors in full sun. While it is possible to take good photos of the face in full sun, most/many settle for hard, unpleasant shadows of the nose, eye sockets, etc. The second is the over use of flat light where there is little contrast and images just look a little lifeless.
When you are searching for a photographer, look at their work. Ask to see their most recent work. Be picky. Don’t settle for good. Insist on awesome. There are way to many good images in this world. So good images are just kind of boring. Find a photographer who creates awesomeness.
Lastly….If a photographer gives you images that don’t measure up to your growing standards, don’t use them. They don’t help you get work.
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