Pretty Scenes Don't Always Make A Great Photograph

By: Gary Gray


Pretty scenes don't always make for great photographs. Think beyond the pretty photograph.



























Now, take this shot (or if you were at Red Rocks on Saturday morning with the Englewood Camera Club, use your own as everyone there took the same photograph.)  A compelling landscape photograph should have at least three subject objects. One of those subjects is typically defined as your shot's "hero." The hero better be interesting and immediately catch the eye. The remaining subjects better support the hero and they don't include sky, trees and dirt, unless the sky, trees or dirt offer the viewer something out of the ordinary. In the case of this photograph, we only get one thing slightly out of the ordinary...the dirt, or more precisely, the nice rock formations with the added benefit of scattered snow. So, for the sake of this image, the rocks are the hero. The sky, and trees can't be considered worthy primary subjects for a shot like this. They look okay but aren't hero quality. So, what to do? Well, nothing really. This is just to explain why a scene like this can't hold up. It needs something more. It needs either a more dramatic sky, more dramatic trees or something else, such as a building or other artifact or characteristic in the scene to make it more interesting.

When you're analyzing a scene looking for a hero, try to avoid using the sky. It is a rare thing that the sky should be used as the primary object of a landscape scene. Not to say it can't or shouldn't happen, but I almost always consider sky to be #2 in my landscape shots. Like a good supporting actor in a movie. Weak sky, weak scene. You still need a leading subject and the sky shouldn't be your first choice. A lot of amateurs will see a pretty sky and take a shot. Everything else be damned, but by golly that sky sure was pretty. Well, pretty skies aren't hard to find, making a great photograph isn't quite as simple.

The bottom line, scenes like this are too static, too mundane and too common.

End result. A pretty scene and a pretty photograph, but not really a great photograph. The only thing that makes it a pretty photograph is the fact that it is properly composed and exposed. If you mess up on any technical aspect of a scene like this, you won't even have a pretty photo.