A Sense of Place - University of Chicago Workshop: Part 1

Three rules for better photographs.

The first of a few posts as a debriefing of the awesome workshop I hosted at the University of Chicago a few weekends past.

I had a wonderful class of some 12 photographers for my May 26th workshop. We talked a bit about photography and then headed into the beautiful Gothic confines of Fortress Chicago to try out hands at making a few great images. Today, I want to share a few of those thoughts more widely via the blog.

What makes a great image? What is it that almost all beautiful photographs share? The answer, I think, is that great images share something special between the photographer and the audience. In landscape/architecture photography great images share an undeniable sense of place.

So what I tried to do with the folks in the workshop was consider a set of relatively easy rules that help us as photographers to create that all-important sense of place.

The rules are:

1) Fill the frame.

2) The 5 second rule.

3) Give us somewhere to go.

The first rule is simple: use all the space you have. That can mean that you are using 90% of the image as negative space or it can mean that each corner is crammed with details; the important facet is to not neglect a part of the frame because your subject isn't in it.

The second rule is a trick I use to make sure there are no distracting elements - I pause and count to five while looking through the viewfinder. Let your eye touch each edge and corner of the frame - make sure nothing (a stray branch or passerby) is leaking into the image in a way you dislike.

Finally, I encouraged my workshoppers to give their audience somewhere to go in the photograph. This can mean a lot of things, but I think of it simply - a landscape or architecture photograph is about a place, therefore, if you are irresistibly drawn into the image and delight in imagining yourself walking through a corridor or down a path in the image, then the photographer has succeeded.

Have a look at how these three simple ideas work together to create a photograph.

The gathering storm above Rockefeller Chapel
The gathering storm above Rockefeller Chapel