I just completed an online course from Poynter’s New University titled The Language of the Image. What I found to be most fascinating about the course was the way it dissected the different elements of what makes for a good photograph.

I’m sure most people believe that they know a good picture when they see one, but how many of us are able to describe, in detail, what is so great about the image itself? How do we classify photographs?

Among the many things I learned while taking the fascinating course, the most important pieces of information I will take with me are:

  • The polar difference between an active and a passive photograph. Passive photographs are more thought out or planned and rely heavily on a photographer’s creativity, whereas active photographs are more “of the moment” or “as it is happening”, telling a story with the action in the image.
  • How powerful elements like juxtaposition (using opposing elements to create irony) or mood (feelings evoked by a photograph) can enhance what would appear like an ordinary photograph.
  • How visual techniques, like the rule of thirds or point of entry, can help to ease a viewer into an image.
  • Using multiple elements can create combinations that give a photograph even more power and relevance.
  • There are multiple ways to approach a shot, and it is up to the photographer to determine the best course to tell the story they want conveyed.

I’ve always been skeptical of the phrase “A picture is worth 1,000 words” because, more often than not, a picture is worth far less than that.  The main point I’ve taken from this course is that a picture has the possibility to be worth far more words than that, depending on the choices a photographer makes.

Here are a couple of examples I chose to analyze, taken from the Huffington Post:

This image, taken by John Minchillo of the Associated Press, is of a police and protester confrontation at an Occupy Wall Street rally in Manhattan’s Zuccotti Park. It is an active shot, because it involves real people in real time, as the officer pushes the protester back. The is an element of impact with the physical altercation. There is also emotion in the eyes of the protester, who looks ready to push back.

This image of Mario Manningham making “The Catch” of Super Bowl XLVI was taken by David Duprey of the Associated Press. Again, it is a very active shot, capturing the most intense moment of the game. There is a layered element, with the action in the foreground and the guys watching on the sidelines, waiting to see what happens. There is certainly emotion involved as well, not to mention the impending impact from the New England defensive backs.


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