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Getting the right shot – what makes a good photograph?

Photography is all around us: it is rare to see an advertisement, web page or magazine article without a photograph.

But how often do you pay attention to the picture? Many pictures are simply ignored, as viewers believe they are often of little assistance and are purely for illustration.

On the other hand, images that are genuinely useful are seen as important and attention is paid to them.

So a good photograph is one that will engage and inform the viewer and, from your point of view, help a customer choose your product or service over all others.

But how do you know what is a good photograph?

What do you want to achieve

The ease and simplicity of using a digital camera means that anyone can take photographs; sadly the results are often an uninspired set of technically good images (modern cameras take care of the technical elements like exposure and focus) that somehow don’t quite achieve what is required.

Firstly, you have to consider what you want to achieve. Potential customers want to see pictures of your products in use; this is true whatever your business.

Architects need to show the buildings they have designed; contractors, the projects the have worked on; product manufacturers, where their products have been installed.

“The simple rule of thirds technique will result in a picture with a structure that will result in a more attractive image”

Such requirements determine the subject of your photograph, after that your images will need to be attractive to those who see them.

We can learn from artists. Painters are taught about how to structure an image – if you start with a blank canvas, you need something to build upon.

Every image needs a structure – an image without composition will be boring, flat, uninspiring and unattractive. That’s why you cannot just point and shoot and expect to get a good photograph.

Rule of thirds

Although subject is important to the purpose of a photograph, it can actually have nothing to do with the attractiveness of the final image.

Use the rule of thirds when composing: divide the image into thirds, either vertically or horizontally, or both, and place points of interest either along the lines or where the lines cross each other. This simple technique will result in a picture with a structure that will result in a more attractive image.

Next consider how colour will appear in your picture. Objects that are red, orange and yellow appear to move towards the viewer, while cooler colours, greens and blues, appear to move away from the viewer.

This is because our eyes (and our emotions) are attracted to the warmer reds and yellows. Putting a warm-coloured object against a cooler background will give your picture a feeling of depth.

Providing props

I was once commissioned to shoot a series of urban landscapes and I made sure that I had with me red flowering shrubs in pots that could be strategically placed. This brought life to images where necessary.

Finally make sure there are no distractions in your image. Waste bins and general rubbish can appear in photographs without you even realising – this is particularly relevant if you are shooting on site.

To sum up, your camera can do a lot but it cannot choose your subject, nor can it compose your image for you or look out for things you don’t want in your image. Think about the composition of your picture and you will have built the foundation of a good photograph.

As well as being a CIMCIG committee member and a judge at the Construction Marketing Awards, Rick Osman worked on Creative Camera magazine, has been picture editor on a wide variety of magazines and has worked as a professional photographer. Today he is a director of Highwire, an agency which specialises in online solutions for the construction industry – see www.hotel-standards.com. You can find out much more about construction marketing at www.cimcig.org

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