What Makes a Winner?
What you see above is a photograph that I took several years ago. It was captured early one winter morning in a pasture area that adjoins my yard. It's one of those photos that I didn't have to work very hard to get, but it has been one of the most popular images in my entire collection of bird photographs. In fact, it would easily rank in the top five selling images within my entire library of photos. But, why this image?
I'm making this post as a result of so many requests from photographers. I get this question all the time. "Why are your images so popular with the public, and why do some of your shots continue to sell year after year?" Well, that's a tough one, and it's not a question that I can fully answer here in a few short paragraphs. But, I might shed some light on the subject by simply discussing this image.....a classic shot of a Chickadee.
As most of us know, good photography starts with good light. Directional light is imperative to any successful image. Without a strong sense of light, most images lack what I call "punch." Light is what sets the mood of a photo, and without it an image cannot tell a complete story to the viewer. Simply put.....this backlit image has punch.
This image also has a wonderful tonality about it. The soft shades of gray become defined by the warm tones of red and orange that appear in the frozen blackberry branch. Without these hues of color, the image would appear flat and not nearly as interesting to the eye. Also, the frost on the leaves catch the light and further define the branch by increasing the overall contrast within the composition. It's actually the frost that helps the viewer identify the light source.
Finally, the small Chickadee presents us with a focal point, but it does so without "stealing the show." What do I mean by that statement? For years now, I have worked hard at creating images that show us birds in a way that allows us to appreciate nature, and I mean all of nature. Sometimes a clump of weeds can be just as interesting as a colorful hummingbird. Sometimes that which surrounds our subject......becomes our subject. In the image above, our little chickadee shares the spotlight with a simple frozen blackberry branch. Both equally share the spotlight. While the softness of the bird stands in dramatic contrast to the icy, thorn covered branch, they actually compliment each other in a way that only nature can show us.
So....back to our original question. Put another way, "Why has this image remained so popular for so many years?" My best guess is this......It's a wonderfully simple composition that doesn't confuse the viewer with distracting elements for the sake of "detail." Its' limited color palette is calming to our senses. It's frosty leaves make us feel winter, but its' powerful morning light gives us hope for a warmer day. This image shares its' story without making us dig too deep, and I suspect it will be doing just that for many decades to come.
Let me end with this. Fine art photography is a tough field. It's highly competitive, and that's a good thing for all of us. Success is this field is measured in so many different ways, but for those of us who support our families with our images, sales cannot be ignored. Photographers can improve their personal sales by elevating the quality of their images. Sharp, clear, vibrant "snapshots" cannot compete in this field of endeavor. The public wants more, and successful photographers are presenting images that reach a much higher standard. I would encourage everyone to have a good hard look at your own images and assess if they are individually telling a complete story. If not.....work is needed. Good Luck.