Teachable Photos

When I was learning photography I typically had only one or two shots per role of film worth keeping but I studied every single one, trying to understand its weaknesses. Doing this over a period of years helped me develop the 5C approach.

It's not enough to know whether a photo is good or not. In order to reach a high level of photography you have to be able to properly analyze its strengths and weaknesses. Every time you grasp why a photo is working or not it becomes a part of your visual understanding. It is an excellent way of developing your visual insight, one photo at a time.

When you are able to look at any photo and accurately determine its strengths and weaknesses, you will be thinking with mature visual insight. Even beginning photographers know the photo below it is not exceptional, even if they don't know why. Before reading on, can you identify any specific strengths or weaknesses?


When using a center of interest like this acorn, it is important that everything else works to support it but that's not the case here. The colors and values of the lower three fourths of the image are similar. Greens and ochers run throughout and the values have a narrow range. But the top quarter contains none of those colors and the values are very light. This creates a disconnect between the sky and the foreground. If, instead of an acorn, we had a white flower then the sky and foreground would have an element in common. Or if there were big white stones on the ground, then sky and foreground would have something in common.

Another disconnect is between the foreground and the rest of the picture. The sharply focused leaves have a rugged and detailed visual texture. Everything beyond is blurred with a soft texture. The individual leaves are not that important but their visual texture makes them stand out as if they are. The acorn is the center of interest but other elements distract from instead of support it. The image doesn't have a structure that binds everything together and therefore it doesn't work as a whole.