Hit Me With Your Best Shot
Artistic Quality, the third Image Characteristic of the Bird Picture QSAR (Quality Self-Assessment Rubric) is primarily intended for those who are interested in entering their bird photographs in a contest (or to earn a lot of “Likes” on Facebook, Flickr, and GreatBirdPics). The Third Component of Artistic Quality is Impact.
Years ago I was invited up to Marquette, Michigan to the University of Michigan’s Biological Station. My good friend, the late Gary Williams, asked me to teach his students how to use the Apple IIe (I told you it was years ago). Gary was head of the Science Department at Glenbard North High School and ran a summer biology workshop which covered a variety of topics including computers and photography. Although my job was to teach the students how to use AppleWorks, one day I was asked to be the judge for an impromptu photography contest. All of the students went out and took some pictures in the area and submitted one for the contest. This was waaaaay before I got into photography but I was game and played along. I don’t remember most of the photographs the students submitted but one came up on the screen the the group collectively gasped. It was a picture of a tackle box filled with tools used to dissect the specimens they collected and it struck a chord with everyone there – I awarded it first place. Why? Because it had Impact.
What is Impact? It’s when your audience connects with your photograph in a visceral way – they have a force that impresses you. The greater the force the higher the quality the picture is. Have you ever looked at a picture and muttered, “Wow” under your breath? That’s Impact. Very few pictures have that kind of effect on viewers but when they do they are in a class of their own.
Below is the Impact Component of the QSAR:
The four Levels of Quality demonstrate how much a photograph impacts the viewer; each Level of Quality is explained below with example photographs from the Four Types of Bird Photograph. The photographs are all of Long-tailed Ducks, one of my favorite waterfowl, and most were taken in Holland, Michigan.
Level of Quality 1: The Photograph is used to document an observation = Documenting Shot
As previously outlined a Documenting Shot has low technical quality. It is difficult for the viewer to connect with a shot if it is out of focus, poorly lit, and generally hard to make out most of the bird’s details. Below is a Long-tailed Duck photograph that I took just to document the sighting for my eBird checklist.
Level of Quality 2: The Photograph appeals to birders = Good Bird Photo
With improved technical qualities the Good Bird Photo shows the typical field marks of the bird, which people who are birders like to see. A non-birder wouldn’t connect to these photographs because they have little or no visual impact. Below are pictures of a female, a male Long-tailed Duck, and the two together.
Level of Quality 3: The photograph appeals to a broad audience = GreatBirdPic
When a photograph is technically good and captures the attention of birders and non-birders alike it has some level of impact. Usually these pictures are particularly beautiful and/or depict some action that captures the interest of the viewer. Below are some more Long-tailed Duck photographs that do just that. Even non-birders would look at these and appreciate their beauty.
Level of Quality 4: The photograph creates an emotional impact – it elicits a “wow” reaction = Award Worthy
Not many of my pictures elicit a “wow” reaction from viewers. The picture has to have just the right combination of technical merit and captures the bird beautifully. Anyone looking at the image connects more with the overall artistic quality of the photograph than just the bird pictured. Below are three Long-tailed Duck photographs that approach this.
Impact on an audience is hard to judge yourself – you have to show it to others and gauge their reactions. The last picture above is on a wall in our house and an out-of-town friend noticed it and commented on its beauty; it made an impact on her even though she had no idea what kind of bird it was. Not every bird photograph will have Impact but the ones that do should be prominently displayed in your house and entered in contests.
Our final components of the QSAR are presented next time. They have little to do with photography and more to do with what is acceptable on GreatBirdPics.com and in bird photography contests.
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