National Geographic Photo Contest 2012: What Makes Great Photography
National Geographic recently announced the winners of its annual photo contest, and while browsing the stunning images, a question occurred to us: what makes great photography? What characteristics set award-winning photography apart?
After some analysis of these photographs, a few characteristics stood out to us.
1. Action: This image of a tigress shaking dry was named the grand-prize winner of the contest and is a wonderful example of great action photography. Tigers are not uncommon photographic subject matter; but the tigress’ action, so effectively captured here, sets this photo apart as the grand-prize winner.
Photo by Ashley Vincent
2. Composition: Perhaps the most basic and commonly taught lesson in art and photography is the rule of thirds. Adhering to—or blatantly and purposefully ignoring—the rule of thirds results in image composition pleasing to the eye. Take for instance this honorable mention nature photograph showing glacial ice off the coast of Iceland. The photographic composition of the iceberg in the lower right hand corner makes this image far more remarkable than if the photographer had simply centered the primary subject matter.
Photo by Eric Guth
3. Context: Also an honorable mention nature photograph, this image shows a red fox diving headfirst into snow to capture a mouse below. Taken in Wyoming, the image is not exceptional for its intense beauty or its composition, but rather the context of a fox’s hind parts sticking perpendicularly out of the frozen Wyoming tundra.
Photo by Michael Eastman
4. Intrigue: The unfamiliar and nonobvious can leave viewers pleasingly intrigued and curious to know more. This honorable mention photograph in the “People” category is one such intriguing photograph. Luckily, the image included a caption so we know that it shows a rare fishing technique, called stilt fishing, practiced in Sri Lanka.
Photo by Ulrich Lambert
5. Beauty: This image of the Matterhorn in Zermatt, Switzerland was named the winner of the “Places” category—and for very good reason. Certain photographs are just so obviously and stunningly beautiful that they have an instant impact on the viewer. The reflection off of an unseen full moon highlights the snow blowing off the peak, while the clear skies provide a sprinkling of stars as background. There isn’t any one quality that sets this image apart; it is just purely beautiful.
Photo by Nenad Saljic
Most great photography, like the images featured here, conveys a combination of the characteristics discussed. Example #4 of Sri Lankan fisherman, for example, is not only intriguing, but also undeniably beautiful and well composed.
All of us at Pelican Products are grateful to National Geographic for compiling such a wonderful list of stunning photography—and to the professional photographers out there in constant search of “the shot” that might win them recognition from National Geographic. Additionally, we are pleased to produce photography cases that dedicated photographers can count on to protect their gear while searching.
What characteristics define great photography to you? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.