You’ve heard this before. “That picture is beautiful.” That’s easy to say and hard to understand. Why? Because trying to describe “beautiful” is a real chore.
The simplest dictionary definition of beautiful is: “Wonderful; very pleasing or satisfying.”
But what’s pleasing and satisfying to you might not be to me. So how do we really define what makes a beautiful picture?
I’ve actually been studying this question all of my life. I still don’t know the answer. But I believe I do have some clues. Let’s go on an adventure together and see if we can figure it out.
Let’s set some ground rules. First, we have to agree that beauty is really in the eye of the beholder. That said, while everyone has different tastes, there are universally accepted norms when it comes to beauty – things which everyone pretty much agrees are beautiful, like sunsets or sunrises over the mountains or the ocean.
Second, we need to agree that finding beauty can anywhere from uncomfortable to exhilarating. It’s a journey remember.
The first clue to finding something beautiful, is finding something meaningful. How do you know if something is meaningful? Simple – if you personally are moved by it. Maybe it’s a grandmother’s smile, or a newborn bear cub or a waterfall illuminated by a full moon. Whatever has meaning for you will be beautiful. I finally came to understand this when I had my first serious girlfriend. She told me she thought I was “good looking.” Well that was the first (and one of the only times) I’d ever heard that! I couldn’t understand why she thought that. Then my sister explained it to me. She told me that if a girl liked me, in her eyes that would make me attractive. It’s counter-intuitive but true.
So start your search for beauty in photography searching for things that are meaningful to you. This sounds easy but is actually a bit harder than you might think. The difference between a photographer with his/her own style and one who shoots the shotgun approach is tied to being authentic. You can be convinced to think somebody else’s idea of meaningful is meaningful to you. But if that isn’t how you really feel, the lack of passion will hurt your ability to capture a truly beautiful image.
The second step in this process is to search for pleasure. What constitutes pleasure? Scenes that are evocative and emotional usually come to mind. They relate to your personal feelings of good will towards a subject. Now here’s why this isn’t easy. It has to be real. You can’t manufacture good will. You either have it or you don’t. This is where authenticity again plays a part in making beautiful images. If you aren’t true to yourself, you can’t be true to your photography.
The last step is to look for something that satisfies. Millions of people visit the Grand Canyon every decade. Many come back more than once. Why? It’s simple. They find the beauty of the canyon to be satisfying.
You can find satisfaction in almost any subject you’re passionate about and yep, if you’ve been following along closely you should realize that is the key to making beautiful images.