The Value of a Photograph

Bench Racing

by Ryan King

I would like to think that the vast majority of people are aware of the saying "a picture is worth a thousand words," so I'm just going to operate from that assumption for the sake of this post.

The value of a photograph for a car nut who works on his or her own projects, however, lies in its content, its context, and how effectively it's used. Those elements are very simple, but it's important to understand what they mean, remember to consider those aspects when taking them, and ultimately, to use them effectively.

To provide a better understanding of what those concepts mean, so that they can be employed more effectively, I've provided an explanation of each term:

Photographic Content:
Content is all about clarity and subject, or put another way, content is all about how clearly the subject is captured. In that regard, clarity has some key elements, sharpness (achieved through proper focus), brightness (achieved through proper lighting and exposure), and contrast (achieved through proper lighting, exposure, and arrangement of the photo by making sure that the subject is captured in an environment that doesn't cause it to blend into the background).
Capturing the subject matter means that you properly arrange the photo so that when you capture the subject, the photo effectively shows everything you need to see.
All of the elements that make up both clarity and subject can be affected by angle, distance, and sometimes via physically moving the subject you want photograph. Focus and brightness can be achieved through control of the camera, while brightness can also be effected by external factors such as illumination and control of the flash.
Photographic Context:
Context has many meanings which occur on many layers, but for the sake of this article, I'm keeping it down to three of the most prominent and important.
First and foremost, it can mean getting enough visual information in the shot to show placement and relation of the subject to the other objects in its environment.
Next, context can mean tying the photo to the appropriate event and/or area of your project after the photo is taken.
Lastly, it can mean keeping the photo within the correct time context of the project by referencing it to the correct sequence of events. The last two can be achieved through an effective filing system – whether physical or electronic.
Effective Use:
Effective use comes down to a very boring, but essential practice: Detail, precision, and consistency in your execution. By that, I mean that you critically think about the visual information you will need in the future and execute its capture effectively and with consistency. It also means consistently making sure that all of your photographs are filed appropriately every single time, without waiting too long, which can cause you to forget how they are related to the events/areas/sequences of your project.

I don't know if a picture really is worth a thousand words, but I do know for certain that a bad photograph, or one without context, is worth shit to a project, and that a prolonged, complex project will benefit tremendously from properly executed and utilized photographs.