After some thought on the aesthetics of photography it has come to my attention that what truly distinguishes greatness in photography is not mere technical ability—of which most anyone may be trained in to a standard sufficient—but compositional ability. An ability in composition is a quality less granular and thus less certain, the harmony of whose elements is not as easily reconciled as is that born of a ‘mere’ technical aptitude; that is, unless one possesses the ability to ‘see’.
What, then, is the ability to ‘see’? It is, simply put, the ability to visualise a scene as the lens visualises it. Without this ability the relative disconnect between what the lens sees and what the eye sees manifests itself as a disharmony of compositional elements; with this ability no such disconnection occurs, and there occurs a harmony at once between eye and lens as between compositional elements within the scene. We may call this ability ‘pre-visualisation’. Pre-visualisation is the reproduction of the scene in the mind in its finished state; that is to say, the state upon which it is furnished as end product. Ideally with this means such amendments as cropping become unnecessary, as the process from embryonic scene to developed image, from conception to production, is an integral.
As a relative equivalence, photography that is compositionally astute yet technically poor is wont to appeal in excess to photography that is technically astute but compositionally poor. The compositional elements of an image are what evoke—in conjunction with the more technical attributes of scene-correct exposure and colour—a positive emotional response in the mind of the viewer. This relationship is asymmetrical: a dearth of the former (compositional harmony) at the expense of the latter (technical harmony) produces a gamut of comparatively negative responses of—at best—neutrality and disinterest, or—at worst—revulsion and antipathy.
We are all of us acquainted with photography of great technical mastery, as the advent of digital photography has levelled greatly the medium’s erstwhile learning curve, thus increasing in proportion over film the overall amount of acceptable to superb photography. We may hope thusly that, with the trend to increased mechanisation in photography and thus the abolition of laboured, compensatory dial-twiddling and knob-pushing—a thankless drudgery best left to computers which, in any case, exceed the abilities of any photographer—the artist is left at last to concentrate completely on the creative elements of photography, namely, pre-visualisation and compositional aesthetics.
In a broad sense there are many technical masters but few artists. It is this unfortunate disjunct that distinguishes dilettantes from masters—technicians from aestheticians.