A Guide to PhotoVogue, by Alessia Glaviano, Senior Photo Editor of Vogue Italia and L'Uomo Vogue

PhotoVogue has reached over 72,000 photographers and each day, we receive thousands of photographs to review.

To be able to explain personally to each user the reason why his/her photograph was rejected we would need a team of people in charge of that only and I’m afraid we don’t have either the time or the resources to do that. The photos featured on Photo Vogue are personally selected by the Photo Editors of Vogue Italia (which is also the added value such photography platform offers); they are constantly reviewing and selecting, even outside working hours, but do not have physically the time to provide individual explanation of the reason why a certain image was rejected.

I believe that it is important to pay attention to what is approved and what is rejected among the works you upload, this way you’ll be more able to appreciate what type of photographs we accept; in doing so, however, I kindly ask you to keep in mind that the selection is the result of our personal review and, in no way, do we expect to be the beholders of the absolute truth.

As we pointed out more than once however, if you decide to submit your works to us, in doing so you must also accept our judgment, after all, participating is not compulsory but simply a choice. Photo Vogue is open to all photography genres but it is not for everyone; it is not a “democratic” (if you pass me the term) platform on which everybody can simply upload whatever they like. Photo Vogue will feature only those images that have been approved by us.

Having said this, with this article I would like to elaborate on some of the assessment criteria so as to help you become self-critical.

The right approach when taking a photograph is not "I’ve seen something I like hence I’ll photograph it” (think How? Why? What is by the side, above and below that view/object you liked? What angle will you take the picture from? With what lens?); it is true that, especially with certain photographic genres, you have to seize the moment but, to ensure that the photography-wise that moment is perfect, you need to have absorbed certain processes and have developed a "photographic eye".

The right way to position yourself in respect to the subject is the same way you’d do in front of a blank canvas so as to give the necessary attention to all the elements you are going to include, put in your framing and on set in order to understand the meaning of composition in photography.

My advice, at the beginning, is to focus on something and to photograph it repeatedly day after day: it could be a street view, for the instance; the goal is to absorb certain procedures so that they become almost automatic.

How to assess a photograph? There are both objective and subjective criteria. In assessing an individual photograph the subject, the composition, the light and the technique are important. Whereas when it comes to a photographic narrative, besides the above mentioned criteria, there needs to be no repetition, unless it is meaningful to the story; in addition, there needs to be narrative cohesion and the ability to tell a story.

Given that the images are assessed by human beings and not machines, there is also a series of subjective criteria that may prevail over the technical ones precisely because photography is a form of art which – luckily – has emancipated itself from being a mere representation of reality long time ago, hence our job is not to judge how a sunset truly resembles the real deal or how clear and precise a certain photograph is; there are many technically perfect shots which are flat, with no soul and that work only as a mere photographic reproduction of the subject.

It is transformation that makes a shot artistic, the variance between reality and the way it is portrayed: such variance is the added value and represents the photographer’s unique vision. A good photograph needs to have a soul, be open, not provide answers but rather trigger questions, it needs to intrigue, have several layers of meaning and not be dull, flat, banal or one-dimensional.

When “reading” an image, as well as when taking it, the cultural and visual baggage of both the viewer and the photographer plays a fundamental role because this is one of the elements that will, unconsciously, influence both the reviewer’s assessment of such image and the photographer’s approach to shooting it.

Like Instagram and social network, photography is now considered on par with a language although, if you consider it carefully, it is not quite like that: it is not quite a language but rather different types of languages according to who are those engaged in the dialogue and where they are; this applies to photography as it does with the different world languages, dialects, a formal and informal tone.  

Being more familiar with the subject of a photograph doesn’t make everyone an expert arbiter or a good photographer just as it is true that not everyone who knows how to write (in the most literal interpretation of the term) can be called a writer. Being able to judge a photograph means to truly know the history of photography, have knowledge of the masters and have studied, and not one photographic genre only because, given the current fusion of the different genres, being competent in only one would be limiting and ultimately not enough.

Some time ago I posted on my Instagram account a series of guidelines related to fashion photography; I had chosen fashion photography because this is the genre in which I’ve seen the most flagrant and gross errors, and not only in the images that are submitted to us on a daily basis on the Photo Vogue platform but also on many of the so called “fashion magazines” that all they achieve through their ill-crafted photographs is to belittle one of the most fascinating photographic genres, one that is ground-breaking and forerunner of innovation in photography generally speaking.

I believe that fashion photography is the most complex photographic genre, one in which being skilled photographers is not enough and, above all, it does not guarantee total control over the end result which depends on the model, the make-up and hair style, the set and the styling, all elements that a good fashion photographer needs to be able to guide or, at least, judge like a good film director.

Some of these guidelines can be applied to other photographic genres. I will list them below:

- Unless you know exactly and are fully confident in what you are doing, don’t go over the top. In all other cases, LESS IS MORE.

- The make-up and hair style of the model are fundamental.

- Accessories are equally paramount as they can make a photograph look incredible or completely spoil it: earrings, bracelets, necklaces, bags, glasses – consider each element that will feature in the image and ask yourself whether it improves or worsens the picture.

- If you don’t have access to a good stylist, opt for simplicity: again LESS IS MORE.

- If you do fashion photography, a good way to learn to assess whether the work of the stylist you are collaborating with is good is to observe and analyze the styling of the most prestigious international fashion magazines.

- Pay attention to any small detail appearing in your framing. Everything that is considered accidental in real life becomes intentional in a photograph.

- Assess the ability of your subject/model to move and, unless you are working with a professional who truly knows how to move in front of the camera, avoid over the top poses. With this regard, I’d recommend that you watched the artistic video Poses by artist Yolanda Dominguez.

- There is no one way only to shoot a fashion photograph: if, for instance, you are good at reportage, you should not revolutionize your style completely; a fusion of genres often produces the most exciting results.

- Strive to achieve an image with several layers: add levels to your framing. The co-existence of several critical points on the different focal planes – foreground, mid-ground, background – can make an image truly powerful.

- If you are working for a magazine, you need to be coherent and able to present a story comprising at least 8 images, all of which must be excellent. The pages of a magazine lend very well to story-telling. Treat your frames like movie stills.

- Get inspired from a wealth of sources: art, literature, social matters, films etc. Photography-wise, some directors of the 60’s and 70’s have become go-to references for their authorial style and the obsessive attention to details in each frame. I’m thinking about Godard, Antonioni, Kubrick, Bergamn or Fassbinder. Watching their movies is great training for the eyes. Spend hours, days and, generally, as much time as possible in specialized bookstores and museums browsing through magazines and sites which – as pointed before - publish articles and images by leading names in the sector.


- An excellent fashion photograph does not simply show the clothes that are to be advertised though it; remember that, after a couple of months, the merely retail value of a product dies away but images “emancipate” and can go down in history forever precisely because of the social, psychological and cultural zeitgeist they depict. Because they go beyond what they advertise and portray - “voice” – a world, a dream, an era and a vision.

 

di Alessia Glaviano

 

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