The Art of Photography

Warning: This is a heavy photo post so slow computers may take extra time to load everything. It’s under a cut to help as much as possible. All photos by Editor Joseph Benavidez

Buck Off publishes more than just poems and short prose. We love photography and art too. Only some of you think a blurry photo of ugly building counts as art. Spoiler alert: it doesn’t.

Below are a few examples of my photography that I consider publishable art. And to be fair, I’ve included shots that are not magazine worthy. Hopefully, you can learn from my mistakes and will submit your own masterpieces.

Contrast of Light

First, let’s talk about form. Photography literally means measuring light, so the photos you submit should play with shadows, but not be too dark or too bright (which is called overexposure). Here’s a photo I took that has just the right amount of light.

Glassblowing often requires a blowtorch. Yeah, I play with fire as a hobby.

As you can see, the background is shadowed to emphasize the blowtorch and the heated glass (this piece was eventually shaped into a vase). In the upper left section, the area that is not the metal is brighter to create a contrast with the pole. By having the pole stand out, it leads back to what makes this photo fun: the fire.

This photo grabs attention because there is a clear subject – which is highlighted by making distracting objects, such as the bucket, less visually enticing. Viewers see the fire first and foremost.

I'm not on a ladder. I'm naturally that tall.
I’m not on a ladder. I’m naturally this tall.

Now, this photo (selfie to the right) is overexposed. The camera was angled in such a way to capture more sun than sky. My head and part of my face is washed out. Additionally, the parking lot behind and below has become a white slab of detail-less nothingness. What makes this worse, are the tints of blue in the upper right and the just detailed-enough-to-be-distracting building in the lower right. Despite my sexy smile, this photo would be rejected instantly.


While contrast of light is important, subject is just as important. Photography tells a story. Don’t submit perfectly lit photos of boring things. No one wants to see an empty bed and I don’t give a fuck about a random building. Instead, send me a shot of a man sleeping in a rumpled bed. Show me the emptiness that surrounds him. Or a couple with their backs to each other, the tension visible. Even better, show me a couple huddled close, room so bleak I realize their love is the only thing keeping them going.

For buildings, I want to know the story of the place. If it’s a church, show the white chapel gleaming at the top, beckoning all to attend. Are the doors open? Or has the building closed for the day and all the weary travelers must find shelter elsewhere.

Maybe it's good that travelers need to continue traveling.
Maybe it’s good that travelers need to continue traveling.

This photo (to the left) tells a story with just a glance. Clearly something happened and this barn(?) did not survive the trauma. Maybe the owners had to flee in the middle of the night. Maybe they died and no one bought the property in time to save the slowly decaying building.

I don’t know for sure, but something happened here. And that spark of curiosity is enough to have this photo pass that first round of screening.

The story of this photo is that it was a mistake.
The story of this photo is that it was a mistake.

Now to the photo on the right. The composition is wonderful. There’s light at the top but a darkness in the lower half, which can really make a viewer hone in on the subject. But what’s the subject here? Is it the boring river? Is it the buildings in the far background that are not fully visible? Maybe is the factory to the right… at least part of the factory to the right.

Also, what’s up with this angle? Was I falling into the river and decided on one last shot? At first glance, my questions are not born from curiosity but from the bitchy core of my body that modern science says is my heart. This is the kind of photo that my fellow photographers and I send to each other as a reminder that someone out there is worse than us.

Pop Quiz

There are many, many more factors to great photography but to keep this post short (ha!), I’ll stop here. below are a few more photos. Some are worthy of Buck Off. Some deserve a swift journey to a digital dumpster. It’s your task to decide which and comment below on how well you did.

Chris Wedding










#1 – No. It’s a picture of the floor.

#2 – Yes. It’s a little dark, but the way the subject is presented is interesting.

#3 – No. The subject is interesting, but it’s too dark and blurry.

#4 – Yes. Perfect amount of brightness with the deep blues really make you look at the model. Her expression is great too; it makes you stop and think about who she could be.

#5 – Yes. A woman in a wedding dress tells a story and the way her dress shines makes me think of fairy tales and happily ever afters.

#6 – No. While I love cat photos, this is too blurry, too bland of a pose. Let’s see that kitty attacking, yawning, napping. Anything except sitting there looking at the camera.

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