Image of the year

This image was voted Image of the Year by a jury appointed by our local photo club, where it had previously won one of our monthly competitions. In its comments, the jury said this was a classic example of composition with a foreground, a diagonal and a background. They also liked the line of the road leading up to the church. (They could also have mentioned the golden rule or the rule of thirds, but they didn’t. You can read more about that rule here).

It is quite common for photo club jurors to concentrate on what an image looks like rather than on the message it sends. They are often more interested in technical details like cropping, contrast, composition, etc. Therefore, I was not surprised when the comments did not mention anything about the content of the image.

To me, my immediate reaction to an image is more important than any technical details. Don’t misunderstand me – technique is important, but as photographers we should take it for granted. Having a feel for cropping and composition, being able to adjust colours and shades, brightening up shadows and holding back highlights, mastering contrast – all that is something that a photographer must be able to do almost unconsciously.

But an image is there to convey a message, evoke feelings or even cause a reaction. Technique should only be used to facilitate that. My image of some people in a rural setting walking towards a church on a hill suggests peace and quiet and perhaps even evokes a feeling of nostalgia. The image might bring back memories of going – or actually walking – to church in our childhood.

We may think about the church between trees on a hilltop, surrounded by fields, and how it dominates the landscape. And we remember other churches on hilltops or mountain peaks – a common sight in mountainous countries like Slovenia, where I took this image.

Are there really no houses nearby? Do people have to walk far to get to their church? And the lonely man in the foreground – what might he be thinking? And why is he alone?

Having taken the photo, I naturally know more than the average viewer of the image. To me, this image brings back a lot of memories from that day. The church was full of people. The priest gave an interesting sermon, during which he invited children to come up and look at his pilgrim’s staff, which he uses when hiking in the alps. Some of us in the congregation are happy to be his companions in those walks.

After mass, there was a general get-together on the church green with lots of food and drink, chatting and singing. I learnt that this happens once a year and is an old tradition.

All this is not shown in the image, nor does the image show the parked cars that are hidden behind the nearest hill where the road makes a downward turn. It also does not show the farm where we were invited to coffee and biscuits a little later in the afternoon.

As a photographer, I must be aware that others don’t know all about the occasion when I took the image. This is a common situation; we have taken photos of our children or pets, or we have recorded an especially pleasant moment during a vacation, and so we have warm feelings about the photos and think they are fantastic. So when others, who don’t have that background knowledge, still think an image is good, it must be just that.

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