Making Images With Impact: Part One

Boy at a temple in Began, Myanmar by Rick Sammon.

20 Feb Making Images With Impact: Part One

The Photographic Exhibitions Committee of the Professional Photographers Association (PPA) provides 12 guidelines for judging a photograph – so photographers entering a print competition know what the judges will consider a good photograph.

Those guidelines for a good photograph include, in this order: Impact, Creativity, Style, Composition, Print Presentation, Center of Interest, Lighting, Subject Matter, Color Balance, Technical Excellence, Technique and Storytelling.

Well my friend, “good” in any field of art or interest is subjective.

I stress the word “good” when it comes to making Images with Impact because you, and some members of the PPA, may not feel that all these images have impact. That’s okay. They have impact for me, which is only important from the standpoint that the important thing is that your images have impact for you.

Surreal icescape

Photo by Rick Sammon.

I present these ideas on making images with impact with one-word topics that you may want to consider when you are making pictures in the field and processing your images. In addition, you may want to give yourself a self-assignment for each of these ideas: Try to make images with impact that illustrate only one of these topics a day or over a weekend. This exercise will help you focus your creative eye.

The opening image for this column has impact, I feel, because it has several of the impact-making elements: first and foremost, an interesting main subject, which to me looks like a beautiful ice carving of a horse’s head; a spectacular location, a glacier bay in Alaska; strong colors and contrast and good depth-of-field.

In reading the following suggestions on making images with impact, keep in mind that the more impact-making elements you include in your photograph, the more impact that photograph may have for you and perhaps others.


Rick Sammon Glaciers in Iceland

Photo by Rick Sammon.

The mood of a scene, often created by lighting, can evoke an emotional response – an image with impact. When I took this picture in one of the glacier lagoons on a trip to Iceland, I, and two of the other photographers in our Zodiac (inflatable boat) had tears in their eyes. We were overcome with the beauty of the scene, which I know is hard for you to relate to when looing at this relatively small picture on this flat page or screen.

The overcast day, the calm water and the dramatic ice formations all added to the impact of this scene and image.

Getting back to the small image on this page/screen, here’s a photo expression I once heard: If you can’t make a good print, make a big print. Yes, bigger prints can have more impact than small prints, but you still need a “good” image.


sunset over the water. rick sammon.

Photo by Rick Sammon

Contrast can draw our attention to a scene – and to a photograph. Contrast is also important in other areas of creativity. In music, it is the contrast, the difference between the volumes of the different instruments that makes for an interesting composition. In cooking, it’s the different tastes that make a dish interesting, such as with sweet and sour pork.


bridge in mandalay myanmar by Rick Sammon

Photo by Rick Sammon

Strong colors in a scene can help to create images with impact. That is one reason why we like sunrise and sunset image. My wife and I got up early one morning to capture the colors of sunrise behind the U Bein Bridge (the longest teak bridge in the world) in Mandalay, Myanmar. Shortly after sunrise, the colorful sky turned pale blue.


Surreal ice formations by Rick Sammon.

Photo by Rick Sammon.

Reflections, or mirror images, draw our interest and have impact, especially when the water is very calm . . . the calmer the better.

I took this photograph in Iceland with the idea of capturing the full reflection of this floating piece of ice.

When composing reflection, it’s okay to place the horizon line in the center of the frame, which is not usually a good idea in scenic photography.


Cowboy at sunset by Rick Sammon.

Photo by Rick Sammon.

Silhouettes can have impact not only because of strong contrast, but we find ourselves looking into the shadows to see what is there. We create a sense of mystery by not showing all the details. This is one of my favorite images from a workshop I was leading in Spearfish, South Dakota.

When taking silhouette photographs, it is especially important to exposure for the highlights – the brightest part of the scene (the rising sun in this situation). If the highlights are more than one stop overexposed, it is difficult to recover them in Photoshop and Lightroom. Activate your camera’s highlight alert feature and make sure you have no “blinkies,” the warning for overexposed highlights. Also check your histogram, your in-camera light meter.


Boy at a temple in Began, Myanmar by Rick Sammon.

Photo by Rick Sammon

Never underestimate the importance of an interesting subject. Yes, that is subjective, too, but usually an interesting subject is one that draws our attention as we ask, “What’s going on in the scene and how did the photographer make the photograph. I made this photograph in one of the 3,000 temples in Bagan, Myanmar. We brought the candles to the site and we arranged to have hired the novice monk, who had the blessing of the head monk at the local Buddhist monastery, come to the temple and work with us on the photograph



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Rick Sammon
Rick Sammon is our regular and intrepid photo columnist here on Adventure Collection. To see more of his work, and to learn about his photography workshops, check out his web site:
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