A great photograph is one that fully expresses what one feels,
in the deepest sense, about what is being photographed.
-- Ansel Adams
Seeing and composing the beauty is what separates the photograph
from the snapshot.
-- Matt Hardy
About a year ago, a participant on one of my Road Scholar photo trips sent me a link to a T-shirt that said, "I don't shoot what it LOOKS like. I shoot what it FEELS like." I thought that was a great mantra, and I've been trying to be more mindful of that goal in my photography ever since. (And I bought the T-shirt, too!)
You can see what I mean from the pair of images above, made less than 30 seconds apart. I'll admit that the bottom image has "had some work done," but even without the post-processing the bottom image conveys a feeling of power that the top one just doesn't have.
In essence, it's the difference between documentation and interpretation. There's a place for both in the world of photography, and I do both, but increasingly I'm aiming for interpretation: what is the feeling I'm getting from the subject, and how can I convey that feeling visually?
Here are a few more examples.
This is North Window Arch in Arches National Park, in a standard tourist view (documentation) and a different view (interpretation) made five minutes apart:
Here's another pair of the same arch, also made five minutes apart, but on a different day when the light had died. Documentation versus interpretation:
Notice the difference?
Even something as ordinary as a house under construction can become something extraordinary. These two images were made less than a minute apart -- documentation versus interpretation:
And just for the fun of it, I got up in the middle of the night to shoot the same scene by the light of the full moon:
You get the idea: Don't just shoot what it looks like. Shoot what it feels like!