I just ran a student project on tilt-shift photography which is a really interesting visual illusion of scale discovered by photographers, by accident, and hardly studied by scientists (until now!). It makes normal things look tiny. You can find out more and make your own fake minatures http://tiltshiftmaker.com/
We think (but noone else knows yet, because we only just finished the experiment) that it may have something to do with the way the eye normally focusses on tiny things near to you.
The handsome photo you see on my profile was taken very recently by a pro photographer who visited the University. I got chatting to him about it, and said that since I began to look at the tilt-shift illusion I’d begun to look more at the background of images, and how they were blurred etc. He said that choosing the background (and how it will appear in the image) was the key to good photography, as most people are able to point a camera at an interesting subject and press a button. That makes sense to me, so perhaps you are already doing this in your photography. I don’t know if photographic skills have been investigated scientifically.
Stephen may have something to say about this, because I recently saw a beautiful picture of the moon he’d taken with his telescope. If you take a picture of the moon with a normal camera, it looks tiny. When we see the moon, we typically have the impression that it is much bigger than it really is. I think that photography has a lot to do with creating images which play to and exploit our brains’ visual biases.
In my opinion, good photography depends very much on having an eye for composition – a skilled photographer can conjure an evocative picture from even the most dismal of scenes.
I’m really not sure where it comes from. I think some of the elements of good composition can be taught (e.g. to have a point of interest on the intersection of horizontal and vertical lines that divide the image in 3) but I bet that the most creative people are those who know how to break these rules in imaginative ways!
I went to a great exhibition about photographing motion earlier this year and wrote a blogpost about it. It was a very interesting mix of science and art.
I think the most awesome fact about photography is that despite the incredible technology, there are still some people who can take pictures better than others – its partly technique, but some have ‘the eye’ ! My advice is seek out the best and look at their photos a lot to see if you can work out how they do it! (try Ansel Adams, Bill Brandt and the early french ones…)