What Makes a Good Photograph?

Often you look at a photograph, and like it. Other times, you don’t. The photograph just doesn’t work. Perhaps there is no point of interest. Perhaps there is too much clutter or distracting details.  Perhaps the image is out of focus. Perhaps the image needs to be cropped.

Other times, the photograph is technical sound, but you still don’t like it. Why? More than likely, the photograph is a cliché, which means that it has been taken so many times from the same viewpoint that it has lost its appeal. Essentially, the “clichéd photo is a simplified reproduction of a popular idea or image; it’s a poor copy, an imitation,” according to Torsten Hoffman who wrote “The Art of Black and White Photography.”

And so, how do you go about capturing good photographs? According to Michael Freeman, who wrote “The Photographer’s Vision”, a good photograph includes the following:

  1. The photograph is skillfully crafted. The photographer sets up a good composition, selects the best lens aperture and  shutter speed, then captures the image.  To improve the image, the photographer edits and enhances it using the digital darkroom tools of Lightroom or Photoshop.
  2. The photograph provokes a reaction. A photographer wants the image to be looked at, paid attention to, talked about. And so, the clichéd image should be avoided.
  3. The image has more than one layer of experience. In other words, there is the image, which represents reality, and then there is another layer of meaning or experience. For instance, the portrait represents a particular person or persons. But what are they thinking? What is the revealed emotion?
  4. It considers the context within photography. What sorts of other images have been shot? Does your photograph represent something different? Is it the same as other shots taken by photographers?
  5. The photograph should represent some idea. Beauty? Revulsion? Joy? despair? The elements of art, such as line, shape, colour, context can help to reveal meaning.
  6. The image should be original, and not imitate other art forms, or other photographs. And yet, many photographers obtain their ideas from other art forms, such as painting, sculpture, photographs. This also means that the photograph should not be a cliché.