What Makes a Good Photograph?

One of my favourite things to do is watch people. I like to observe them, inspect and sometimes, on the rare occasion, even listen to them (that said in a very tongue and cheek manner). One of the things I like to get is opinions; we are always entitled to them and I am always interested in getting other views on things.

What I find most interesting is people’s opinions on photography. What is photography? We all have opinions on what makes a good photograph and what makes a bad one. Some think if the subject is not dead centre, that is a no-no, others believe in the infamous “Rule of Thirds”, others like bold colours, some like no colour, the criteria is endless. The trends also seem to change quite frequently and with that the criteria does too.

So this is my opinion. It is subjective. It is someone’s art form and there is something out there for everyone. I don’t think anyone should put anyone else’s work down (unless asked for an opinion, and in that case honesty works best). It is an expression of how they see the world, it is an interpretation and for many, it is a memory, it is something that someone can look back at after years and it can spark emotion, a smile, a tear or just a warm feeling. We should encourage those with talent to see where it can go. Criticism is awesome if constructive and for me, tips are always welcome. I look up to some photographers and when I look at their photographs, I just want to go out there and see how I can improve on my own style.

I am also of the opinion that you can make pictures out of anything. I believe the rules are there to be broken. I like headless people, images of limbs and shadows and I like a good sun flair. I want the image to start creating a story in the viewer’s head about what it is; who is in the image, why does it look like that? I like it off centre, and sometimes I like colour and sometimes I don’t, it all depends on how I feel while taking the photograph and, of course, how I feel during processing.

One of the reasons I won’t join any photographic club is because I don’t want to have people critique my work without understanding the background and I don’t want to be restricted to a theme. With that said, I do see the benefits for those wanting to achieve technical perfection and for those who want to learn from others who share the same photographic passion. For me personally, it would serve no purpose. My portfolio is not made up of technical masterpieces, but rather images that, when I look at them, cause a rumble in my soul (or in my stomach because a lot of it is food).

My wish is for those who have a passion to pursue it, to go out there and make the most of it and have fun while doing it. There will always be those that don’t like your work and then there will be those that do. If there are those who like to critique, make sure the criticism is constructive. Offer alternatives and ideas.

Till next time, happy snapping.

13 thoughts on “What Makes a Good Photograph?”

  1. I agree with you, Tristan. There are 2 parts to it. I don’t enter my images in competitions, I have just seen the sad faces of those who have had their images ripped to pieces with commentry. But at the end of the day, as you say, where do you draw the line. You need the common ground, and those are the rules. And if you are cannot take the criticism, then perhaps don’t enter the images. That is pretty clear cut I guess.

    I do believe you need to know the basics and the rules in order to get it all together to create a masterpiece! 🙂

    Interesting comments and a very interesting debate you opened up here.

    • I can’t take all the credit for the debate 🙂 I just think it is important for people to know who they want to please and then what it takes to please them. I am not one who believes people should be nasty when the critique and yet be aware as you say that when you open yourself up to be critiqued you are ready to take the feed back because so much of photography is subjective or at least it should be. Hence I think, many clubs etc treat the so called rules as almost unbreakable laws… the more I debate this in my head the more confusing it gets. Am I even making sense any more 🙂

  2. I like the conversation that this topic is creating and before I beging playing Devil’s advocate here, please understand that I agree with much of what Candice has written here, that said I do need to look at it from the other side of the coin.

    Having been asked to judge a few competitions over and above the ones we run here at PhotoCommment and also having sat in on judging for awards like the Sony Profoto Awards over two years, I have realised that this issue is not as clear cut as it may seem. For example, we all have differing views of the world and what appeals to one may not appeal to another, so how – particularly when you have a group of judges, do you come to common ground? Juding photographs on the so called rules of photography provides a common standard where all images are treated equally. At the same time, you could land up with a lot of similar looking images. Where do you draw the line?

    Likewise, while it would be great to give a photographer a chance to explain his creative process or reasoning you cannot always be there to “defend”(for want of a better word perhaps) you image against the likes and dislikes of other people. The image should stand its ground on its own which brings us to the point of who are you shooting for?

    If you are shooting for yourself then ‘to your own self be true’. If you are wanting to win Gold at a club then shoot to what they want. If you are shooting for an agency then 99% of the time you will not get paid if it does not meet the brief. Not to be harsh but there are very few photographers who are given complete creative freedom in the world, but perhpas the problem there in lies with the fact that so many photographers are trying to shoot like somebody else and not as themselves… Starting to think this comment could be an article all of its own.

      • As I say, just playing devil’s advocate on this one but hopefully it provides some insights from the other side of the coin. At the end of the day, I don’t like to pass judgement on an image right away, though you know what they say about first impressions. I will admit that I enjoy an image which makes me scratch my head a little and ask why or what actually is it etc.

  3. This should be the photographer’s creed….. totally agree with your comments; thought I was the only one who preferred my own company when out shooting.

  4. I totally agree with you. If an image has a “Wow” factor, many viewers automatically say “Has that been Photoshopped?” Many have never used or even know about Ps, Pse, or the many other image software programs out there, but have somehow got the idea that if an image looks too good to be true, it must have somehow been manipulated beyond all reasonable standards to look like that. Forget about the fact that the photographer got out of bed at 04:00 in the middle of winter and went and sat freezing to death waiting for the rising sun to be just right before clicking the shutter release. It is a matter of the artist’s interpretation of the scene. The same scene painted by van Gogh, and then by Salvador Dali would be vastly different. The image is made as the artist wants it to be.

  5. I agree, I felt like this about art at school and was kicked out so needed to take up something else 🙂 The thing is that we do need technique etc etc but I honestly look at art/photography/design/music/poetry as a vision and “love it or hate it” someone will find the true gift in what YOU have seen.

    There is most certainly a place for camera clubs, in terms of taking a shot that is not sharp or over exposed or under exposed all the things that people might battle with. However composition and subject should be for the artist and the beholder.

  6. It’s like you read my mind. Have been having the exact same debate with myself – even blogged about it yesterday on my (cobweb)blog..

    The whole distinction between what is a good image and what is a technically perfect image is blurred for me.
    Often people see who the photographer was and then decide if an image is good or not. The camera club may be helpful in terms of developing technical excellence. But I think they stifle art and creativity.

    • I have resigned from camera club for the very same reason. All the salons, the same judges. Put up a nude shot and the club members freek out. I believe if you are a club photographer you need 3 hats. One for club, one for your self and one for making money with your camera.

      • Agree completely Peter. Never tried to submit a nude shot though 🙂
        If you were allowed some time to explain your creative process it would be worthwhile.. but alas, title only.
        Salons are a money making scam as far as I am concerned.
        Still, I do worry about making excellent tecnhical images and that’s why I’ll stick with the clubs for the moment. But you are correct about the 3 hats. Pity I believe my best images are the ones that wouldn’t do well in the club….

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