Tuesday, 2 August 2011

What makes a good photo? Part 1

I am always asked "What makes a good photo?"
Well this is subjective but I guess its something that has four key elements:
1. Composition (there are no hard fast rules these days, but you know when its right)
2. The subject is intruiging, interesting in an instant
3. You respond to emotionally (any emotion will do)
4. It holds your gaze & can be recalled from memory

There will always be things that are of no interest but that doesn't mean a picture cannot be recognised for its quality regardless. Here are two pictures, randomly chosen. Dear readers, I'm asking you "Are they good photos?"

Nothing more. I await your response & thoughts on the blog.

Remember, this is only Part 1, I may be playing devils advocate here but humour me.


  1. I'm no expert, but from a distance these are both good photographs. On enlarging them, I notice that the top photograph is curiously cropped from what looks to be an old framed photograph that is covered in glass. The subject is intriguing, holding the gaze etc, but I would question the compositon. The second photograph has aesthetically pleasing colours, yet both the background and foreground seem to be out of focus - I was curious to take a closer look and discovered this isn't a scene of rain, but of rays of sunlight. Emotionally it doesn't do much for me. Good? Not sure. Intresting exercise though - look forward to part 2!

  2. Interesting question, I've always struggled with the idea of what makes a good photograph, I believe the things you mentioned; composition, subject, response and gaze are not necessarily all the components needed for a good photograph. But I guess this would depend on why you're taking it and what you want it to portray.

    If the goal is to have a striking interesting photograph then yes, use these components.

    On the other hand I've done work and have loved work that may not be as striking in the first instance but has a elements that need to be interpreted which hold greater meaning. But then again, some people would see that as making a good photograph.

    To answer your question:

    Aesthetically, I would say the first image is a good photograph, it's engaging, and thought provoking and raises curiosity (I'm not sure if it would have the same response if it were a modern day photo thought). As for the second image, it doesn't portray much and is a generic image and appears to be taken on a camera phone. I might be wrong, the image may need to be in context to be appreciated, but I still feel contextual images need something to draw the viewer in.

  3. After colours and composition (aesthetics always strike me first) I look for what I call the "what the f**k?!" quality. Think Joel Sternfeld's elephant in the road. This is what holds me, and it's that question that makes me keep looking. My favourite photographs don't give everything away, they hold something back. It's that mystery that, when broken, can easily destroy my love for an image.

    But perhaps if every image contained this quality then my opinion would change due to sheer saturation.

    As Bear and Robot touched on, often the photograph's function can be imperative to define whether or not it is a 'good photograph'.

  4. Thanks for your comments, this could go on forever, I'd better get 'Part 2' on the go!

  5. Great exercise - I look forward to part two.

    For my two cents: The top image is the better of the two. It is engaging and aesthetically attractive as the angles of the ladder and arms work well together. I find myself wondering who the men in the photograph were and wanting to know their story.

    The second image does very little for me. The foliage in the foreground is distracting when it could have been used to make an interesting frame for the sky. The light is certainly beautiful and it must have been wonderful to see it first hand, but I don't think the photograph translates well.