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Images, Graphic Design, and Digital Photography Discussion of all things graphics.

What makes a good photograph?


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Odin_aa

 
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Ok, so with TS's Fens post a discussion was kind of started about what makes a good photograph. This is all of course subjective to the photographer and also to the viewer of the image, but the discussion can be fun.

Feel free to add to this list, or make your own...

1. Sharp focus. The subject has got to be sharp, generally the entire subject but if it has eyes then in particular the eyes must be tack sharp. Using a shallow depth of field to bring attention to a subject is a great tool, but be sure the subject is in focus.

2. Correct Colors. Your white balance should be correct, that does not mean that every shot should look as though it was taken in afternoon sunlight, color casts are a natural event however over saturation or poor white balance can have a huge effect on an image.

3. Strong subject. For most images, you should be able to hold the negative/slide up to light at arms length and be able to make out the subject. Again, this is a general rule and there are exceptions...and for those who do not know "Negatives" and "Slides" are what you get from film cameras.

3. Good Composition. This is that "Rule of Thirds" you have more than likely heard of. What that is basically suggesting too you is that your subject is not placed in the center of frame. If you have a subject with eyes, give them room in the direction they are looking...If your shooting a landscape use the leading edges of roads/streams/hills to draw the eye to the subject but have the subject uncentered.

4. Unique. Plain and simple, if you are able to get most of the above and also get a photograph that is something not seen all the time it immediately gets brownie points. A shot of a warbler for instance is tough to get, but many many people get shots (good stationary shots) of warblers. You get a good sharp shot of a warbler in flight catching an insect...then you have an excellent shot.

So, what would you add to this list or discussion?

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1. If the photo triggers an emotion.

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I second Surf's opinion.

A photographer can do everything right technically and still produce a picture that falls flat to my eyes.

The picture has to touch me on a level that transcends its technical qualities.
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Odin_aa

 
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Quote:
Originally Posted by surfwax95 View Post
1. If the photo triggers an emotion.
Great point.

"Awe, thats so cute"
"Ewe, disgusting"
"Owe, that hurt"
"Wow, that is so beautiful"

Other emotional responses come from simply being the parent of a child, images of your child will be more attractive to you as the parent than to someone who does not know the child. A very good image of a kid will hit people who do not know the child on an emotional level.

Photographs of someones childhood area will also 'hit home' so to speak. Recently some images of bluebells had some people I know who grew up in England and Scottland areas a bit home sick.

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Odin_aa

 
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Distractions ...I forgot that point.

Distracting items in the photograph can take what could be a very good shot and make it mediocre to poor.

Many things can be distracting, some more than others. Bright areas in photographs will naturally draw your eye too them. Competing subject matter can be a big issue for some images. Out of focus objects either in front of or merging with your subject...

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Me behind the camera.

I think the emotion response is the best as all of the rules that odin posted can be broken and still make a good photograph. There's a flickr group of people that put their cameras on the timer and set for a second or so shutter speed and throw up while spinning them, to get some kind of spinning effect. Basically there's no focus, no real subject, no adherence to the rule of 3rds, nothing much technically to it, but some of the photos (note: some) turn out amazing.

I think it really has to be broken down into two categories. "What technically makes a good photograph" and "What makes a good photograph to you?"

There was a thread by the member "Fear Drops" on the canon digital photography forums (any one tired of me referencing this place yet?) where he did a series of shots about how alcohol is evil and any and all alcohol leads to a person's down fall. He's like 17-19 and a lot of the images were his friends covered in fake blood and looking like zombies while waving around a corona bottle and a jack daniels bottle. The photography was awesome. It was technically great, but the subject itself and the message and mentality behind it really put a lot of people off, including me. Plus it looked more like an ad for zombies and alcohol rather than an anti alcohol series.

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Depends on what the image is being used for. This is a lot like asking what makes a great guitar solo.

As a pro I'd say what make a great photograph is...... whether I get paid for it or not.

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Nice thread, it made me think. You could even say it provoked an emotional response!
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These are just a curmudgeon's thoughts on what makes a good picture in general and for a beginner considering photography as an advanced hobby or as a career, together with the criticism that comes with it, and whether such citicism is prompted by you because you want to learn, or it's thrown in your face, without even a by-your-leave.

A good photo can be what people say is a good photo, whether it is or not, and as is the case with a lot of products, "good" can depend on name recognition. This, in turn, depends on promotion and self-promotion. P.T. Barnum's methods have worked well for Microsoft, for one. As most here would agree, a ton of MS's stuff is awful no matter how or how much MS flogs it. But self-promotion is for the good, too, and it starts at home with something perhaps as basic as a well-designed web page.

I know a photo editor who contends that Yousuf Karsh was successful more as a self-promoter than a photographer, that he was a windbag but only a run-of-the-mill "lensman," whose famous prints of famous people are littered with hot spots, among other failings. He points these out with ease, and there's no denying that if Karsh's name wasn't attached to those particular prints, they would not receive the recognition they do. These are not examples of knowing when to break the rules. They are simply bad. But he gets a free ride while you might not. (This epiphany for me hit when I had remarked, "Who do you think you are, Karsh?" He had answered, I hope not!")

I don't agree with everything he claims of Karsh. But how many people would be *gasp* critical *gasp* of the legendary Karsh, who helped immortalize the great and the rich and the famous for being famous?

A beginner whose faults are pointed out time and time again should remember that a pro photographer's bad pix (and especially if the critic is a photog) never see the light of day — if that photo editor's opinion of Karsh is discounted. Those pictures are destroyed, with even the memory that they once existed expunged. I'd love to see some of Ansel Adams' turkeys, and there'd be plenty.

Amnesia wasn't new to photography, and certainly not even to an artist's paintings (Turner's "pink steam" comes to mind.) And who would know if Michelangelo's David was his third attempt after he had sculpted Bill with two left feet, then Fred with a quartz carbuncle on the end of his nose? It's worth remembering the next time a picture of which you are proud is shot down by the critics. (The fly in the ointment, though, is that the critics might be right.)

Fads that make a picture good or great play a role, too, as does the general philosophy or psychology of the times. And like everyone else, a critic is a prisoner of the times in which he or she lives, and a picture can't be deemed good without critics, paid or a member of the unwashed masses.

A "great" photograph that caught the critics' and the public's fancy 50 or 60 or more years ago might be laughable today — and may have been as laughable then had the photo existed in its own little bubble. But the circumstances — the politics and the reigning political correctness — that were part and parcel of the photograph obscured the reality, as they do now. They always will.

Consider the era of heroic, now-farcical poses of "heroes" struck for an admiring public or by the head of a household in a pic meant only for his family. Or pics of hale and hearty fatcats, each with a giant, steaming stogie, celebrating at a banquet their group's success at raising funds for the starving. Or a painstaking and expensive picture of John L. Sullivan, bare knuckles raised in front of a handlebar moustache — and standing in his underwear. And each print is proudly signed by the photog. It's easy to laugh (and I do), but wait 20 or 50 or 100 years, because whatever makes a photo good or great now, as then, can be as ephemeral as fashion.

None of this denies the foundations of good photography that are so well documented by the posters above and in another thread, and any aspiring photographer would be foolish to ignore them. I just wanted to mention all this about what might help or hinder making a photo good, and about photographs that might fall under a microscope, because I found it worth while to keep in mind. Someone else might, too.
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There's quite a few photographic luminaries that are accused of having "soft" work.
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i would mostly agree with Odin, and completely with surfwax.

i think intentionally, or even accidentally blowing the focus or color, or even lighting on some photos actually makes them more interesting. i'd say most specifically the eye note of Odin's is the weakest. sometimes very shallow depth of field in a closeup with the focus on something besides the eyes, that is, if the subject is not engaging the camera, can be very interesting.

i'd say for sure, other than that intangible emotional response, composition and lighting are far more important than anything else. focus, color, etc all have their time and place, and for the most part, technically accurate work will enhance a photo.

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Quote:
Originally Posted by Brown Study View Post
A beginner whose faults are pointed out time and time again should remember that a pro photographer's bad pix (and especially if the critic is a photog) never see the light of day if that photo editor's opinion of Karsh is discounted. Those pictures are destroyed, with even the memory that they once existed expunged. I'd love to see some of Ansel Adams' turkeys, and there'd be plenty.
You are only as good as the work you 'put out', if you only show your best work that is all people will have to go by. A friend on a photo forum once made the statement "Your only as good as the last photo you posted" which rings very true in a community like this.

Brown also eludes to the fact that professional photographers (and lets say advanced amateurs or advanced photographers as well) do not take perfect shots every time...very true, however these have an idea of what makes a good image and decide which shots to show the world or their clients. Thats the editing portion, we are speaking purely on the exposure portion of photography. Focus gets missed, exposures get blown...but they hit the waste basket when previewing the shots.

Photo enthusiasts should strive to get the best exposure possible when taking the shot. "Hows the composition, do I want that pole coming out of her head or should I ask her to move 8" to the right".."Oh look, at f/4 my entire subject may not be in focus...let me check that". I am trying to simply generate thought before and during the exposure.

Someone showed me a shot today that was of a gravestone or monument of some sort. It had a few things that generally do not appeal to ME in photographs, however I found this particular shot very pleasant to look at. There are no steadfast rules, only guides which the better you hone your skills at the basics the more you will find you can break these guides and still walk away with an image that both you as the photographer are happy with and others like when they look at it as well.

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Quote:
Originally Posted by Odin_aa View Post
You are only as good as the work you 'put out', if you only show your best work that is all people will have to go by. A friend on a photo forum once made the statement "Your only as good as the last photo you posted" which rings very true in a community like this.

Brown also eludes to the fact that professional photographers (and lets say advanced amateurs or advanced photographers as well) do not take perfect shots every time...very true, however these have an idea of what makes a good image and decide which shots to show the world or their clients. Thats the editing portion, we are speaking purely on the exposure portion of photography. Focus gets missed, exposures get blown...but they hit the waste basket when previewing the shots.

Photo enthusiasts should strive to get the best exposure possible when taking the shot. "Hows the composition, do I want that pole coming out of her head or should I ask her to move 8" to the right".."Oh look, at f/4 my entire subject may not be in focus...let me check that". I am trying to simply generate thought before and during the exposure.

Someone showed me a shot today that was of a gravestone or monument of some sort. It had a few things that generally do not appeal to ME in photographs, however I found this particular shot very pleasant to look at. There are no steadfast rules, only guides which the better you hone your skills at the basics the more you will find you can break these guides and still walk away with an image that both you as the photographer are happy with and others like when they look at it as well.
Well sport photography, concert photography, certain low light situations, and a few other situations usually require burst mode to get a one good shot out of a couple. Some times when I shoot certain events I end up with 100-200 photos from about an hour with about 1/5th of them being usable.

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for me its all about LIGHTING
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I think any image that invokes an emotional reaction in people is one that I would consider 'good'.

I think the hard part is gauging whether an image is going to effect others, or whether the image only has an emotional connection for you as the photographer, because you experienced whatever setting you're taking a picture of.
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