Photographer's FAQ: What makes a good photograph?

December 10, 2013

I am often asked by my students a very simple and often overlooked question that I feel doesn't always get properly addressed in educational settings.

What makes a photograph successful?  Is my image any good?

Too often people can be caught up in the gadgets, gizmos and technical features of a camera.  Yes, technical knowledge and skill is a necessity in photography, but people often forget that it is both

science + art

It is one of the only industries that I feel melds both of these criteria so well.  We are scientists behind the camera, manipulating our technical tools, but we are also artists using the camera as a medium for creative expression and communication.  Therefor, in order to make a good photograph you much excel at both of these aspects to achieve your goals!

Now, that brings up another very important aspect of photography, what is your photographic goal?  Only when you can tell me what you were trying to achieve can I provide critical feedback to help answer the question of whether your photograph is "good" or not.  We often forget how incredibly subjective photography is.  There are photorealists who look to document the world around them.  There are abstract and impressionist photographers who look to blur the world and leave only the impressions of a subject and the lingering effects of an emotion.

"Good" is so hard to answer unless you have defined your goals for your imagery.  Were you trying to capture the entire scene in a well balanced composition with deep depth of field?  Were you trying to capture a creative portrait that accurately reflected your subject's personality through emotive posture and untraditional lighting?  Were you trying to create a dynamic and creative image of an ordinary object or achieve a new creative technique like water panning or light painting?  If you have answered those questions, well then I can tell you, as a viewer, whether I think your image is successful.

And in all of these questions you ask of the viewer, don't forget to formulate your own opinions about your work.  Do you think it was a success?  Are you satisfied or are you already planning your reshoot?

There will always be an element of subjectiveness in photography because, in it's essence, it is also an art.  The technical successes will be easier to spot, but in the end, what do you think about your shot?

All I can say is practice makes perfect and feedback is just as good as a heavy dose of reflection.

Leave a comment

Comments will be approved before showing up.

Also in Photography Journal

Warm Getaways
Warm Getaways

February 10, 2020

I had been eagerly awaiting this winter season.  Here in New England, the winter months can be rather frigid, but for those of us who don’t mind the exhaustive work of climbing into 6 mil wetsuits or ice-cream-headache cold waters, it’s the eagerly anticipated winter months that bring the biggest swells.  We had snow before the New Year and water temps quickly started approaching 40°F.  But in typical fashion, as soon as the long awaited winter months arrived, I was craving a break from the cold gray in favor of a warm water reprieve.  

Read More

Board Portraits // Experiments
Board Portraits // Experiments

April 30, 2019

I've been wanting to shoot more portraits lately, but in combination with the surf community that I've been so involved with the past year.  My good friend, Kevin Tanner, behind Soudnings Surf Co creates some gorgeous handcrafted boards.  He does all his own shaping, resin work, and glassing, and I wanted to photograph some beautiful boards to highlight his craftsmanship as well as portraits of my friends who ride them.  I decided to do board portraits. 

Read More

Snowy Surf Sessions
Snowy Surf Sessions

March 26, 2019

A lot of us enjoy the warm weather, but a select few of us still enjoy (or perhaps tolerate) the cold weather.  And nothing quite says winter like a fresh snowfall!  On the rare occasion Rhode Island experiences more than one inch of snow while there's swell in the water, you can find a select few of dedicated riders on the shore eager to have a snow session.  

Read More