Photographer's FAQ: What makes a good photograph?

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.

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