A photographer asked me, “What is a Good Photograph?”

A photographer asked , “What is a good photograph, and how do I take it?”  That was two good questions I received from a young photographer in my shop last week. The “how to” part was the easiest answer and I talked about taking some classes. However, the response to the first question wasn’t as simple an answer.  I suggested that a good photograph includes proper composition, exposure, and an interesting perspective, but that was, again all “how to” stuff. That question and the discussion that followed was so very much like what I wrote about in  post I made in September of last year, I wrote the following at that time and hope I won’t  bore those that already read it.

A good photograph is one that makes us have a connection with, or think about, the subject.  Or, it could help us understand what the photographer feels about that subject; and can, if successful, evoke some kind of mood, whether good or bad.

When I see a photograph that I like, because of my nature and because I have been studying photography and other photographers for years, I begin dissecting it and try to figure out how the photographer made it.  When the photograph is good I am aware that the photographer had an understanding of the equipment and the subject he or she used to make the picture.  However, I sometimes have to stop myself from doing all of that and just enjoy the photograph.

As I mused about the question of a good photograph I thought it might be of interest to include quotes from some of the great photographers.  On the subject of a great photograph Ansel Adams said, “A great photograph is one that fully expresses what one feels, in the deepest sense, about what is being photographed.”  He continues,  “There are no rules for good photographs, there are only good photographs.”  And then he says, “Simply look with perceptive eyes at the world about you, and trust to your own reactions and convictions.  Ask yourself: “Does this subject move me to feel, think and dream? Can I visualize a print – my own personal statement of what I feel and want to convey – from the subject before me?” “

I also like his short quips,  “You don’t take a photograph, you make it.”  And “A good photograph is knowing where to stand.”  Then he reminds us, “There are always two people in every picture: the photographer and the viewer.”

The famous photographer, Elliott Porter, maker of spectacular scenic colour images, commented, “You learn to see by practice.  It’s just like playing tennis; you get better the more you play. The more you look around at things, the more you see.  The more you photograph, the more you realize what can be photographed and what can’t be photographed.  You just have to keep doing it.”

Irving Penn, known for his editorial photographs in Vogue magazine, stated, “A good photograph is one that communicates a fact, touches the heart and leaves the viewer a changed person for having seen it.  It is, in a word, effective” and in a lighter mood he said, “Photographing a cake can be art.”

I read the words of these famous photographers and think how each one has inspired me to work harder at making photographs that go beyond just a documentary of a particular subject.  I do extend my knowledge with continual viewing of other photographer’s images, and by reading, taking classes and practice.

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