What is a Good Photograph?

Just what defines a good photograph is, and will always be, a topic of heated discussion with serious photographers; and in my opinion, is one that is certainly worth regular examination because, simply put, a “good photograph” is what those who enjoy this medium want to make.

There are, of course, those that believe a good photograph must capture an image absolutely true to life, while others might say it’s totally about how creative the photographer is, however, if one relies on they number of “likes” they receive on social media sites a good photograph probably depends on the beauty of the subject.

When I taught photography I told my students that a good photograph includes acceptable composition, exposure, and an interesting perspective.

I also said that a good photograph makes us have a connection with, or think about the subject, and might help us understand what the photographer feels about that subject; and if successful, evokes some kind of mood, whether good or bad.

American photographer Ansel Adams said, “A great photograph is one that fully expresses what one feels, in the deepest sense, about what is being photographed.” And he elaborates, “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?”

And Adams reminds us, “There are always two people in every picture: the photographer and the viewer.”

Another of my favorite scenic photographers, Elliott Porter, 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.”

Vogue magazine Editorial photographer Irving Penn, wrote, “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.”

What is a good photograph? That might only be in the “eye of the beholder”. If one is a camera club member there will be rules on how a photograph is judged. And when I graded my students’ work I was mostly interested in their knowledge.

Sometimes we see a photograph that moves or inspires us, makes us feel, think and dream. And when a photographer is able to convey that to viewers he or she has truly made a good photograph.

10 responses to “What is a Good Photograph?

  1. I’ve always been interested in this topic and I can honestly say I can’t define what a good photo is but I know one when I see one. And I’ve seen enough contest entries to know I usually don’t see eye-to-eye with some judges and their picks for best photos. It’s fair to say that I prefer to have more fun with photography today than in my youth. Which is not to say that I don’t strive to do the best I can but that my main goal is a means of self-expression rather that trying to please anyone else. Very nice post.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I get that great photography connects with the viewers, but have to say I take my pictures and don’t give a monkeys about wether anyone likes them or not, but it’s a nice feeling when someone else likes your stuff, especially when you rate them as photographers. I’d never put my photos in competitions, I know my limitations! But this ‘hobby’ really passion, for me at least, isn’t about connecting with viewers, it’s about connecting with myself.

    Liked by 1 person

      • I agree that you should be your own “worst critique” Derek. And as I replied to fragg, “most artist create for themselves”. Ahh…but when you show a photograph to others, its a new story.


    • I think most artist create for themselves fragg, and I like that your photography is about “connecting with” yourself.
      Although I spent 40 years making photographs for others I was always true to myself. Now that I am retired the only people that see my images are those that read my blog and my discussion is as important at the images I post.
      I no longer worry about or accept clients. And I am, after all the years, enjoying photography more. However, I trash any images that I don’t think, “…have a connection with, or think about the subject, and might help a viewer understand what I feel about my subject; and if successful, evokes some kind of mood.”

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Perhaps it is “good” because it meets the standards or positively triggers the responses of the individual observer. One may seek a technically perfect print, another good composition, another an emotional response. The list is endless!. To each observer the photo was “good” for all sorts of different reasons. Des.

    Liked by 1 person

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