What Makes A Photograph “Good?”

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Former Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart, writing in a pornography case, said that while it is difficult to intelligently define pornography “I know it when I see it.”

You may feel the same way about photographs. You know a good one when you see it.

And we usually know right away, as soon as we look at the photo.

Admittedly, this is all subjective stuff, but let’s try a little harder to figure out what makes a photo appeal to us, what makes it “good.”

Actually, what makes a photo good may depend on the type of photography we are discussing. A photo journalism shot is evaluated differently than a product shot or a portrait. And a landscape is looked at differently from all of these.

But, generally, I think these are the things that make a photo stand out . . .

  1. Strong Composition. I think it is mainly the composition and structure of the image that catch our attention. The shapes, the colors, the balance. There is a sense of overall organization and order, perhaps based on some guide such as the Rule of Thirds. Irrelevant details are excluded.
  2. Technically Correct. A good photo is technically correct. It is tack sharp and exposed correctly. The lighting is appropriate and enhances the photo.

  3. Unique. The main thing that turns a ho-hummer into a star is uniqueness. The keeper shows us something we have never seen before or, if it shows something familiar, it shows it in a unique and creative way that produces an emotional response.

At least that’s what I think. How about you? Put your thoughts in the comments.

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