The definition of a good photograph
All photographers, whether amateur or professional, are trying to accomplish the same thing: they want to take good photographs. It is an endless quest. Although most photographers probably take thousands of pictures every year, few of these are really good. Most photographers are constantly taking pictures, but are never satisfied with the results. Why? The answer is simple: They forget the basics of photography once they have their eye to the viewfinder. They forget to judge the image before they take the picture.
Different types of photography
Before laying out the criteria for a good photo, it is important to understand that there are numerous different types of photography. These include photography for postcards, stock photography, photography for magazines, for illustrating books, fine art photography, photography for exhibitions, etc.
The list can be even longer if we include photography for landscape magazines, or fashion magazines, or for a catalogue of baby clothes.
It is impossible to list all the different kinds of photography and their variations. Each of them has its own specifications and rules. In addition, it is often impossible to compare the different types. For example, how can you compare a photo that will go on a postcard to one that will be the cover of a men’s fashion magazine?
Each kind of photography has its own rules and its own set of criteria which are used to judge and evaluate photos. One type is not better or more creative than another. It is absurd to say that the postcard photography is less interesting, while fine art photography is more creative and better. For those of you who doubt this, we invite you to take a series of pictures for postcards and then offer them to a publisher. You will realize just how difficult it is to create this type of pictures.
Similarly, stock photography has completely changed in recent years. Customers are becoming increasingly demanding. Today, it is impossible to sell the photos we sold in the early 2000s.
Yet, although there are many types of photography, and even more variations, it is possible to judge whether a picture is good or not.
5 points for judging a photo’s technical success
When we train novice photographers, we teach them to judge their pictures on purely technical criteria. We explain that, to be successful, a photo should be sharp, with high contrast, colorful, well exposed and have some creativity. These points allow beginners to judge their pictures quickly and easily. Beginners are mostly concerned with handling their equipment properly, so we give them technical criteria that help them learn how to do that.
These five rules are easy to implement at the time the photo is taken, and they do not require great artistic skill. Everything is based on technique.
These rules have a disadvantage, however: many photos which are not artistically good are ‘good’ when judged in this way. The only criterion which has something to do with artistry is the one about creativity. Using these rules, it is difficult to pick out a really good picture from a series of technically ‘good’ ones.
10 criteria for judging a picture
As a photographer improves and his pictures begin to consistently meet the five criteria above, he feels the need to go further and create truly unique photos. It becomes necessary to add additional criteria. The result is this list of 10 criteria which we use to judge our work. These are the standards which we teach to more experienced photographers during our workshops.
A good photo is judged on the following criteria:
- Its impact
- The lighting
- The story it tells
- Its technical quality
- Points of interests
- Use of color
If we were to explain each item in detail, the result would be far too long to put into a blog post, but most of the points are fairly self-explanatory.
The advantage of this method is that it does not rely on the artistic taste of the judges. When a photo is judged on its impact, the judges’ personal taste does not come in.
The last point requires some explanation. Presentation is simply presenting the photo in a frame. Many photographers never think about what a photograph will look like when it is printed and framed. This is the weak point of most photographs.
Do not copy published pictures
We believe that a good photograph must satisfy all 10 of the criteria above. If it is unsatisfactory in one area, it is not a good picture. It takes a lot of experience and practice to be able to implement them successfully, but photography is an art that requires many years of work in any case.
Of course, many of the pictures that are published in magazines, for sale as stock photographs, printed as postcards, or used to illustrate books, are not good. They are used for want of better. It is difficult to estimate the number of good pictures published in these media. But, going by the criteria we have set, there probably are not very many.
We believe that many photographs are not good because many photographers simply reproduce images that they have seen. They forget one important thing: the pictures that they see on postcards, etc. are not necessarily good. For a photograph to be good, it must be creative.
To create a good picture, we advise photographers to keep our 10 criteria in mind and apply them mentally before taking a photo. The result is guaranteed.