6 Steps to Define a Good Photo

When you are out in the field studying the result of a shot on your camera screen, sometimes you say to yourself: “That's a good picture. I’ll keep it.”

Or maybe you think it is a bad picture, and so you delete it.

Have you ever wondered why and how you make these choices?

To help you find an answer, I have written this article which should give you a systematic method to apply.

Photograph in black and white of a road to Monument Valley in Arizona. Photograph by Amar Guillen, photographer artist.
Road to Monument Valley in Arizona.

The Little Story of This Article

During my photo workshops each day, there is a special moment in the afternoon that the trainees love. This is called the photo review.

Each photographer offers a selection of photos. Then, using a very objective criteria grid, I judge the images. The rest of the group shares their opinions as well.

This is a particularly important moment of the day. The exchanges are rich. Each person shares a bit of their soul when they explain their photos and comment on others’ photos. It is a very inspiring moment for each photographer.

But sometimes, in front of certain images, I take a step further. In the spur of the moment I sometimes say, "Wow, that is a good picture." During one of my wildlife photography workshops, Alex, one of the trainees, asked me what a good photo meant to me. He asked me if there was anything else I wanted to share regarding his photo that I did not include in the review.

That question caught me off guard. That night I contemplated on it. That is how I wrote this method.

The next day, I answered Alex with the different points I had thought of. He was very satisfied with my presentation.

In the rest of this article, I will give you the keys I shared with Alex.

Definition of the Word “Good”

As always, it is particularly important to know what we are going to talk about. We need to define the words.

The definition of good is as follows:

"Whoever has above-average qualities of his kind."

Another definition that I also find remarkably interesting because it applies well to photographic art is the following:

"That which provides pleasure."

Application to Photography: A Good Photograph

A photograph is good if it is above average.

A photograph is good if it gives pleasure to the person looking at it. In this case I am talking about the author as well as the viewer.

But you can already see that there are two types of criteria to be considered.

  • Objective criteria.
  • Subjective criteria.

Before giving you the evaluation grid, it is important to look at each of them.

Objective Criteria

If you want to know whether a photograph is good or not, you must first judge it with objective criteria. I mean criteria that do not consider a personal judgement.

Remember that you are perfectly legitimate to judge photos whether they are yours or other photographers.

Judging a picture is understanding you better. You can better define your style and your photographic artistry.

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To judge a photograph, I always use the following criteria:

  • Impact.
    This is the feeling that occurs when you first look at the picture. A good picture can evoke sadness, anger, pride, wonder or some other intense emotion.
  • Technique.
    This concerns the print quality of the image when it is presented visually. We judge retouching, manipulation, sharpness, exposure, printing, editing, color management.
  • Creativity.
    This is the original expression of self. It brings out the image of the author. Creativity is what we judge when we examine a message, an idea, or a thought that has been shared.
  • Style.
    This defines the genre of the photographer. This is where you recognize the author's handprint. With style, we can seek out original characteristics to the work. For example, we will be able to judge the way the author plays with the lights.
  • Composition.
    Through this, we judge how the photo is conceived. We examine each photographic element that has been put into place. A good composition should invite the audience to look in the directions chosen by the author. A good composition can be pleasant or disturbing depending on what the author wants to convey.
  • Balance of Color.
    We judge the harmony of the tones. They must come to reinforce the reading of the photo and its emotional side. Color balance is not always harmonious and can be used to evoke different feelings or to create effects.
  • Points of Interests.
    These are the points to which the author wants to lead the eyes of the audience. These are the photographic elements. Interests can be primary or secondary. There is no specific area of interest when the entire scene serves as the focus.
  • Light.
    We judge the quality of the light to emphasize the shapes and the volumes in the photo. Whether natural or artificial, the light must improve the reading of the message of the photo.
  • Scenic Elements.
    We judge that there are no disturbing elements in the scene. Everything present must contribute to the message of the photo.
  • Story.
    The ability of the photo to evoke the imagination. An audience must perceive a personal message or read their own story in a photo.

Subjective Criteria

Once you have understood and memorized the method of judging with objective criteria, you can move on to the second phase to say that a photo is good or not. You will review the subjective criteria.

The subjective criteria for judgement depend on each of us.

They reflect our tastes and our experiences. They are the opposite of objective criteria.

As you know, photography is a creative act. It is subjective in nature because it is an act of personal creation.

It is the result of a particular vision: yours alone.

When you frame, when you compose and when you make choices in the photographic elements, you translate what you feel.

The subjective criteria are innumerable. They are unique for each author and for each viewer.

It becomes useless to know who is right or wrong.

"Subjective criteria are those that define what you like or dislike”.

My hope for you is that after reading this article, you will better be understood how to express your feelings and opinions on whether a photo is good or not. When someone asks you a question like Alex did, you can clearly articulate a response based off of the application of the objective and subjective criteria.

Key #1: A Good Photograph Is Technically Successful


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