Why and How: Defining a Good Photograph Using 6 Keys - Part 1

When you are out in the field and you look at the result of a shot on your camera screen, sometimes you say to yourself: that's a good picture. You keep it.

Or maybe you think it is a bad picture. 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 applied

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, every day there is a special moment in the afternoon that the trainees love. It is the photo review.

Each of them offers a selection of photos. Then, using a very objective criteria grid, I judge the images. The rest of the group also gives its opinion.

It is a particularly important moment of the day. The exchanges are rich. Everyone reveals his tweaks. It is a very inspiring moment for each photographer.

But sometimes, in front of certain images, I go further. On 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 what more I wanted to say about the judgment I made during the photo review.

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

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

In the rest of this article, I will give you the keys I talked to him about.


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:

Who 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 provides pleasure, 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.

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

  • The impact..
    It is the feeling when you first look at the picture. A good picture can evoke sadness, anger, pride, wonder or some other intense emotion.
  • The technique.
    It concerns the print quality of the image when it is presented either visually. We judge retouching, manipulation, sharpness, exposure, printing, editing, color management.
  • Creativity.
    Creativity is the original expression. It brings out the image of the author. We judge whether a message, an idea or a thought has been passed on.
  • Style.
    It defines the genre of the photographer. This is where you recognize the author's paw. We try to find original characteristics to the work. For example, we will be able to judge the way the author plays with the lights.
  • Composition.
    We judge how the photo is conceived. How all the photographic elements have 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 wanted to convey.
  • Color balance.
    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.
  • The light.
    We judge the quality of the light to emphasize the shapes, the volumes in the photo. Whether natural or artificial, the light must improve the reading of the message of the photo.
  • The elements present in the scene.
    We judge that there are no disturbing elements in the scene. Everything present must contribute to the message of the photo.
  • The story told.
    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, 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.

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 why you like or dislike ».

Now that you have understood that to say if a photo is good for you will apply objective and subjective criteria, I propose a method with these criteria set a framework.

Key #1: A Good Photograph is Technically Successful

To Continue Next Friday. Do not forget to come back.

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