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What Makes a Good Photograph?

written by Emma Roche August 15, 2016

When discussions are had on what constitutes a good photograph often times the more technical aspects are what are focused on the most. Personally, I prefer the more creative side. I believe that the creativity or the concept of the photograph is what is really most important.

In many photography courses students are taught how to master the technical elements of the camera. To be able to capture the ‘perfect image’ no matter what the conditions. Focus seems to be the main component to this perfect photograph. I find this odd seeing as some of my favorite images taken by well-established photographers are out of focus. Take Francesca Woodman for example, a very well known photographer whose images have created a great impact on the photographic world. Woodman uses the blurred effect to further the messages in her photographs. The blurriness emphasises the different emotions in her images; fear, depression, and loneliness.

Many are now becoming involved in this form of photography where they tend to only shoot out of focus. This new out of focus practice is fast becoming the new trend. It seems that like most things nowadays, that these old styles are returning and are now back in fashion. Even with the rise of interest and sales with the Fujifilm mini Instax 8 for instance, everyone is looking for that Polaroid photograph because it is the new trend. This Polaroid fad is also widely popular due to people looking for the ‘’perfect snapshot’’. The Instax camera can provide this without much technical knowledge needed.


I find that most things I disagree with in a photograph are often a necessity from the photographer’s perspective. It feels almost hypocritical to discuss what makes a ‘’good’’ photograph as it mainly depends on two opinions, that of the photographer and the viewer. In my opinion photographs with skewed angles that are quite uneven are very off putting for me. I find the angle too much for any photo, and find it hard to focus on anything else in the image. But many photographers still use this technique. There are also times when the photographer would agree with me, that angles are usually a no go area to mess with. But perhaps for a particular body of work angles are exactly what the image needs – it could be needed to further enforce the message of the image. Angles are often used in photography and also film to create an eerie and uneasy tone.

For me the absolute most important element is the creativity of a photograph. How the subject is captured, how is their story being told? Is there space in the image for the viewer to create a story of his or her own? How has the emotion or mood been set? These are the things that cross my mind when I am creating my own work.

A talent I find very impressive is that of landscape photographers. Any decent landscape photographer will have the power to evoke certain emotions with an image of say a lake or a desert for example. This type of photographer often has no model to work with, no facial expressions to convey to the viewer what they want them to feel. To be able to almost personify a landscape is a skill I long for. In order to give a landscape it’s own personality, an appreciation of natural light is required. The different kinds of lighting can create different moods. I believe that theses kinds of surreal landscape images tend to compel the viewer to stare at the image for longer, causing their mind to wander.


If I pass by an amazing photograph I always get the urge to keep it. This is because of the deep emotional connection I have with the image. I want to photograph the image or copy it to my desktop or save it onto my phone. As a photographer myself I already have an archive of my own images, but I have another with other photographers work. For me, the desire to keep a photograph and hold onto it shows that there is something very present in that image that speaks to me. This relates to the term narrative. A good image should always have some sort of narrative. Whether it is very obvious, say a body of work with several relatable images that tell a sort of a story. Or perhaps just one image. But once that image provides the capability for the viewer to construct his or her own narrative, then for me the image is a good one.

I believe that text in an image can be very powerful. At times using text can be a necessity. In Barbara Krueger’s work, the text is the main focus in each piece. Without the text there would be little to no meaning to the images. However, text is a very uncertain subject for me in photography. It can totally make or break an image. I would almost go as far to say that at times I would be afraid to use text in my work for the fear of the work changing dramatically. That said, I can see the benefits also- the clarity it provides to the viewer is very rewarding when it is done correctly. The text is almost guiding the viewer to the thoughts the photographer has about the subject and the reason for taking the image, which I personally think is a very beautiful thing.

Text in photography seems to be mainly used with regards to images in the media, or political images, and advertisements. But just because text is placed over an image does not make this image meaningful. The photograph now seems to be factual because of this text. This text gives more information to the image, but does it necessarily give meaning? This brings me to my next point, which is to do with meaning in photographs.

A question that is often asked is, are photographs meaningless? Who applies the meaning in a photograph? I believe that the viewer ultimately applies the meaning. Whereas the photographer may think they have decided the meaning for the piece, often enough someone will disagree and find a new perspective for the same piece. Many people argue that all images are meaningless until the viewer brings meaning. I myself am not sure whether I agree or disagree with this statement, as everyone will have a different level of meaning for an image. In family albums, it is a given that the family members will have memories attached to the images and a connection. But if I saw an image from this same album would I feel as connected? Perhaps I could create my own sort of narrative if the image itself had the power to speak to me in a way that I could relate to.

For me, a good image is about the feelings and message it stirs in the viewer – it’s power and ability to connect to the viewer. And this changes with each person, which is why photographs will always carry a mystique.

Image 1: Francesca Woodman, from the Angel series, Rome 1977
Image 2: Photographer unknown
Image 3: George Christakis, Solitude

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