What Makes a Great Photograph

Have you ever gone on vacation and found that your travel buddy took photos far more beautiful and compelling than your own? “How could that have happened?” you might have wondered. You were observing the same scenery, experiencing the same culture, and doing the same activities. It’s possible that they had a superior camera or better eyesight, but what if they didn’t? How did your travel buddy take such fantastic photos? What were you missing? To figure it out, you’ll need to learn what makes a great photograph.

what makes a great photograph

What Makes a Great Photograph

Have you ever thought about what makes a great photograph? Is it the composition, the focus, the model, the colors, the lighting, the editing? Or is it all of that and more? What about the story behind the photograph? What about the point of view? Whether you’re a photographer hoping to up your game or a creative consumer hunting for the perfect picture, it’s important to know what makes a great photograph.

Although we can’t give you one infallible method for taking fantastic photographs (art is far too subjective for that), we can suggest some items to focus on, and you can use them or ignore them as you like.

  1. The Emotion. Photography that makes the viewer feel something is powerful. Whether the photo amuses you, angers you, or makes you cry, the emotion that it provokes in viewers shows strength.
  2. The Composition. Composition refers to the arrangement of the photo’s elements. How does the model relate to her surroundings? How does the frame capture the landscape? Where is the subject located? What elements lie along the edges of the frame? You might try using the rule of thirds, a common compositional technique.
  3. The Subject Matter. If the subject matter isn’t interesting, the photograph won’t be successful—it’s as simple as that! This is especially important if you’re using a model. The model must be a convincing actress/actor, not a blank-faced puppet.
  4. The Lighting. Never underestimate the power of lighting. Lighting affects the mood of the photograph, the focus, the color, the contrast, and more. Natural, soft lighting generally makes for a beautiful photo, but if you want to create a lot of drama, consider shooting indoors with carefully-controlled artificial lights.
  5. The Focus. Where do you want the viewer’s eye to go first? Focus is incredibly important because it provides direction and a hierarchy. Without it, the photo can feel jumbled and lack impact.
  6. The Story. Photography is all about capturing a moment and telling a story. Many great photos make the viewer wonder: What is the subject thinking? Where does that road lead? Other effective photos are like a short story contained within an image, containing characters, a plot, and a setting. A photo is a moment frozen in time, but it doesn’t have to feel frozen.

So what makes a great photograph? It’s hard to say. These elements can affect a photo’s strength, but like all art, photography is subjective and what I think makes a great photograph might not be what you think makes a great photograph. So learn what you like and work to create that within your own photography.

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