What Makes a Good Photograph?

I think the two questions that I am most often asked by family and friends are “what makes a good photograph?” and “what makes a good photographer?” Next Friday I will dive into what makes a photographer good, but this week I am going to try to go into what specifically makes a good photograph.

The most simple way to answer this question is ‘light’. Light is what makes any photograph. While there are a whole list of other factors that contribute (focus, composition, expression, timing, etc), a photograph is nothing without good lighting. Lighting sets the mood, and it can alter the way the viewer feels about the ┬ásubject. The quickest way to ruin a photograph is to shoot under too harsh (or Noon) or flat lighting. Your goal as a photographer is to flatter your subject, whether that subject is a portrait or a landscape. Harsh lighting creates strong unflattering shadows and flat lighting makes people’s faces and bodies look wide and flat, since there is nothing to show off curves and contours. Flat lighting will turn a beautiful landscape into a boring view that halts the viewers eye rather than draw it in.

If you want to be a better photographer start by considering the lighting. Photograph during the prime times (dawn and dusk) or use angled lighting. I once had a professor say to me “You are only a photographer when you truly start to see the light.” Knowing this professor the quote was no doubt inspired by Ansel Adams who had a very similar philosophy. You can argue whether something is composed “well”, or if an image is interesting or not. Those things truly are subjective. Lighting is the only factor that is not subjective… It’s either good or it’s not.


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