The deeper I dive into the world of photography, the more often I inevitably ask myself, how do you actually recognize a good photograph? The answer to this question is not so simple and has a high potential for controversy, which probably some of you have already noticed in various forums, Facebook groups or either in direct conversation.
Everyone has a different perception of what constitutes a successful image composition, color choice or aesthetics. At the same time, it can’t be denied that some photographs just look boring and don’t have any appeal, while others blow you away instantly. Apparently, there is indeed some secret formula that leads to the perfect photograph. So what is it that makes a photo special at first glance and attracts the desired attention?
A seemingly polarizing question
Before I held a camera in my hand for the first time, I already knew the mantra – it’s not the camera that makes the photo, it’s the photographer. Of course, there is a healthy dose of truth behind this, yet this statement is only partially correct. There are often situations in which an APS-C camera with a simple kit lens is simply not fast enough. If you then resort to a higher ISO value, this results accordingly in a noisy image. A certain graininess is nice and reminds us of former photographs far away from the digital world, but it does not soothe us from the fact that the result has an unsatisfactory image quality.
Technically superior equipment simply offers the photographer greater scope. Modern full-frame sensors can still produce relatively noise-free images even at ISO 12,800. This has the advantage that the photographer in turn can concentrate more on the actual image. For the photographer, it is a blessing to know that his camera works precisely like a scalpel and has a certain range of tolerance in difficult situations. Knowing your camera and, above all, being able to control it blindfolded is probably the most important aspect at the outset of consciously taking a successful photo.
Once you’ve got your camera under control and your first photo sessions lay behind you, things start to get complicated. You ask other photographers online for their opinions and tips, unaware of the shitstorm that is about to hit you. Opinions diverge greatly and erupt in heated debates about the pros and cons of expensive technology, the chosen image composition, location or whatever. This can sometimes become quite personal and has already led to the disqualification in one or the other community. What remains is an insecure and intimidated photographer with even more unanswered questions. Such photography fundamentalism is not uncommon. So what should you orient yourself to if you want to move forward? The answer, in my opinion, can be found in the history of art and photography.
Back to the origin
Just as there are certain basic rules in the fine arts or in design, these rules can also be found in photography. In order for a picture composition to appear coherent, the so-called rule of thirds, the golden ratio or a certain perspective or line management are used. In addition, there is the artistic effect of color and light. This has quite simply the background to make use of the psychology of people by consciously directing the focus of the viewer. The artist alone determines whether a work radiates harmony or unrest.
Historically, art has often been not far away from science. Both disciplines possess the characteristics of observing things, studying extensively, experimenting and analyzing. Initially, photography itself was pure science, but over time it became established as an art form in its own right. For some while, painters even feared that photography would replace them. It is therefore not surprising that the basic scientific knowledge gained from photography was related to the knowledge of the effects of color, form and light in painting.
In addition, art served to represent scientific knowledge and conditions, such as architecture or human anatomy. One of the most famous representatives was the polymath Leonardo da Vinci, who simultaneously sketched his scientific work in artistic form. For centuries, artists and scholars of their respective eras explored and refined their perceptions.
Many of these foundations have led to the development of the visual arts to what they have become today. Paradigms have been established and broken, usually resulting in controversy and expanding the scope of artists. Photography is one of these. However, in order to break with these principles, one must first have understood and mastered them. So it is undisputed that certain rules can also lead to a more harmonious image composition and captivate the viewer right away.
So how do I take a good photo?
Photography is a constant weighing of all available resources and possibilities. In addition, it has the unique characteristic of possessing a certain depth of field and bokeh. This basic creative element characterizes photography and clearly distinguishes it from other forms of representation. By consciously controlling the focal plane, spatial depth and a certain staging are created. By directing the focus to a certain point, the image acquires a statement and visual storytelling begins.
Only with a lot of experience and routine, a trained eye and a confident technical approach you can achieve that special something in the picture. Of course, this always includes a portion of luck, being in the right place at the right time. At this point we have to realize that photography is still a craft and that there is much more to it than a good cell phone camera or fancy equipment, but the technology used should not be underestimated.
Keeping in mind that all the basics and stylistic devices are just a wide range of tools and possibilities, it ultimately comes down to using them consciously and combining them skillfully. Images are interesting when they tell us a story. They achieve this in turn with a special lighting mood, image statement or staging, and a suitable color style. It is important that emotions are created, through which the viewer can build their own connection and thus empathize with the work. Therefore, it is advisable to try to develop your own signature over time. Using always the same presets or exchanging the sky is not a sign of quality. It can help much more to look for role models and analyze how they approach their work.
Basically, we will never be able to give a concrete answer to the question of what makes a good photograph, because everyone associates something different with a photo. The creative process of being inspired, trying things out, and developing a sense of what area of photography you feel most comfortable in is ultimately the best way to build confidence and evolve. Every photographer should therefore fundamentally ask themselves the question, “Why am I taking pictures and what do I want to tell with them?” There are a handful of factors that go into an estimation, such as image composition. The size of the image section and arrangement of the content are the fundamentals of the image’s message. In addition, it is always interesting where the focus is set and how large the depth of field is. Last but not least, the right lighting mood and color selection is a crucial factor to support the character and message of the image. Of course, a certain aspiration must not be missing, the rest is a matter of taste!
I would be interested to know how you see it? Do you have a different view or approach?