What Makes A Photograph Good

As I alluded to in my previous post, in order to improve as a photographer it is important to understand what makes a photograph work. A photograph can be broken down into various components (composition, subject, lighting, etc), and how well these elements work together will dictate how good the final image is. In the best images this balance is directed by the photographers vision.

Implementing this simple step into your photography will help guide your decisions as a photographer, and will increase the success of your images.  


What Vision Is

vision is the intention of the photographer. You can think of it as imagining what your photograph will look like before you even raise the camera to your eye. Knowing what you want your photo to look like before you create it will allow you to retake the image if it doesn’t quite look right. Because you know what you wanted the photograph to look like, you will have a good idea of what you need to change on the next exposure. 

This process of mixing and adjusting the various elements allows you to fully realize the image you wanted, even if it takes a few tries. Not only will this lead to more photos you are happy with, but as you practice and learn, you will be able to reduce the number of shots it takes to get your ideal image.  



Below I will be sharing two of my photographs that I think are successful, and one that just didn’t work out. The difference between the successful images and the failed one is the intention, or lack there of, I had for the final image.

Example 1: The Devil’s Icebox

Of the three examples this one matched what I envisioned the best. You can read more about the location and how I created this image here. After I explored the cave area some, I knew I wanted a photograph of this bolder that emphasized the light streaming onto it, with the motion of the water running past.

To achieve the desired results, I used a vertical orientation and included the skylight to emphasize the contrast between the daylight and the darkness of the cave. I also used a tripod to achieve a long exposure giving the motion effect in the water. This image is just one of a handful of images I made that all had minor tweaks. 

Example 2: Chouteau Island Ruin

This is an image of what I believe to be a collapsed water pump along the Mississippi River. My idea for the image was of the structure appearing to reach up towards the sky, with the curved sections on the ground giving a sense of motion, pushing the viewers eye upwards. This was the second of four frames I made, and while it best matches what I wanted, I am still not 100% happy with it. 

Because there is so much contrast between the sunny sky and the shade of the structure, I was not able to achieve the exact look I hoped for. It would have worked better if I had been able to make the image at a different time of day when the sun illuminated the scene from behind me.

Example 3: Iced Driftwood

In the final example, I am showing what can happen when you don't take the time to envision your image. I found this piece of driftwood along the Mississippi River, and thought it looked interesting. I didn't give it any more thought, and just took a picture of it. The result was a photo I would have been better off not even taking. I don't like it, and I don't even know what I was trying to do with it. Whatever I thought was worthwhile photographing does not come across. 


Putting it into Action

The great thing about taking this first step to improving your photography is, it’s easy to start doing. When you find something you want to photograph, just take a second and think about what you want the picture to look like. Once you have that mental image, try to create it! 

If the first shot isn’t exactly what you had wanted, try to figure out what about the image is wrong. By doing this you are making a roadmap of how to set up the next composition, and you can keep refining until you get the image you want. 

This won’t always lead to an image worth keeping, but as I said before, it will greatly improve your success rate. Even if the final product doesn’t work out, it’s great practice and it helps you understand what works and what doesn’t. And really, that knowledge is what will take your photographs from mediocre to great.



Let me know in the comments what you think, and be sure to subscribe to my email list if you aren't already to be notified of future posts! Next week I will be exploring a section of the Ozark Trail, and I have to say there were some a beautiful areas!