The most straightforward question in photography is also the most complex: What makes a good photo? It isn’t enough to say that a good photograph comes from its lighting, composition, subject, and so on; this question has a more profound answer. Good images – as different as they may be from one another – all stem from the same roots: The photographer has a vital goal for the photo and then expresses that goal in the most effective way.
Have you ever heard the phrase “light is everything” or perhaps “composition is everything”? I know I have many times. But they can’t both be everything; that’s not possible. So what is going on? There is at least a grain of truth to both expressions. But are there other factors that make great photos? If you need advice on your wedding photography, check out our photography packages and services at Wild Romantic Photography.
As it turns out, there are, and things are not quite as simple.
A photo with inferior composition will fall apart, and it will never be a great photo. But a decent piece capturing the most fantastic light can be a good photo, if not a great one. On the other hand, a great composition in poor light can make a dull photo.
Creating a photo almost always includes some compromise. Either the light is not great, the timing is not perfect, or it is impossible to get to the ideal location because you can’t walk in thin air or on water. Or maybe the prime elements in the scene are not arranged perfectly.
There are so many factors that have to come together at the same time that it seems impossible to make a perfect photo. And that is part of your life as a photographer, but knowing what counts, can make your success rate of making great images higher.
What makes excellent photos?
Several things make a great photo, and composition and light are obviously on that list, but what is the rest?
There are important factors that combine to make great photos. If you can maximize all, you will have a perfect image. However, creating such a picture is rare, even for the very best photographers.
Let us have a look at them and then discuss them in more detail.
The composition is something that comes naturally to some people, while others have to learn it. It is a fundamental skill to master as a photographer. If it doesn’t come naturally to you, try to copy other compositions you like in your way at different locations. That will quickly improve your skills.
The light can be many different things. There’s stern light, soft light, diffused light, warm light, cold light, studio flash, the natural light, to mention some of the most commonly known types. Light is a big topic, and it requires some research to get a complete understanding. But that is not necessary to create great photos.
If you are into landscape photography, you will increase your photos’ quality by avoiding a blue sky in the middle of the day. Instead, go for sunrise and sunset times. The time after sunrise and before sunset is called the Golden Hour. Blue Hour also provides excellent light for landscape photography.
If you are into flash photography, you will do well by experimenting with an off-camera flash rather than an on-camera. As well, try high-speed sync flash, which opens doors for creative flash photography. My advice is to learn about the type of light relevant to the kind of photography you enjoy doing.
Depending on the type of photography you do, the timing can be a matter of capturing that instant of a second that makes a difference. You have to capture a moment – the magic moment.
The moment of a fleeting kiss, the instant a football player kicks the ball, the moment the wave crashes onto a rocky shore with a huge splash. Or, as in this case, the instant four people put the same foot on the ground while walking at the same distance.
Other moments are more slow, like a sunrise. Nevertheless, it is still about timing.
You have to get up early, very early sometimes, to get to the location. That is timing. Or as in this case, getting a photo without any people at the central station at the blue hour is about timing too.
The story of a photo can be anything ranging from “what delicious crumbles sitting on top of that cupcake” to “what a fantastic round boulder on that beach” to a “touching relation between people”. A story can be somewhat abstract, yet there has to be a purpose for choosing to include what you do in the photo.
Sometimes a story is complex and deep, while at other times, it is simple “that is a nice boulder sitting in a beautiful landscape “.
You may not be equally good at telling all kinds of stories through your photos. This is perfectly alright, and it is OK to stick to what you do best.
Story and timing can be very tightly connected.
The last and fifth factor could raise some discussion. One that I do not want to get into here. And if you are a firm believer in Straight Out Of Camera (SOOC) photos, this point will not be relevant to you.
If you believe in photo editing, you may also know that it is often the thing that transforms a photo from flat to an image that pops. In some cases, that is what makes or breaks a shot.
Image editing or post-processing is by no means easy, and there are a lot of opinions out there. But even simple things like adjusting white balance, exposure and contrast can be the difference that makes a photo pop.
If you are into documentary photography, there are certain things you are not allowed to do. You do not meddle with reality. But if you don’t do that kind of photography, it is in the post-processing phase that you can make your artistic interpretation. Starting to think about hiring a wedding photographer? Check out our range of Mornington Peninsula wedding photography here.
What to look out for
Image editing is a race car without a seatbelt. Several things can ruin your image, and if you are not careful. Some of the classic problems from over-processing include halos, too contrasty and over-saturation, but many others.
A reason to build up your skills in image processing is to compensate to some degree for the other factors. You can enhance the good bits and hide the less desired parts. Removing unwanted objects to present your photo is the best possible way, from what you captured in your camera.
A significant side effect of upping your editing skills and paying some real attention to your photos is that you will understand what makes great photos. You will find things that degrade your picture (why did I include that dustbin?) and learn to avoid them next time you are on-location shooting. You know, by making mistakes and trying to fix them. The more times you fail, the better photographer you will end up being.
Principles of Photography
The great thing is that these photos all share similar qualities. You can learn from these and use them to create your beautiful photography.
Connect With Your Subject to Make Your Photos Look Authentic
The connection is just as important in photography as it is in relationships. You don’t have to be a portrait photographer to make the most of this step. The connection doesn’t mean communication. You have to appreciate and learn more about what you’re photographing.
For example, if you plan to photograph a specific town, find out about its history. Your research might give you new ideas and strengthen the bond you have with that location.
This will be evident in your photos. If you’re a portrait photographer, prioritize communication before and during your photoshoot. The more comfortable your model feels with you, the easier it will be to take beautiful portraits.
Use Simple Backgrounds to Create Unique Compositions
Even though this image is simple, it stands out thanks to the light, depth of field, and location. The bright background creates a peaceful atmosphere, without which this photo would look very different. Beautiful photography depends on simple tricks like this to stand out.
Beautiful photography doesn’t always feature complicated concepts and incomparable locations. You don’t need to travel far to find eye-catching subjects for your next image.
Unique compositions often feature simple backgrounds. All the attention goes to the subject. This also prevents busy pieces that are unappealing to the eye.
Find the Best Light to Enhance Your Story
Fortunately for us photographers, light changes throughout the day. This means you can experiment with different kinds of light to find the best one(s) for your style.
In general, golden hour light is considered one of the best for all kinds of genres. You can use it to create a warm and peaceful glow in your photos. Avoid midday light unless you want to bring out the textures in your subject. Or if you plan to take pictures in the shade.
Use Vibrance Instead of Saturation to Make Your Pictures Stand Out
Pay careful attention to your in-camera filters and editing habits. Often, especially in landscape photography, people are tempted to oversaturate everything. While this makes for a colourful image, it also ruins the story. Oversaturation can also make your photos look grainy. It can destroy specific colours and turn a beautiful picture into a distracting mess. If you want to enhance a dull part without oversaturating your entire photo, work with the vibrance tool in your editing program.
Spend Quality Time With Yourself to Understand Your Intentions
Even if you know many photography tricks, you need to dig deep and understand your intentions. This is similar to learning a recipe by heart. If you don’t add a few spices just because they seem unimportant, your meal won’t taste good.
Why do you like a specific photography genre? What will you do if a great idea doesn’t work out during your first photoshoot? What are your strengths and weaknesses? These musings and plans will prepare you for your photoshoot, remove your fear of failure and maybe even give you many exciting ideas. These are all essential ingredients in the recipe for beautiful photography.
Look for Patterns to Create Visually Appealing Photos
Patterns are visually appealing. You can find them almost anywhere. Hair, instruments, landscapes, and crowds all have unique designs. Try to capture as many as you can in your photos to create stunning masterpieces. Wild Romantic Photography has the best range of services of wedding photography Yarra Valley. Check them out here.
Separate Your Subject from Its Background to Create Harmony
Too many details can blend into each other and look too crowded. To avoid this, use a large aperture to separate your subject from its background. The gap you use depends on your style and story. The smaller the f-number, the blurrier your experience will be.
Use Leading Lines to Direct the Viewer’s Eye to Your Model
Leading lines are often mentioned in the principles of photography and for a good reason. Without them, your subject will look lost in a world full of random patterns and lines.
Look out for lines that lead to your subject. In the photo above, the Golden Gate Bridge stands out because of all the pipes leading to the image’s centre. The cliff leads to it as well.
This makes it easier to understand what the photographer is trying to say.
Use Simple Objects to Enhance Meaningful Ideas
Beautiful photography thrives off minimalism. Use simple objects in your photos. This includes plants, your own hands, mugs, and so on. If you have a specific concept in mind, try to include these everyday objects in your photos. This will help you become a more resourceful photographer who takes beautiful photos wherever they go.
Shoot from Unusual Angles to Improve Your Knowledge of Perspective
Avoid standing in front of your subject all the time. Shoot from shallow and high angles, shoot through objects, and so on. The perspective will improve your style and help you make anything stand out. If you know how to work with angles, you’ll be able to take exciting photos even of the most photographed things in the world.
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Photograph Things Outside Your Genre to Become a Pro
An atmospheric shot of a flowing waterfall on a cloudy day – beautiful photography principles no matter how much you love what you do; you need to learn from other photographers and their styles. This is important if you’re a beginner.
Research different photography genres and experiment with them. You’ll gain a lot of knowledge and photography tricks along the way.
Once you have a more profound knowledge of the general photography world, you’ll be able to use your newfound tricks to take meaningful photos of your own.
Avoid Deleting Mistakes So You Can Learn From Them
Even the most famous photographers in the world make mistakes. Once you feel more comfortable with your mistakes, you’ll be able to find beauty in them. These “mistakes” make the photograph authentic and eye-catching.
Take a break from your photos if you want to delete them. A little contemplation might show you their beauty. And help you redefine what it means to take beautiful pictures.
Find the right audience.
Many of the most cliché photos on stock photography websites also happen to be meticulously designed, with every part of the image created intentionally. But the photographer’s vision in these cases is not to create a stunning work of art nor to reveal something in the world that hasn’t been seen before. It’s to take a photo that matches someone’s keyword search.
If you, as a viewer, approach a stock photo in search of a masterpiece, you probably won’t find one. But if you instead look at the same shot from the perspective of someone who needs a picture of a red stapler in front of a blue background, you’ll be thrilled to find the right image.
So, whether a photo is “good” depends strongly upon your audience. You might succeed in capturing the most beautiful wildlife photo of all time, but a viewer won’t care if they’re trying to find a picture of a harmonica.
And this isn’t just about stock photos, either. For example, instance, your goal is to capture the best possible image of a mountain landscape. Depending upon your audience, this could mean very different things. I love photos that are dark, moody, and calm. The most beautiful mountain photograph for me might be one taken after sunset when there is very little light remaining, and much of the subject’s detail is lost in shadow.
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Many other photographers would find photos like that to be too gloomy or maybe just not interesting enough. That’s equally valid. If your definition of a beautiful landscape picture includes intense lighting, rich colours, and a once-in-a-lifetime subject, you’ll gravitate towards very different photos.
So, for a viewer to find one of your images successful, your vision for the photograph needs to work in harmony with theirs. The closer your two tastes are, the more they’ll like the final product, and the less they’ll notice any issues it may have.
Of course, it isn’t possible to know exactly how other people will view one of your images. In some sense, it’s down to luck more than anything else. However, the chances are good that your viewers will have tastes that are similar to your own, or they wouldn’t be following your work in the first place. For that reason, unless you’re already shooting with a particular viewer in mind (again, like stock photography), all you can do anyway is capture and display photos that match your preferences. In most cases, that’s enough to find the right audience and know that they like your style.
- A good photo is one that:
- Has a clear vision
- Expresses that vision successfully
- Harmonizes well with your viewer’s vision
Checking off these boxes, especially the second one, isn’t easy, but it’s worth the effort. If you fulfil all three, the result is clear: You will end up with a successful photo.
At some level, every single element of photography – light, composition, subject, and so on – are just the tools you use to reach your goal or your vision. Whether that vision is to create a beautiful, spectacular landscape photo or take a quick selfie to send to a friend doesn’t matter. A good picture simply succeeds at its goal and suits your viewer’s tastes.
To get there, though, the most important thing is to act with purpose. Start by choosing your subjects deliberately, and ensure that every single bit of each photograph exists for a reason. A good photo rarely happens by accident. If you keep that in mind, you’re already a huge step ahead of the game.
In photography, there are no absolutes. Not two people have the same opinion. We do not all like the same, things so what some people would deem a perfect photo, others may not feel perfect. Yet, there are some tendencies, and you could do worse than paying attention to what people like and don’t like if you want to create successful photos. If you’d like to work with professional photographers for your wedding, book with us at Wild Romantic Photography.
Any critique is an opportunity to learn something new.