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What Makes a Good Photo?

The simplest question in photography is also the most complex: What makes a good photo? It isn’t enough to say that a good photo comes from its lighting, composition, subject, and so on; this question has a deeper answer. Good images – as different as they may be from one another – all stem from the same roots: The photographer has a strong goal for the photo, then expresses that goal in the most effective possible way.

1) Forming a Vision

Every photo you take must exist for a reason. That’s true whether it’s a throwaway image, a family snapshot, or the greatest work of art ever created. If you don’t have a reason to take the photo, it simply won’t exist. That reason is the vision behind a photograph.

It always helps to have the clearest possible vision in mind when you take a photo. Rather than, “Wow, what a cool scene, I need a picture,” it’s better to say to yourself, “This landscape would work perfectly in a dark, moody photograph. How can I achieve that?”

One helpful technique is to imagine the final photograph in your mind’s eye. Really look at the scene in front of you, and try to figure out exactly how it will appear in your photo – the good points and the bad points. Then, imagine the best possible version of that photo, and figure out how to get there.

Forming a vision is the easy part; all you really need to do is pinpoint the message or emotion you’re trying to capture. The real challenge is achieving that vision – matching your final photo to the ideal image you have in mind.

Eye of the Mountain