What makes a good photograph? This is a pretty broad question. You may be thinking that it also has a different answer for every person, and you’d be right. There must be some kind of criteria though, otherwise, why do some photographs win prizes, and others not?

How much of a difference does the subject make? Can a tractor, like this one, really be photographed in a way that would make it a good photograph? I guess that depends on your preference. For some reason, I love old farm buildings and equipment – especially if they have some colorful rust on them – but that’s just me.

The composition is a term bandied around quite a bit – and it is vital – but sometimes an image that breaks all the rules can be outstanding.

Art is extremely subjective, and with so many different forms of beauty, it’s impossible to definitively say “these are the rules for a perfect photograph”.

Take portrait photography, for example. So much is dependent on the right hair, makeup, and clothing, that by the time the photographer comes in, about 50% of the work is already done. Sure, lighting, poses, and setting are still important – they create the mood. It all works together.

Here is an image that breaks all the conventional ‘rules’ – I’m photographing into the sun, I haven’t ‘framed’ the image, and the thirds in the image are a little off. I’ve cut off part of the Opera House to the far left.

According to the rules, this photograph of Sydney Harbour, with the Harbour Bridge, and the Opera House, wouldn’t be classed as a good photograph, but something in it still works – at least for me. It’s certainly not the perfect image, but it has a mood.

The basics which I think make a good photograph are:

  • Good resolution – pixelation ruins the appearance, reducing the quality
  • Good/complementary colors – too much color can be distracting, but not enough can make a very dull photo
  • Relaxed people – even in posed portraits, if the person looks stiff, the photo just looks flat
  • Straight horizon – unless you’re really trying to tilt the horizon on an image, a slightly slanting horizon is distracting
  • Focused subject – blur might work taking photos of a race, but something still needs to be in focus. Whatever it is, make it interesting
  • Record a memory – it doesn’t matter if the photo won’t turn out perfectly, it’s important to capture a moment that should be forgotten.

Photography should be fun. So, as long as you are enjoying the process, and taking the photos that you want, you may find that you get an awesome photo, without paying attention to all the rules. Happy snapping!

About Cyrus Ward