Tuesday, December 30, 2008

The Elements of Great Photography

What makes a picture a good picture? Focus? Rule of Thirds?
Lighting? There might be a little more to it than that.

This has been a great year. People have been preaching gloom and doom, but I've decided not to parrot what I'm hearing. I think the best thing to do is find your way through these times the best that I can. Teaching has taught me a lot.

I knew I knew a lot, but I didn't know what I knew until I decided to teach others. I want my students (and you) to think critically about photography.

Some have said photography is subjective. Subjective to what an opinion? Game over, man. what we need is, a measuring stick.

So what makes a photograph a great photograph? There needs to be some criteria, otherwise, you end up with: "I don't know but I'll know it when I see it."

I think most people learn "The Rule of Thirds" for basic composition, and most people try to get their images in focus. Yet there are a lot of pictures that are in focus and are composed with the subject right on a Crash Point, or intersection of The Rule, that aren't necessarily good pictures. The converse is also true.

There are other things to consider: Does the image have a theme or point of view? Does the image focus the viewer's attention on the subject of the photo? And finally, does the photograph simplify? Focus, Rule of Thirds, exposure, and lens selection are some of the tools that a photographer can use to accomplish these three points.

An image should have a message, theme, or point of view that is clearly communicated in the photograph. In my opinion the picture is like a story. The subject and verb need to agree.

The subject of the photo should be obvious. Lens selection not only makes an image more aesthetically pleasing, but a good lens choice will guide the viewer's eye to the subject.

And finally simplification. The photo should tell the tale and no more. Eliminate distractions and everything that doesn't add to the image's overall theme.

Whether you are a photographer or someone who enjoys photography, you can think critically of the images you are creating or viewing. If photography were subjective, Ansel Adams, Richard Avedon, Annie Leibovitz were pretty lucky for a long time.


  1. I always say in my classes... I'm going to give you a lot of photography rules, but emotion overrules them all.


  2. I'm going to start calling you the professor! Dude, what has gotten into to you? Great topic!