What Makes A Good Image?

When I first joined the Camera Club world, I sat in the audience and marvelled at the images that were presented by the members. A visiting judge would then make a comment on each image and then pick out which one’s they thought were worth a ‘Merit’ award.

I can remember all sorts of phrases (or cliché’s) coming out, such as:

  • ‘You need to leave room for the car/motorcycle to move into’;
  • ‘The portrait subject should always be looking at the photographer’
  • ‘The main subject should never be placed it the centre, or the horizon should never be placed in the centre of the image’
  • ‘If you are photographing objects or flowers, you need an odd number of them in the image;
  • ‘You need someone in a red coat/top at the end of the street/road’;
  • ‘The door or gate needs to be open otherwise there is a psychological barrier to the eye.
  • ‘You should look to place the main subject on the Rule of Thirds’;

Thankfully the Camera Club system has come a long way since then!

As we are probably aware, each of us will take an image differently to the next person. Similarly, we all view images in a different way.

So, what makes a good image?

Whilst placing the subject on one of the Thirds will lead to a pleasing subject, it can pay to push the boundaries of composition and come up with something that has far more impact.

Impact, now there’s a word that cries out for definition. For a fair while in the Camera Club world we heard this word. Impact. The image has impact. It needs more impact. Great, but what exactly is impact?

Oxforddictionaries.com lists quite a few definitions, one is as a verb:2 (impact on) have a strong effect on someone or something.

Thinking of this in terms of taking images, there are a number of ways that this can be achieved i.e. it could be in terms of

  • Emotion
  • Colour, shape, form, texture
  • Lighting, angle
  • Composition
  • Technical
  • Or a combination of all or any of the above

After 9 years as a Camera Club member I decided to volunteer to be a judge at photography clubs and beyond and it has been/is a most rewarding experience!

Since 1995 I have been on 5 judging courses run by the Federation of Camera Clubs (NSW) Ltd and judged at over 130 Camera Club competitions plus numerous other competitions/Exhibitions up to National level.

When one is going around the Camera Clubs, a question that is often asked is ‘What Makes A Good Image? and/or ‘What Do You Look For In An Image?’

I look at the following criteria (in no particular order) when I am assessing/evaluating an image (whether it be in a competition/exhibition, or in everyday life):

  • Technical considerations
  • Composition
  • Impact
  • How does the image make me feel?

Let’s look at these individually.

Technical: Whilst the photographer needs to have an understanding of the technical aspects of photography, a technically perfect image that has no Soul i.e. does not elicit a meaningful response from a viewer may not be as strong as a technically imperfect image that captures the viewer.

Composition: Whilst the Rule of Thirds is a ‘safe’ way to compose, each subject needs to be treated on its merits by a photographer. There have been many excellent images that have not aligned to the Rule of Thirds, or indeed been placed in the centre of the image or on the edge of an image.

Impact: I tend to break this up into three topics:

  • Emotion: The image does not have to have a person in it for emotion to be conveyed. Emotion can be conveyed by colour for example. If the image is of a person, have they conveyed an emotion?
  • Imagination: Does the image show imagination in the way the idea has been thought about? Have they tried to present a different concept of that subject or idea?
  • Artistry: How has the photographer conveyed the idea? How has the photographer used their combined skills to communicate the message, the idea?

How does the image make me feel? Does it illicit an emotional response from me on any level i.e. does it make me feel happy, sad, angry, laugh. Is it a confrontational image for me? Does it repulse me? Does it motivate me? Does it make me think? Does it make me ask questions etc?

Each of us will have our own criteria we look to (consciously or sub-consciously) when we view images. This is what makes Photography, and indeed all Art fun because it is subjective.

Each of us have been brought up in a different environment, been influenced by different things in different ways. We have different beliefs and we make different choices…

Photography is, after all, one of the most powerful methods to communicate.

How and what will you be conveying in your images today?

Written by David Johnson

October 8, 2013


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