What Makes a ‘Good’ Photo?

Girl laughing while picking strawberries with her family
In a world with smartphones armed with incredible cameras, we are inundated with photographs daily.  With some form of camera on our person always, it’s no wonder current generations are being touted as the “most documented”.  This over-saturation of daily photos on our social media timelines and cellphones have lead to photographic ‘indifference’ and have seemingly lowered the bar on our definition of what a ‘good’ or ‘great’ photograph really is?

So what makes a photograph ‘good’ or ‘bad’? While photography can be very subjective in nature, is a common trait ‘good’ photos possess and that is: it elicits an emotional response from the viewer. Now, this emotional response doesn’t always have to be a positive one; it can incite anger or sadness as well. The important thing to note is if the photo made you feel something. While this definition of a good photograph can often open itself up to interpretation, how it is accomplished is, I believe, rooted in the technical aspects of photography.

Truly great photographs not only elicit an emotional response from the viewer, but they also focus on key factors: light (the word ‘photography”s Greek roots literally mean drawing with light), focus, composition, subject matter (simply put: moment)—‘good’ photos contain at least two of these items, ‘great’ photos will contain them all.


Light and how you treat it is essential to a good photograph. It can affect how the view perceives the overall mood and message of the image.


Focus is one of those items which cannot be downplayed. A technically sound image will be in focus (unless the photographer has purposely placed the image out of focus, which should be apparent). An image with no clear item in focus can leave the viewer confused as to what they are supposed to be looking at.



Strong composition allows the photographer to draw the viewer directly to what they want them to see. How you compose an image can change the overall story being told.

Subject Matter (or Moment):

The subject matter doesn’t have to be over-the-top to be strong; there can be strong subject matter in even the quietest of moments. The presence or absence of a strong subject can make (or break) a photo. Note: Sometimes if the subject matter is strong enough, it can trump any other technical imperfections the image may include.

Even though we are surrounded by imagery each day, it’s important to appreciate the standout photos—the ones which elicit an emotional response within us, the viewer, in addition possessing what is required of a technically sound photograph.


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