What makes a good photograph? Why do some photos succeed while others fail? I often look in awe at other photographers’ images from the places I’ve been and think, “how did they see that?”
I went out into the online world in search of answers. How did they see that, and can you and I see it too?
I asked some my favorite photographers one question,
“What is the most important element of a good photograph?”
The format was completely open ended; the photographers were free to include as much or as little as they wanted.
The shooting styles and photographic resumes of these photographers vary greatly, but they all have one thing in common: their work inspires me. Their photographs are beautiful to look at, they’re deeply emotive, and they drive me to become better. I highly recommend taking a look at each of their sites and following them as I do. After all, who better to learn from than the people who inspire us?
Presenting the photographers and their answers:
“I always teach my workshop students you want someone to feel something, some sort of an emotion when they look at your images. That could be curiosity, anger, sadness, happiness, etc. The most important element of a photo to me is it’s ability to evoke emotion.”
Justin is an award winning photographer. He’s worked with The New York Times, Newsweek, Time, Forbes, Conde Nast Traveler, and National Geographic Traveler, just to name a few. Read more about Justin and view his breathtaking work at http://www.justinmott.com/
“You have to really care about whatever you’re shooting. I know it sounds like a cliché but when I first started taking photos, like most amateur photographers, I would shoot everything in sight. Flowers. Doorknobs. Nascar. It didn’t matter that I didn’t care about pretty flowers, doorknobs or cars going in circles, I just took photos of them because I thought that’s what you’re supposed to do when you’re holding a big camera and something ‘cool’ is in front of you.
“After the first million or whatever shots, I stopped my serial shooting spree. Now I don’t shoot as much but I’m always looking. One of my favorite parts about being a photographer is that it forces you to pay attention to things ordinary people may take for granted, or worse, not even notice. Light. Weather. Seasons. Most of my favorite shots were often taken at quick bursts — when inspiration struck and I was mentally and physically in a glorious state.”
Tanveer is a travel and wedding photographer who’s done work from the USA to Bangladesh and everywhere in between. See more of Tanveer’s stunning photography at http://www.tanveerbadal.com
“After spending 10 years hung up in the technicalities of photography, I’ve come to appreciate that a good photograph is one that causes some sort of emotional response. We’re bombarded with so much imagery that our most common response to photography is indifference. If an image surprises me through an unusual view, wows me through its sheer beauty or makes me angry by showing injustice, it is a good photograph. It could be technically terrible, poorly composed and horribly exposed, but if it causes an emotional response, it will be memorable and therefore successful.”
Jon and his wife Tina are freelance photographers based in London. Their professional work has been used in magazines, print, web advertisements, and designer look books. See more of Jon and Tina’s incredible photography at http://www.nomadicvision.com/, and view their fashion and lifestyle work here: http://jonreid.net/
“Good photographs put you in a particular moment in time, they tell a story, or they speak to your emotions. The most important element of a great photograph is that it does all of the above.”
Larissa does things with her iPhone that make me and my fancy DSLR envious. Her creativity permeates her photos through her beautiful editing style. View more of her moving images here: http://blonde-gypsy.com/
“The ability to capture a frame with some element of intrigue is highly important when making a good photograph. This is going to keep your audience captivated. The intriguing element will invite your viewer into your scene allowing them to create their own narrative.”
Colin has worked with AFAR Magazine, Travel + Leisure, The Royal Geographical Society’s Hidden Journeys, Groove Magazine, and others. View more of his captivating photography here: http://www.colinroohanphotography.com/
“I think there are many important aspects to make a good photograph but the most important would have to be: interesting and engaging subject matter. Even if certain technical aspects are not well executed such as focus and composition, there can still be a reason for finding the photo meaningful. Ideally, engaging subject matter, lighting, composition and a sharp focal point are the most important aspects, collaboratively. Interesting lighting in photography is most fundamental, composition contributes in giving impact and aesthetic merit, and a part of the photo in good focus to draw our attention to the subject are very important. But an uninteresting subject matter for me will still leave a photo with little appeal even if all the other technical aspects mentioned are well executed.
“Everybody finds different subjects in photography appealing to varying degrees, which is why photography is subjective. But if we can find subject matter that a large percentage of people will be drawn to and they find stimulating, then we are starting to achieve a successful outcome with our photography.”
David’s expert use of color and light draws his viewers in and keeps them there. In 2012 he won the travel category of the Smithsonian Photography Competition, and his work is frequently published in travel and photography magazines. David hails from Brisbane, Australia, and he has been traveling annually since 2004. View more of David’s masterful work: http://davidlazarphoto.com/
“The most important element to me is not necessarily tangible. A good photograph must make the viewer care, engaged. How it makes a viewer engaged can be achieved in different ways, composition, light, the choice of subject – any or all of these.”
Mitchell is a professional photographer and author who’s been published in a wide variety of books and magazines including the NY Institute of Photography Book “Top Travel Photo Tips” and Lonely Planet Traveler. View more of his powerful images: http://www.mitchellkphotos.com/ and check out his current project here: Eyevoyage
“The most important element of a good photograph is the ability of the photo to communicate with the viewer. It should be able to tell a story through its composition, lighting, and most importantly its subject matter.”
Dario is an American photographer living in the Netherlands. He shoots a wide variety of genres including travel, wedding, portrait, and underwater scenes. His goal is to cover as much of the globe as possible, and he’s well on his way having visited more than 30 countries. Read Dario’s stories and see more of his brilliant photographs at his website: http://www.darioendara.com/
“The most important element of a good photograph is the story that it tells. I don’t believe that you need to be a professional to take a great photograph; as long as you have a grasp of composition and lighting you should be ok. My favourite photographs are always the ones that evoke a feeling or a memory, transporting you to another place and time. Often this means avoiding the obvious shot, and instead trying to capture the moments that reflect the story of your individual experience to create something unique.”
Clare primarily shoots digital and she edits her photos to a classical perfection that’d be easy to mistake for film. Her photography style had me hooked as soon as I came upon her website. She’s embarking on a round the world trip later this year. I can’t wait to read all about it and see more of her beautiful images: http://thewayfarerdiaries.com/
The most important element of a good photograph is, “to capture the energy of the subject.”
Mark photographs patterns and movements in natural light. He sometimes blurs the images to take away the hard edges, and he looks within his subjects to capture the core energy. See more of his beautiful imagery at his website: www.marktimothystudios.com/
“The answer is subjective to the type of photograph and we are talking about. There is a big difference between a newsworthy photograph, fashion photographs, travel photographs, food photographs, etc.…
“Even breaking it down within one genre like travel can be difficult. For the type of travel photography that I do, the most important element would have to be the sense of awe that the photograph conveys to the viewer. If the reaction to one of my photographs is that the viewer wishes he or she could visit that location then I’m doing something right.”
Over the last ten years Ken has been shooting commercial lifestyle images with stock photography agencies including Alamy, Jupiterimages, Corbis and Getty Images. His travels are extensive and ongoing, and he photographs and shares his experiences on one of the most popular travel photography websites on the internet today. See more of his remarkable photography at his website: http://blog.kenkaminesky.com/
“If we are talking about a portrait of a human, then I think the emotional element will trump all others. That is not to say that composition, the technical side of the image shouldn’t be there i.e. correct exposure, focus etc… But I think history remembers the emotional images not the technically perfect ones. Mind you, not every portrait has such great emotion, but even in the stoic face we must feel something, a connection with the subject. To me this trumps everything else.”
Matt is a Malaysia based humanitarian, travel photographer, and author who collaborates with NGOs to tell their stories and train their field staff to do the same. His images have been used by clients such as Partner Aid International, NeighborWorks, the BBC, Honda Motor Corporation, and Bombadier Transport Corporation, Asian Geographic, KLM Airlines and others. View more of Matt’s spectacular work at his website: http://www.thedigitaltrekker.com/
“Light! The ability of light to transform a subject or scene from the ordinary to the extraordinary is one of the most powerful tools at the photographer’s disposal. Given all other things are equal: it is the light that a photographer shoots in that sets images apart.”
Richard literally wrote the book on travel photography, having authored Lonely Planet’s Guide to Travel Photography. He’s been traveling for over 30 years, and he’s visited 85 countries and all 7 continents. He’s published a total of 10 books, and when he’s not traveling he lives at home in Sydney, Australia. View more of his amazing work at his website: http://richardianson.com/
What I learned
This project is something I’ve been wanting to do for a while, and I’m really honored that each of these supremely talented photographers wanted to participate. Despite having such varied shooting styles and backgrounds, each of these photographers are focused on very similar fundamentals. By extension then, anyone who wants to take better pictures should focus on these fundamentals as well.
Also worth noting is that none of these photographers mentioned their camera gear when answering this question. I don’t know what kind of cameras were used to make these images, but does it matter? The photographers created the images you see here, and gaining insight into what they were thinking is far more valuable than knowing what kind of gear was used.
What do you think of their answers? Do they surprise you? Have they influenced the way you think about taking better pictures?