Is there a definitive answer to this question?
Personally, I do not think there is a definitive answer. It is highly subjective and well, personal.
We were with some friends recently, when one of them said, “I don’t even know what makes a good photograph.” She said this coming from the point that she is an aspiring photographer who mainly wants to photograph her children well.
I thought about this question for a moment and I initally came up with a ‘technical’ answer. I always tend to lean on technicalities because the logical part of my brain goes there.
I blurt out some answer like, “Well, to me a good photograph is made up of the Right Moment, Good Light and Good Composition.” Now, this is not a bad answer, but certainly it is not definitive.
As photographers, we need to go deeper and ask ourselves “What makes a good photograph, to me personally?”
The way I see things and photograph people (sometimes things, but enjoy photographing people most), the most important aspect of a good photograph is the moment. Having good light and composition are surely a plus, but it doesn’t always pan out that way. Usually, I am fortunate enough to have the moment and good light OR the moment and good composition. Mostly I end up with the moment and composition. The conditions in which I find most moments, are not in ideal lighting situations. I can ‘make light’ on occasions, but for the most part it is too disruptive. I am usually left looking for the best angle to view a scene with the existing ambient light in the space.
Back to the moment being the most important element for me…
A good photograph to me is one that makes me feel. Whether I feel joy, sorry, pain, anger, etc…. If an image makes me emote, then it is good in my book. I find most images I am drawn too are moment specific, that technically are far from perfect or ‘pretty picture’. I like pretty pictures as much as the next guy, but quite often they do not make me emote. We are inundated with pretty pictures everywhere we look. Visually it is pleasing, but for filling the heart and soul, they are void.
Even though I have known this about myself I have pursued so many different kinds of photography and image making, that at times I ended up forgetting this one simple principle in my core. I would begin traveling down a path that did not resonate with me, primarily because I thought that is what other people would like. In the end it never works out when you follow the path that other people walk or think you should walk.
I firmly believe that if you stick to what makes a good photograph to YOU and you only, that people will be more drawn to your images.
I can say that within my wedding photography career, this has held very true. People that hire me see something in my photographs that make them feel and connect. They can visualize their own wedding and see things unfolding naturally. If I look at my work and then start comparing to what is ‘normal’ in the world of wedding photography, I can easily begin to think I am doing something wrong. In fact, for the first few years of my career in wedding photography, I fought this internal battle constantly. I would look everywhere else but inwardly, to determine what makes a good photograph. I started producing said photographs and began do dislike the art! This is not where you want to be when you are moving down the career path of photography!
I think it is great to view other photography work. Get a taste for what you love, what makes you tick and why you love it. Some work you will love, but it will not make you tick. When you find work that does make you tick, you may be onto something internally, which you should start to experiment with.
My heart is with Real Life and photography that captures it this way. I love to make a great directed portrait once in a while too, which serves as kind of a milestone. These directed portraits, however are not what drives me.
My most important job as a photographer is documenting my own family. This is something that ashamedly I have neglected many times. Sometimes I just don’t want to pick up a camera because I use one ‘on the job’. Sometimes when I am photographing my family, I want to perfect the image… This can lead no where really fast, because when your focus is on perfection you will miss so much!
To be quite honest, IMHO a good photograph doesn’t get much better than this one of Chyler taking a nap.
This is good to me because I know the context. It was the middle of the afternoon. Chyler crawled up on the couch, covered up and took a nap. I love the way her face is lit from the window, the way she is completely relaxed and especially the rainbow loom bracelets she is wearing. This is the year of rainbow loom. All of us have been wearing the wonderful jewelry the kids have been making.
This year my goal is to make a lot of “good” photographs for me, of my loved ones. They may never be viewed super size in a gallery, but they will surely line the photo books I create for us to cherish. Time to start preserving history.