View Full Version : Good Pictures (What makes a good picture)

05-14-2009, 05:28 AM
Glad that you went here with this write up, hope you don't mind the copy and paste onto a different thread but I think this will become a very good what, why and how thread.

Posted By Yakmotor

Found one more shot I'm especially proud of because I took it with my little old Casio point & shoot. *This was before I bought the Panasonic fz50 and got serious about digital photography. *Until this revelation my Casio was used for quick snapshots and documenting stuff.

It was a Sunday drive to PiPi Valley north Hi88 off Omo Ranch Road at about 4000'. *Years ago it was an area I went to ride a Honda Trail 90 on dirt tracks and logging roads. *At the Middle Fork Cosumnes bridge pullover I planned to take a snapshot then be on my way, but as I stood there soaking up the scene and pine scented fresh air it dawned on me this was potential.

So what makes a good photo? *Short answer ... you like it. *Doesn't matter if it's blurry, too dark, or tilted off axis. *If it feels good and saves a memory it's a keeper.

What then makes a photo easy on the eye and pleasing to look at? *From a technical stand point most pics with a range of tones from black to pure white look best. *White or bright parts of a scene draw attention while black and dark tones give shape, anchor, and frame. *I like most all my pics to have a dense rich black. *On the bright side if important subject matter is too bright the details get washed out. *I like the brightest points, highlight's they're called, to accent my main subject, but not overpower. *Highlights reflecting from eyes, shiny iridescence of a trout, sparkling wake of a planing boat, chrome of a polished grill, the halo surrounding backlit fur of a pet. *Attract, but not distract. *Attractive bright areas should show subtle detail and not be over exposed and harsh.

The shot I took from the bridge was very nice but I wasn't finished. *I wanted a different angle. *One that would put the flowing water dominate in the foreground. *I found a path down under the bridge. *I recall a large flat bolder or rock outcrop that got me get close but kept my feet dry. *I really liked the large lush green leaves. *I noticed the pine trunks on the opposite side probably more from seeing a couple at a picnic table near them than picking them out as something of interest to include. *I liked this spot because through the viewfinder it put me in the middle of the stream. *I didn't linger analyzing looking for specific things that seem attractive that I now see when I look at the photo. *I was going mainly on my feeling of potential and that I liked the big leaves and the water coming toward me. *I did not carefully compose this photo in the viewfinder or LCD screen. *I started collecting pictures with the camera's 3x zoom set at it's widest angle. *I probably played back the first few on the LCD to see if the exposure looked right. *For me it's awkward to hold a camera out to compose on the LCD. *I'm used to using a eyelevel viewfinder so as basic and cheesy as the little Casio's viewfinder is I used it. *I took a shot centering the stream then panned a bit to take more shots to each side. *It costs nothing to put a bunch of shots on the camera's memory card. *If you encounter a scene with potential that's what I suggest you do.

We see in 3D and we "see" with more than our eyes. *I recall a trail ride on the Honda I took down a steep switchback canyon. *It was one of only a few rides I carried my heavy 35mm camera gear. *The trail started in thick forest, but a little way down a wide patch of shale created a open view. *We stopped breathless at the FANTASTIC scene out across the canyon. *I dug my gear out of the backpack. *WOW! *I shot a few with a wide angle, changed to a normal lens then to a short telephoto. *In my combined senses this was perfect. *I burned a lot of film. *Days later when the prints came back from the lab I tore into 'em anxious to revive the moment and share the spectacle with my family and friends. *I quickly thumbed through them. *Then again. *Where were they? *BOING! *Like the beat of a huge gong it hit me. *These WERE them. *But how? *All they were WERE trees and rocks. *Some close, some far, some in between. *Trees and rocks in shape and color but flat pasted down on photo paper. *No depth or sense of awe that I felt on the trail. *Nothing in the foreground to set a point of perspective. *No leading lines or overlapping planes to guide the eye through the scene. *Just flat trees and rocks.

I bought my 35mm Nikon stuff in '68 while in Vietnam. *When I came home I started a family and began to use it to capture kid memories. *It was the trees and rocks experience that showed me I needed to learn how to photograph a scene with depth. *I began by looking at pictures that made my eyes pause for a longer look. *I studied trying to figure out why. *I bought books on photography that went beyond mechanics of camera or chemical concoctions in the darkroom. *Kodak had a bunch of "How To" booklets I devoured. *I began to watch TV differently paying attention to camera angles and framing. *There are techniques and tricks you can learn to fool the eye and mind to communicate a realistic feeling of space. *

For some people a "good eye" for photography comes easy. *For most, including me, it comes with desire and practice. *Here's a link that offers short lessons for improving composition. *NOTE: I found I had to repeatedly return to this page to access all six of the topics found near the bottom. *Kind of a hassle to backtrack but it can be done.


The image above came from seaming together (using Photoshop) two of the pics I'd collected. *About 80% is one shot of what's on the left. *The big green leaves on the right were added from a seprate shot. *If I'd had a wider angle lens on that camera it could have been done in one. *For shooting scenery a wide angle lens can often help create a dynamic perspective. *More on that later.

Here's the best of the shots I took from the bridge. *Which do you like best? *Why?
* * *

05-14-2009, 05:35 AM
The top one puts me in the scene with the stream and 2 black rocks as thge main focal point. For me the key here is the shot angle as everthing else in the picture adds to the stream not distract the eye from it.

05-14-2009, 10:33 AM
While the close up in the bottom photo is probably a framing picture, I like the second picture because of the information that it offers the viewer.

05-14-2009, 11:50 AM
cuhogn - Thanks for your insight on the photo and for promoting this to a new thread.

I sort of tho buried that post for a reason. *As a new co-moderator I didn't want to just jump in and bombard the board with a bunch of new "Holier than thou" kind of posts that would set a tone that I'm some expert with the last word on what's good/bad right/wrong. *I have a strong desire to contribute which comes from a single old guy's need to feel useful, but I want to share my ideas not dominate.

What I bring to the board is my experience in photography .... I've taken a zillion (and that's not much of an exaggeration) lousy pictures over 30 years and hope my lessons of mistakes will allow *the readers to make less of them.

I'm working on a post now that I hope will begin an idea exchange on how to improve our photography and help us understand how different people see images differently. *It will be a "post your pictures then ask for comments and criticism" sort of thing. *It seems to work well in the photography forum I frequent.

I think it was the third wedding I shot for pay. *I'd advertised myself as a show everything photographer. *I researched before getting into weddings and had found many wedding photogs would edit out the klunker shots from the proof album they presented to the client. *I decided to show all.

It was the Father of the bride I think dancing with an important lady. *I don't remember exactly who. *But, anyway he'd forgot to zip his fly. *With his white trousers and cherry red undershorts it was quite conspicuous in my photograph. *My ears were almost as red as the shorts as the client reviewed the album. *It was a good shot other than the revealing red spot. *I tried to explain how I might be able to retouch the prints so it wouldn't be so obvious. *(No Photoshop in those days to make it easy.) *I thought they would be devastated if this important story telling picture would have to be removed from the album as a reject. *I was wrong. *They loved it. *As is! *Thought it hilarious and it was one of the most emotion provoking shots in the book.

We see and perceive things differently and we each learn in our own way. *It's all good taken in with the attitude of being helpful.

I might add here I take pains to make my words as trim as my pictures. *I'm a poor typist and bad speller, but I have the time to go back and mince over and clean stuff up. *If you don't have time don't sweat it. *Do your best to present your ideas. *Iv rd stdys dat sho r mnds do grt job fxin ritn wrds. *Dn't swet sml stuf.

05-14-2009, 12:05 PM
I'm thinking most would welcome the "bombardment" and consider the help and advice a great asset. Please don't bury important posts. We need to be able to add them to the FAQ's. ;)

05-14-2009, 12:05 PM
great post guys. I tried that link Mark and it didnt work, not sure what is up with that, but thanks again for all of the info, it rocks ;)

05-14-2009, 12:51 PM
Excellent information. Thanks for sharing

05-14-2009, 02:22 PM
freon - Try copying and pasting this:

http://photoinf.com/General/KODAK/guidelines_for_better_photographic_composition_int roduction.html

For some reason unknown to me linking thru the forum now fails. *It had worked before cause I tested it. I can't modify the above because it's in cuhogn's post. Oh well, copy and paste to a new browser's address line ought to get you there.

05-14-2009, 04:43 PM
I'm thinking most would welcome the "bombardment" and consider the help and advice a great asset. Please don't bury important posts. We need to be able to add them to the FAQ's. *;)

I agree with MM and your insight of the pit falls of appearing to come on to strong. I am comfortable with the skills I have learned so far but there is a ton of more information and insight that I would like to hear about from the tech side to the artistry of getting a good shot. You touched on a lot of the same sources that I have researched in the quest for the perfect picture, I find that for me the books and manuals are either way to basic or filled with info that makes no sense to me at the time. There appears to be many on this board who either shoot professionally or have been a hobbyist for years and with "art" there are many different ways to "say" something. So lets get the learning started. ;) 8-)

I have shot pictures of colorful sunrises and sunsets and wildlife, but didn't really capture the colors correctly or wanted to capture the "mood" and couldn't do it. Is this more of a shutter speed issue or maybe an exposure compensation issue. I have read that there are about 6 different settings for any picture that is correct between F stop, shutter speed and ISO setting. Maybe it is just that and learning the effect of each but in my simple way of thinking I assume each one of those affects 1 portion of the shot more than the others. Any insight would be greatly appreciated.

Might be that the metered light reader adjustments needs some more explanation :o

05-20-2009, 10:23 PM
Mark. I just wanted to thank you for all the great info you have posted here in such a short amount of time. That first pic definitely grabs my attention as if I was the one sitting there looking at that stream. I haven't responded to all the posts that I intended to and I am just now reading this thread. I didn't get the photography "bug" until about a year ago. I grew up with a darkroom that my Dad built into our house. I can remember spending hours in there with him developing film as a kid. As a teenager I wasn't into with all my other stuff going on, but I wish I would have stuck with it now. I now find myself not leaving home without a camera and fishing rod in hand. All the hours I have spent observing the streams and rivers in my area could have made some great shots. Now when I arrive at a stream I am thinking about what would be make a good picture before I am strategizing my plan for fishing. I guess the two go hand and hand. Thanks again for all of the great info you have provided and I look forward to all of your posts ;)


05-26-2009, 09:37 PM
So what makes a good photo? *

And here's the long answer...
These are the elements set forth by the nations leader in professional photography organizations/standards. I know, this is not a forum of "pro photographers", I just thought I'd share. ;) :)

The Photographic Exhibitions Committee (PEC) of PPA uses the 12 elements below as the “gold standard” to define a merit image. PEC trains judges to be mindful of these elements when judging images to the PPA merit level and to be placed in the International Print Exhibit at Imaging USA, the annual convention. The use of these 12 elements connects the modern practice of photography and its photographers to the historical practice of photography begun nearly two centuries ago.

Twelve elements have been defined as necessary for the success of an art piece or image. Any image, art piece, or photograph will reveal some measure of all twelve elements, while a visually superior example will reveal obvious consideration of each one

The Twelve elements listed below are in accordance to their importance.

Impact is the sense one gets upon viewing an image for the first time. Compelling images evoke laughter, sadness, anger, pride, wonder or another intense emotion. There can be impact in any of these twelve elements.

Creativity is the original, fresh, and external expression of the imagination of the maker by using the medium to convey an idea, message or thought.

Technical excellence is the print quality of the image itself as it is presented for viewing. Retouching, manipulation, sharpness, exposure, printing, mounting, and correct color are some items that speak to the qualities of the physical print.

Composition is important to the design of an image, bringing all of the visual elements together in concert to express the purpose of the image. Proper composition holds the viewer in the image and prompts the viewer to look where the creator intends. Effective composition can be pleasing or disturbing, depending on the intent of the image maker.

Lighting—the use and control of light—refers to how dimension, shape and roundness are defined in an image. Whether the light applied to an image is manmade or natural, proper use of it should enhance an image.

Style is defined in a number of ways as it applies to a creative image. It might be defined by a specific genre or simply be recognizable as the characteristics of how a specific artist applies light to a subject. It can impact an image in a positive manner when the subject matter and the style are appropriate for each other, or it can have a negative effect when they are at odds.

Print Presentation affects an image by giving it a finished look. The mats and borders used should support and enhance the image, not distract from it.

Center of Interest is the point or points on the image where the maker wants the viewer to stop as they view the image. There can be primary and secondary centers of interest. Occasionally there will be no specific center of interest, when the entire scene collectively serves as the center of interest.

Subject Matter should always be appropriate to the story being told in an image.

Color Balance supplies harmony to an image. An image in which the tones work together, effectively supporting the image, can enhance its emotional appeal. Color balance is not always harmonious and can be used to evoke diverse feelings for effect.

Technique is the approach used to create the image. Printing, lighting, posing, capture, presentation media, and more are part of the technique applied to an image.

Story Telling refers to the image’s ability to evoke imagination. One beautiful thing about art is that each viewer might collect his own message or read her own story in an image.

05-27-2009, 02:47 PM
photohawk - Thanks for insight on how pros judge images and food for thought for anyone else wanting to improve their picture taking.

Pros are in business "making" images for clients ... brides & grooms, executives, graduating seniors, sport teams, catalog publishers, insurance companies, etc. Their pro education, experience, and array of tools come together to match the requirements in making their product.

For folks just out "taking" pictures the twelve elements provide good tidbits to be tucked away in the subconscious. A pro will know when to use a strobe flash with bounce reflectors to control light. Maybe one day the guy outdoors with his Kodak or Casio will recall the tidbit about lighting and realize his control can come from moving around the subject to obtain front, side, or back lighting. Or by moving the subject from strong sun to a shaded spot open to the sky. There Mom, kids, wife, or girlfriend can relax squinted eyes while the softer, low contrast, light opens shadows below eyebrows making those eyes more visible. Open shade, it's called, is much more flattering "light" for people pics than harsh sun reflecting off cheeks and noses like a chrome truck grill.

Thanks again and I hope you'll be back frequently to share more with us!

05-28-2009, 07:40 PM
Great information Photohawk for us amateurs to keep in mind, someday I hope all the information just comes automatically when I am shooting but for now I really have to think about what I am trying to do and playing with settings to see the effects.

05-29-2009, 08:57 AM
At the end of the day, it's in the eye of the beholder. To me, 'good' photos accomplish what the photographer intended, whatever that is. Most of the time we don't know what the intent is, so we're left to figure it out ourselves. It's when this unspoken connection is made between the photographer and the viewer, that it becomes 'good'.

To me, all the fine technical points of taking good photos only help in this communication...

05-29-2009, 09:04 PM
The best picture is A=the one I shot and love,B=the pic I saw and loved also,C=all the other pics that keep me looking for another pic !