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View Poll Results: what makes a great photo?

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  • composition

    9 75.00%
  • exposure

    1 8.33%
  • subject

    4 33.33%
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Thread: What makes a great photo?

  1. #1
    Raycer's Avatar
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    What makes a great photo?

    Is it composition, exposure or the main subject?
    What's the most important factor for you?
    Last edited by Raycer; 30th October 2008 at 11:56 PM.

  2. #2

    Re: What makes a great photo?

    AFAIC, exposure needs to be correct and while there are certain degrees of freedom which can help to create a better image, I think that a suitable exposure should be the result of a job done in a compentent manner, but the latter doesn't imply a great image.

    I believe composition is the most important aspect but then if you have an image that does everything right in terms of composition but the subjects sucks then it doesn't do a lot for me. Let's say abstract images have limited impact on me.

  3. #3
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    Re: What makes a great photo?

    I agree, though this may be wishful thinking because I'm not good at the technical part.

  4. #4
    Moderator Dave Humphries's Avatar
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    Re: What makes a great photo?

    Definitely the composition; it is the thing the photographer has the most control over. "Subject" is secondary, because what that is, largely depends upon the composition. Also, I don't have to like a subject to appreciate a great photo. Arguably a 'great' photo is one that illicits a concious response from the viewer, be that positive (he/she/that's pretty) or negative (OMG that's awful, how could anyone do that!).

    I'm in agreement with Class A on;
    - you can take liberties with exposure and furthermore; depending on the subject and composition, make a greater photo than if exposed for full tonal range.
    - most abstracts don't do much for me either, possibly because I haven't learned to appreciate them, maybe I never will

    Good Poll question, it made me think

  5. #5
    Richard's Avatar
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    Re: What makes a great photo?

    I believe a good photograph is made up of an interesting subject, well composed, and correctly exposed. I voted for composition

    However, having said that, with today's technology a lot can be done to the photograph once it has been captured to improve it. You can change the composition with cropping, and certainly correct any defects in the exposure - but you can't really change the subject.

    As far as abstract photography goes - I was not a great fan of it. However, since finding this site and having seen some of Mr Kaskais's work - my views have changed. His style certainly makes you think about what you are seeing.

  6. #6

    Re: What makes a great photo?

    Quote Originally Posted by Richard View Post
    However, since finding this site and having seen some of Mr Kaskais's work - my views have changed. .
    Sounds interesting. Where is his work?

  7. #7
    Richard's Avatar
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    Re: What makes a great photo?

    Quote Originally Posted by Class A View Post
    Sounds interesting. Where is his work?
    Right here - just look for the Kaskais posts in the Nature & Architecture / People and Pets sections.

  8. #8
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    Re: What makes a great photo?

    A good example of how composition is more important than subject: I saw a photo on one of these forums, taken by a member, of a nasty old tap in an abandoned factory, all covered in limestone or whatever you call it, gruesome. The kind of thing you look away from when looking for something interesting to photograph. The end result: a beautiful work of art !
    Last edited by GreenTea; 1st November 2008 at 01:14 PM.

  9. #9

    Re: What makes a great photo?

    I think the question is both very interesting and based on a false premise - i.e. that one specific element is THE most important. IMO, they're all very important. However, if I have to pick just one, it has to be subject matter. My reasoning;

    1) Within certain latitudes, exposure can be corrected or at least improved by darkroom or digital manipulation
    2) Composition tends to be the most contentious and subjective issue and one man's rule of thirds is another man's hackneyed cliche.
    3) However, a strong / dynamic / interesting subject will usually catch the eye and the viewer's attention (Just check out war shots from Robert Capa or Don McCullin. Critical moment - definitely - but perfect exposure and/or composition.....?)

    This is probably most applicable to photojournalism / street / sports photography as the story is everything. Perfect exposure and composition are 'nice to haves' in those genres.

    Where the subject matter is more (if not completely) controllable - landscapes, studio portraits, etc. - then photographs tend to be criticised more heavily if exposure and composition aren't up to scratch.

    When it comes to still life and advertising shots - where the subject, camera and lighting are 100% under the photographer's control - there's virtually no reason why the shot shouldn't be perfect in every respect.

    That's my theory at least - and I've probably made a rod for my own back for when I post some landscapes!!!

  10. #10

    Re: What makes a great photo?

    Quote Originally Posted by Richard View Post
    Right here - just look for the Kaskais posts in the Nature & Architecture / People and Pets sections.
    Ah, thanks.

    This is professional stuff. Excellent work. I also like his abstract pieces. However, I wouldn't put any of the abstract ones on the wall as I believe they would wear out very quickly, at least for me.

  11. #11
    Raycer's Avatar
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    Re: What makes a great photo?

    Looks like most people thing the composition is THE most important item.

    so how much time do you guys take to compose a photo?

    I hate to admit this, but I pay more attention to the camera setting when I bring the view finder to my eye. I normally check the exposure first then composition.
    After I take the first picture, I often check the histogram to make sure the exposure is where I want it.

  12. #12
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    Re: What makes a great photo?

    I am new to this forum but can't resist adding my two cents to this thread. I have seen similar questions on other forums and it appears photographers often struggle with this. I certainly don't have the final word here as I wrestle with it like everybody else.

    I don't believe the answer is as simple as picking composition, exposure or subject. In any given image that is generally recognized as "great," it could be the subject matter, composition or exposure that makes it so. That said, perfect exposure of an uninteresting subject matter, no matter how composed is not likely to be considered "great." On the other hand, a well composed detail of an otherwise uninteresting subject matter may make a good picture if properly exposed. An otherwise "great" picture can be blown or enhanced with bad or good exposure. I see all three factors (and more) working together to make a "great" picture.

    This is closely related to the question as to whether photography is art or science. Clearly it's both. I tend to see my photography primarily as an art form and science or technology as the means to achieve or improve the art. Even when I photograph something just to document a time place or event, I try to use my equipment and whatever artist skill I may have to take away an interesting or artsy image.

    A picture that is generally recognized as "great" is one that touches something in the eye, mind or emotions of other people - that is, other than the photographer. The occasional "lucky shot" that all of us can get from time to time notwithstanding, a good photographer can see (recognize) a good subject, compose the right image and choose the right exposure, depth of field, focus, etc to bring art and science together for a "great" photograph. I hope this doesn't sound to wishy washy...I just don't think you can point to subject, composition or exposure as the single most important factor in great photography. They work together. A good photographer makes good artistic and technical choices to produce a great photograph.

    Chuck

  13. #13
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    Re: What makes a great photo?

    Hi Chuck - What a good post! I've been wrestling over the last few days about what, if anything, I could constructively add to this topic. Your views express elegantly many of my own about what makes a good or great photograph. If I might express things slightly differently, a major factor in determining the worth or "goodness" or "greatness" of a photograph is the intent of the photographer or the purpose of the photograph. This directly relates to image making via painting and sculpture and other non-photographic art forms. If the intent or purpose of a photograph is purely documentary, then the technical aspects of exposure etc. come to the fore. If the purpose is to show some narrative or drama then subject composition, capturing the magic moment a la Cartier Bresson, and stylistic effects start to dominate. It is these types of photographs that we usually remember, relate to, and which often win accolades and prizes.

    However, straight-forward well recorded documentary images can also win approval in some circles. If I might relate a short story: I used to take, as part of my career as an expert witness, photographs of machinery and processes in factories and the like. These were taken with the intent of showing in courts of law, as accurately as possible, the working conditions of employees suing their employer for damages. In one case, my photographs were deemed to be "good" over those of the opposing expert witness because they were technically well taken, relevant, and accurate. My opposite number's photographs were, according to the judge, technically flawed (i.e. out of focus and poor colour balance) and tried to make out conditions were far worse than, in fact, they were. The employees lost their case (for other reasons as well) but nevertheless the case shows that even humble documentary images can have critical value.

    David

  14. #14
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    Re: What makes a great photo?

    Hi David: I agree with what you said and your story is a good illustration of your point. Now, my goal is to grow in both artistic and technological aspects.

    Chuck

  15. #15
    Raycer's Avatar
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    Re: What makes a great photo?

    Thanks guys for your great inputs. Certainly, I agree that the objective of taking photos will determine what a good or great photo is.

    At begining of this thread, I was thinking if all 3 - subject, exposure and composition being equally bad or average, what is the single most important aspect that can I do to improve my photos. I guess what I'm looking for is that 'wow' factor that can take an average photo to the next level.

    Here's an experiment I did.

    Subject: Door handle.
    Exposure: over and under
    Composition: dead centre.

    what do you guys think of this photo? I think we can all agree that door handle is a pretty boring subject. The exposure, will, its exposed (I'm sure the camera sees it as 18% grey). The composition... no 1/3, golden means, leading lines, etc etc.

    If you could change one thing about this photo, what would it be? ie, a fancy door handle with the same exposure and composition? or a different composition with the same door handle and weird exposure. Which do you think will be better?
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    Last edited by Raycer; 11th November 2008 at 10:47 PM.

  16. #16
    Moderator Dave Humphries's Avatar
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    Re: What makes a great photo?

    Oooh I don't know Raycer, looking at the split between light and dark; it isn't far off a third

    Maybe HDR it to see what's happening in the background on both sides of door?

    You're making me think again and my head's hurting ....


  17. #17
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    Re: What makes a great photo?

    I think this has to be one of the most thought provoking posts that I've come across on this site for a while.

    For me personnally it's a combination of more than just composition, exposure and subject. What about emotion, spontaneity and the photographer's guiding light that is just plain luck?

    Also, while I've only been at this humble hobby a very short time, I know that it's changed me. I look at things differently now. How would I shoot this. How would a pro shoot this. So add another two factors; Skill and experience. I can only strive for one and maybe I'll end up with a little of the other, I don't know.

    So then came the soul search and the question. Have I taken any greats? Truth? Not yet, but I've got quite a few crackers, some cools, and a lot of "what the hell is that?"

    Mark

  18. #18
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    Re: What makes a great photo?

    There is no definitive answer to this question, as you will find if you go along to your local camera club and enter a few competitions - which I recommend to all learners and improvers.

    One judge will drool over a pic that another will flip past without a thought and ones that you wondered whether to enter at all can come out tops above your favourite. At one of our 2 local clubs (which I will be dropping) an open competition was won by something that broke every single rule I have ever heard of and I had to stare at it for quite a time before I realised it was just one of the local riverfronts. And I mean basic rules, badly stitched panorama, buildings leaning different ways in different sections, outrageous (and applied) colours.

    The more searching question is whether you are photographing for your own pleasure and to share it (my approach) or trying to win competitions or sell. In the former case you improve your competence to the extent that what attracted your eye is FULLY potrayed in the final image. In the latter, you study manuals/go on courses, enter comps going straight for the throat and, the worst bit for me, ensure you are on this months fashion wave, not last's.

    Chris www.pbase.com/crisscross

  19. #19
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    Re: What makes a great photo?

    Chris,

    Definitely agree about camera club judges. Recently went along to find that the booked judge couldn't make it at the last moment, so someone else from another club pulled in at the last moment. You should have seen the faces of some of the competitors. Why? Some of them had found out who the judge would be and pandered to his tastes with their submissions. However the change meant they were sadly disappointed!

    One reason why I don't go a bundle on such competitions as I photograph primarily for me, or where commissioned for the client, but bearing in mind that they had chosen me for my track record, so being true to yourself is critical. It will produce better results that you are happy with.

  20. #20
    David's Avatar
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    Re: What makes a great photo?

    Raycer - Re your door handle, I like it the way it is. As already pointed out there is a pleasing offset to give it that "rule of thirds" look. In addition, the black-white high contrast background is very powerful (I'm sure I've seen published images using this device) and the handles etc form enigmatic floating shapes. Sorry, but you'll have to try harder to produce a really duff image!!!

    One other point occurred to me while contemplating this image and that is the role of the image-maker's status within photography (or whatever). I do not know your status, you may be a great well-known household name in photography or you may be a humble amateur like me (well, I'm not so humble). If you were well-known, I bet any number of critics would be fawning over that image you've posted, explaining how it signifies a post-modernist approach to the gateways we all face in life, yet at the same time reminding us of our beginning and end. (Hey, I like this stuff, I could make a career out of writing such analyses!) But, the point, I believe is valid. Status is also a determining factor in what is good, bad, ugly and great.

    David

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