What Makes a Good Photograph, Excellent? – Part 1

by Brittany Horton on March 8, 2010

I was going through 40-50 portraits taken by Louellen Coker at a recent event, and one stood out of the crowd. All of the images were taken around the same time of day, with the same lighting, for the same reason. Though, this one image still stood out. Why? I looked into this a little more, and I found these four photography tips to share to help you make a good photograph, excellent.

When photographing any subject, may it be your children, your dog, a landscape or building, or even your staff, there are four elements to keep in mind while shooting: the composition, the lighting, the gaze, and the equipment, all being equally important. If one of these elements is missing, you may only have a good photograph, not an excellent one. Today I will touch base on the first important aspect of an excellent photograph, the composition.

Composition, also known as the frame, according to the Mariam-Webster online dictionary is the “arrangement into specific proportion or relation.” When you begin to take your photographs, remember that you need to pay attention to your surroundings, you want to find the best spot for your images, that will allow for the best composition. Ask yourself a few questions while looking through your lens at your subject to find the best composition.

  • Is anything important being cut-off, hands or even ears?
  • Are there any objects directly behind the subject, pulling attention away from the subject?
  • Are there any dark corners, or bright windows in the background that you should move away from (a good tip indoors with windows, have the window point toward your subject, not toward you)?
  • Are their any objects in the frame that are unwanted, a loose sheet of paper or trash, a dirty coffee mug, or even a stranger?

All of these questions and the analyzing of your surroundings will help you frame your photograph, and arrange your subject to be the center of attention, while not having to be in the center. Which brings me to my next tip, the rule of thirds.

When it comes to photography, a lot of photographers will tell you that they dislike anything being directly centered, this is a common factor dating back to ancient paintings and artifacts. The rule of thirds, is a standard of dividing your image into thirds to help arrange your image, helping move the eye around the photograph and proportionally arrange your subject. This rule can be applied to both vertical and horizontal photographs.

Rule of Thirds

Rule of Thirds

Photograph example using the Rule of Thirds

Photograph example using the Rule of Thirds

As seen in this example, we first have the rule of thirds alone, which divides the image into nine equal parts and into thirds. Then we have a photograph with the rule of thirds applied. You can see that the subject is aligned with one of the lines, and an important element on the subject, the bike, is centered on one of the points. Having the subject along the third rule, allows the eye to move across from the point of sight, to the rest of the photograph, the boy, the bike, and then to the puddle. One of our favorite photographer bloggers, Darren Rowse, stated “The theory is that if you place points of interest in the intersections or along the lines that your photo becomes more balanced and will enable a viewer of the image to interact with it more naturally.” Having this natural movement will allow the viewers to enjoy the entire photograph, not just small elements, making it an excellent photograph.

In my next few blog posts, we will discuss the other three important elements to a photograph, the gaze, the lighting, and the equipment.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Debbra Brouillette March 8, 2010 at 12:41 pm

As somewhat of a shutterbug myself, I enjoyed your post. It is so difficult to tell someone what to try to look for when they look into a camera’s viewfinder. Framing up the photo is so important! I will look forward to your follow-up posts.

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