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Old Oct 7, 2009, 8:15 AM   #1
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Default What Makes A Good Photograph?

Today's Pic of the Day is called 1 Lucky Shot. It was a great shot taken by being in the right place at the right time pointing the camera in the right direction. So what makes a great photograph? Is it the interest value? The technique used? The more expensive equipment? The post processing? Point your camera at a spectacular sunset with unusual heavenly clouds and a firey red sky cant help but have a big impact on it being called a great photo. Technically it was point and shoot. So what is it that makes it great or the photographer being called a great photographer? It has to be more than being continuously lucky and pointing the camera. Do great photographers specialize in one area such as landscapes, sports, flora and fauna, people, studio setups (for advertising). Is it that they are more persistant in taking pictures? And so the more you take, odds are, you will take more great ones? So is it luck or skill or both? With skill you can only learn so much. And I think the skill is being able to get the camera ready for the shot and having that sense to know when to take the picture. I believe its all more luck than skill but Im sure there are those who disagree. What do you think?
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Old Oct 7, 2009, 8:49 AM   #2
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I think a Good Photograph is one that causes an immediate uncontrollable reaction from the viewer. The reaction could be a frown or it could be a smile. The reaction to me indicates the photo is 98% above the norm. This is a touchy area because I want to leave out pictures unacceptable to society that cause reactions. How and by who, luck or skill matters not to me.
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Old Oct 7, 2009, 9:03 AM   #3
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I think an important difference here is the difference between "great photograph" and "great photographer". Great photographers deliver great photographs repeatedly. And while there is some luck involved they often PLAN rather than react. They have a knack for understanding lighting and composition. For example take a great photographer and a standard hobbyist. Give them the same camera set on Auto and put them in the same setting for a day. Remove the technical considerations by not allowing the camera to be taken out of auto. The great photographer will still come out with more interesting photographs because of that eye for composition and lighting. And, understanding the limitations of their equipment they will plan their shots better (positioning themselves better with relation to the subject and the light - timing their shots better, etc...). Then, if you allow the users to post-process the images the gap will widen further. Repeat the exercise allowing the great photographer to maximize the tools at his/her disposal (taking camera out of auto) and the gulf between the results will be even more massive.

As far as a great photograph - I'm not sure how I'd define "great" but the difference between a photograph and snapshot to me is whether the image carries interest to those not involved in the image. Something about the image has to draw in a viewer who doesn't know the subject per se and has no pre-viewing attachment (i.e. a grandma will love every image of their grandchild - but that doesn't make those images photos. In my opinion, a photograph stands on it's own. You shouldn't have to know what equipment was used, what processing, how much planning - you look at the photo and are drawn into it. I guess to my mind, what would make a given photo great is that it evokes emotion - it tells a story better than words or video could. It captures a moment in time but the moment captured is an important one and it jumps out as unique. Sometimes, as with Ansel Adams, the photos are the result of extensive planing. Sometimes, as with the Pulitzer photo of the girl in Vietnam, they are the result of the photographer being in the right place at the right time AND being able to use his/her tools to capture that powerful moment and frame it in such a way as to tell the story.
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Old Oct 7, 2009, 11:22 AM   #4
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The diference between a good snapshot and a good photograph is that a good snapshot evokes an emotion from a few people because they already have a connection to a person, place or thing in the image. A good photograph evokes an emotion from many people, most of whom don't already have a connection with the subject(s) in the image until they see the image.

A good photographer is better prepared to take a good photograph than a poor photographer, so it isn't all luck. That's why good photographers come away with more good photographs than the typical person.
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Old Oct 7, 2009, 1:01 PM   #5
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The difference between a good snapshot and a good photograph is that a good snapshot evokes an emotion from a few people because they already have a connection to a person, place or thing in the image. A good photograph evokes an emotion from many people, most of whom don't already have a connection with the subject(s) in the image until they see the image.
Sorry, I dont understand this at all. To me, the difference between a snapshot and a photograph is in the thought put in before clicking the shutter. But a snapshot can still be a great shot while a well thought out photo can fall flat if any one of a dozen things go wrong. Looking at today's Pic of the Day the photographer basically calls it a snapshot. But the emotion and interest in the shot is quite good due to the unique aspect of the subject and Im sure would have a connection to any person who has seen a tiger before. It was a lucky shot. So is it just being in the right place at the right time? I dont think a lucky shot makes one a photographer. Which brings up another point. At which time does one cross that line to be able to call themselves a photographer?
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Old Oct 7, 2009, 2:05 PM   #6
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The difference between a snapshot and a photograph is the feeling a stranger gets when he or she sees it for the first time. The difference between a photograph and a good photograph is the strength, repeatability and universality of that feeling.

A lucky shot is a shot that you took because you just happened to be in the right place at the right time and happened to have a camera. A photographer plans to be in the right place at the right time with the right equipment and expertise to best capitalize on the opportunity when it presents itself. Not every image a photographer captures will be a good photograph, but a lot of them will. Someone that relies on luck will be lucky to get more than a handful of extraordinary images in a lifetime. While the POTD winner is an extraordinary image, I hesitate to call it a good photograph.
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Old Oct 7, 2009, 2:17 PM   #7
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While the POTD winner is an extraordinary image, I hesitate to call it a good photograph.
I would agree - the POTENTIAL is certainly there. But it's very underexposed. If exposed properly I think it would be a good photograph. The impact of the image itself is not, IMO, enough to overcome this technical shortcoming.

I also agree with TCAVs assessment - he said what I was trying to say much more succinctly.
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To me, the difference between a snapshot and a photograph is in the thought put in before clicking the shutter. But a snapshot can still be a great shot while a well thought out photo can fall flat if any one of a dozen things go wrong. Looking at today's Pic of the Day the photographer basically calls it a snapshot.
I disagree here. Planning certainly ups the odds of having a good photo and is the mark of a good PHOTOGRAPHER. But again, I would argue a photo vs. snapshot is determined by the impact on the viewer. Luck can produce a good photo. It's not likely too (i.e. luck vs. planning is about controlling the probability of a good photo). Think of it like a game of darts. Let's say your goal is a bulls eye. That bull's eye is a good photo. Whether you hit the bulls-eye by luck or by skill, the end product is still a bulls eye. Having skill simply increases the probability of that objective

A good photo is not dimished because it was made by luck. which, of course, is why you don't judge a photographer based upon a single image.
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Old Oct 7, 2009, 3:06 PM   #8
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I would agree - the POTENTIAL is certainly there. But it's very underexposed. If exposed properly I think it would be a good photograph. The impact of the image itself is not, IMO, enough to overcome this technical shortcoming.
So, if someone you consider to be a great photographer had decided to do this shot with the improper exposure and perhaps a bit out of focus as an artistic choice that would add to the dramatic impact and heighten the sense of danger, you would say that the great photographer was just deluding himself? I ask because there is a school of photography that attempts to evoke that amateur ethos in their work. Are they per force producing bad photographs? Or is it no longer bad if it was done for an artistic purpose, and the only way to know with confidence whether a photo is good or bad is to know the name of the photographer?
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Old Oct 7, 2009, 3:16 PM   #9
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So, if someone you consider to be a great photographer had decided to do this shot with the improper exposure and perhaps a bit out of focus as an artistic choice that would add to the dramatic impact and heighten the sense of danger, you would say that the great photographer was just deluding himself? I ask because there is a school of photography that attempts to evoke that amateur ethos in their work. Are they per force producing bad photographs? Or is it no longer bad if it was done for an artistic purpose, and the only way to know with confidence whether a photo is good or bad is to know the name of the photographer?
One of the things I try to be careful of is attributing a value to the product based upon the artist. I'm not a bigtime photography guru - I couldn't name many great photographers. But I think it's similar to music or film. Certain people will think any movie made by Director so-and-so is great just because his name is associated with it.

I would also say denoting something a 'great photo' is a judegment call. If I look at a photo, regadless of who made it, if I don't like the style the photo was done in I wouldn't call it a 'great photo'. But that's just my opinion - an opinion which has almost no weight to it.

Or another way to answer your question: it is possible to evaluate whether a person achieved their goal. So in some regard you could give kudos to them for doing so. But, at the end of the day, if I don't think the goal was worth achieving I can't say I think it's a good photo.

I'll give you an actual example. A while back, somene here or another forum posted a photo of a football game taken from the upper decks - looked like the photos the teams use during games. The person who took the photo liked that they could see all the players on the field. TO them they accomplished their goal. To me, it was a bad PHOTO because I didn't find anything interesting or compelling about the shot. So, in my opinion only, it wasn't a good photo even though they achieved their objective. But as mentioned, that's only one person's opinion - not worth any more than any other person's opinion.
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Old Oct 7, 2009, 3:52 PM   #10
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When it comes to art I'm afraid that I don't think that one person's opinion is as good as another's.

People have different abilities across all fields - some people are good at singing, some aren't, some can do mathematics, some can run, some are good at lots of things and some are rubbish at everything. It's not fair, but it's the way things are.

I believe that the same is true of both making art (including photography) and also appreciating and understanding art. I think some people are worth paying attention to when it comes to art and some (most actually) are not.

Of course everyone can improve their ability at anything, but it doesn't matter how much I practice I'm never going to run like Bolt, swim like Thorpe or paint like Van Gogh.

It is of course easier to appreciate photography or music than it is to make it, but not everyone's opinion about art is equally worthy. Some people don't appreciate Bach; not their fault, not mine, but I'm not going to take their opinions on music very seriously.

Photography is a craft, which can also produce art. Most photography is not art. A good picture can be judged from the craft viewpoint - exposure, focus, etc. Or it can be judged from an artistic viewpoint - where exposure and focus, etc. are mostly irrelevant. Craft photographers often don't get art photography at all, and can be very accomplished at what they do, but it mostly leaves me cold.

Pictures of sunsets are prime examples. I have seen thousands. 99.9% leave me utterly indifferent, but craft photographers love them. We all know people who have tons of really expensive equipment and take perfectly sharp, well exposed and utterly boring pictures. Postcards. If we're lucky we know some talented young artists with a cheap camera, only a rudimentary understanding of the technical aspects and buckets of talent whose pictures just blow you away.

"Snapshot" is most often used as a simple pejorative term for a picture you don't like or one which is artistically better than you can manage but technically weak in some aspect.

In reaction to this reverse snobbery, some people embrace the democracy of the term - viva la Snapshot! Art is not craft. There is nothing more sterile than a perfectly sharp, well exposed, rule-of-thirds landscape scene. Makes me want to vomit and bludgeon the owner into insensibility with his Canon 1DsMkIII and L lenses.

I will have more to say later I'm sure, but if I've had enough of my pontificating I'm sure you have too. :P

P.S. Try this little test. Choose five pictures, one each from five different photography books on your shelf (manuals and how-to books don't count) without looking at the books. Make sure they are by 5 different photographers. Can you describe why it's an interesting or important picture? If you don't find this task trivially easy then you aren't really interested in art photography,and probably don't have anything interesting to say about what makes a good picture beyond the purely technical aspects - which anyone can learn and are easily found in how-to books.
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