What makes a good photographer? What makes a good photo? What makes them great?

This should be a very discussion based post. Although the answer might seem simple at first, I really want you to think hard about what it takes to make a good photographer or to make a good photo. Then, I want you to tell me what makes them great.

I’m very curious to see what higher ed (and non-higher ed) people think about this. Please share this with people or start a conversation amongst the people in your office.

Here are some samples to get you thinking.

Is this a good photo?

Students on the Quad

What about this one?


How about this one?

Millie with her dad

Finally, this one? One person calls this one a “favorite” on Flickr.


Are the photos themselves good, or are there only aspects of each one that are good? Do the technical elements (composition, bokeh, focus, exposure, color, etc.) make them good or great (or bad)? Or are these photos just snapshots?
Final question which will take some stretching of your imagination; would you use photos like these (some with different subject matter of course – obviously the father/daughter photo wouldn’t be that appealing, but what about two soccer players embracing each other after a goal) when marketing to high school students? How do you think they would rate these photos?


33 Responses to “What makes a good photographer? What makes a good photo? What makes them great?”

  1. June 17, 2008 at 3:52 pm

    I think the second photo is a great one. It shows action and motion, and even some emotion as well. And the best part is the way the kid was shot in the lower left corner of the frame, like he is running into the picture. I love it.

  2. 2 yesbuts
    June 17, 2008 at 4:01 pm

    If you go to the FujiMugs Challenge at Digital Camera Review


    And look at the voting results you will see that a number of members who voted did note rate the winner in their top ten photos. I offer this in support of my view that in general what constitutes a good photograph is very much personal preference. However having said that there are images be they paintings or photographs which are universally regarded as great – what are the ingredients of those images that make them great? If I knew the answer to that I would be known as a great photographer. πŸ™‚

  3. June 17, 2008 at 5:54 pm

    good photos rely on either content or technique; great photos are based on on the union of content and technique. the first one here has good technique, but the content isn’t particularly engaging (at least to me). the rest rely purely on content. if you know the people or cat involved that can make them good, but none of them will go down in the history books as great. the second one may have been composed that way intentionally to leave a lot of space open for text, i don’t know. if that’s the case it could be well suited for its intended purpose, but on its own the composition is really awkward.

    note: i really don’t want this to sound as harsh as it might, and i am very glad to see someone in this springfield area having this discussion.

  4. June 17, 2008 at 6:10 pm

    I promise I will respond to each of you, but not right now. I want to hear what others say before I put in my own insight.

    @jason Nice to meet you. Glad to see another local area photographer!

  5. 5 Chris
    June 18, 2008 at 10:46 am

    the first photo is good. i like it. shows good emotion, the focus is clear in the right spots (don’t care if a backpack is in focus). it’s one of those photos that is good, but nothing really different. i would call it a brochure pic πŸ™‚

    it’s weird because i don’t like the 2nd one at all and others do. it looks abnormal to me. his emotion is not fun to look at either. and the framing (unless it is for a brochure and text is going on top) is not my style of liking.

    the 3rd one the lighting is poor, but other then that it is a decent photo for a family photo album.

    i don’t like the 4th one either though. cutting the cat off takes me away from the picture IMO. lighting is a little weird too.

  6. October 20, 2008 at 10:02 pm

    The first photo is in focus and good quality, but not really exciting.

    The second photo is great in my opinion, because you have captured movement, emotion, and although it’s an awkward kind of angle and the young man is sort of cut off, I like that.

    I don’t like the angle of the third photo, although the subject (the little girl) is very cute.

    It is obvious that you had the flash on in the fourth picture, because it is a little over exposed in some parts. The kitten is adorable and maybe if it was cropped a bit more it would look better.

  7. 7 jamie
    May 10, 2009 at 12:02 pm

    So what are your comments? I am interested to hear what you had to say about the above photos. thanx

  8. 8 sophie
    August 18, 2009 at 4:46 pm

    hello im 9 and i was wondering is it good being a photographer? do i get good money for it?
    do i have fun?

  9. 9 aragon
    August 29, 2009 at 4:06 pm

    i am the photographer for my school’s newspaper. I think that all the pictures are good exept for the fourth one. I think what makes a good photogrpaher is that they have to know about angles, and how things will look at a diffrent angle. Also they have to act at the right time, ex(sunsets), and obvously to make sure their pictures look well.

  10. 10 mrs marica c
    September 1, 2009 at 1:43 pm

    hi there but for me i like the 4th picture this is because i like the colour n it matched all together the background n kitten.
    when i look at it make me smile n i cant stop looking at it.
    just so beatiful n something i wanna use for my phone wall papper….

  11. 11 brittany
    November 17, 2009 at 10:33 pm

    I personaly think the last photo was the best…!!!

  12. 12 Rachelle
    November 30, 2009 at 5:47 pm

    Hi, Im only 14 but i love photography, i think the first one and the second one are probably one of the best.The first one is a photo with energy, it gives off a friendly vibe (in my opinion) The second shows how the person is concentrating on the frisbee. They are by chance and not staged which makes them unique. The picture of the kitten is obviously cute but there are so many pictures of cats and kittens already. The first two show one of a kind pictures,pictures you can’t get twice. Although the other pictures are great as well, I feel the first two have something special.

  13. 13 Nikki
    December 10, 2009 at 3:37 am

    Hi there, I really like the first photograph, to me it tells a bit of a story….colours and perspective are great – for me! Second picture – a real action shot, but I am not mad about it…too much background, could do with croping. 3rd and 4th pictures are terrible! lighting and colours are not enhanced or shown enough and the focus points do not make sence to me?

  14. December 21, 2009 at 7:35 pm

    Wow, Thanks for the thinking opportunity!
    #1, what is the focal point? What is the purpose of the photo? I agree, brocheur photo of ” come to our campus to study. It’s Fun here!”
    #2 best.. depth of field correct, action, focus
    #3 Well, If this was my child, Great moment. Family photo only. With a little more shadow so that we can picture ourself as the father with our child, it might work.
    #4 Cat. cute. that all. pfffft

    Help me cecome a better photographer…. post your thoughts!

    Thanks, Miggy

  15. 15 amber v
    April 30, 2010 at 10:18 pm

    They all ‘suck’

  16. 16 amber v
    April 30, 2010 at 10:22 pm

    I good photo compels the viewer to look twice, feel SOMETHING. A good photo has a chance of making someone think, perhaps it is worthy of putting on canvas..or even let me look again..remember it for more then 30 seconds.

    The photos given to judge had none of those characteristics.

  17. May 4, 2010 at 8:17 am


  18. May 4, 2010 at 8:18 am

    great pic luv itL(LOL) πŸ™‚

  19. 19 Martin D
    June 22, 2010 at 6:16 am

    For me the best is the second photo. I like the action shot and concentration on the boys face as well as the good use of depth of field. I dislike the final shot, it looks amateur. The other two are much of a muchness. Decent shots, which convey meaning to a select few, i.e. students on campus or a father of a young girl.

  20. July 21, 2010 at 1:07 am

    Hi bro.
    I for the first time here.
    It is assured you yet did not see,news Video


  21. July 21, 2010 at 2:03 pm

    Vindt ze allemaal niets
    Eerst foto is niet informatief en is ook nog eens scheef
    Tweede foto zie helemaal geen medespeler van het spel denk bijv alleen aan een hand onder aan de foto na de gene waar die naar toe gooit
    Foto 3 is gewoon helemaal niet speciaal of spannend denk aan een leuke taart in de omgeving of leuke gekleurde slingers
    Foto 4 is gewoon een kneuterige mislukte foto denk aan een vogel of een muis of dergelijke.

  22. 22 Joe
    July 29, 2010 at 10:27 pm

    Picture #2 is easily the best photo. I like everything about it. It’s interesting, unusual and definitely captures emotion. The subject is perfectly clear while the background is fuzzed out. Really well done. The others are decent enough pictures, but #2 has real quality to it.

  23. 23 rowes
    July 30, 2010 at 2:51 am


    agreed that what constitutes a great photo is definitely down to personal preference/style.

    My pick would be the first photo, i keep coming back to that one. I like seeing captured in photo’s ‘Those moments’, that might have been the only time she laughed that day. I like how the seat and light pole(?) frame them as well. Second pic has ‘one of the 50 times he caught it that day’ feel for me. I do like how it has the space above though, for me it does give the feel that the frisbee has come down from a great height or something like that lol. The third photo doesnt really stand out for me, one of the first things i thought while looking at it was that they have same fringe?? 4th photo although cute it really only makes me think of ‘oh a cute cat’. guess my personel preference is i like photos to make me think and i like them to tell a little story.

  24. 24 Nathan
    August 23, 2010 at 11:58 am

    1st good photo with expression and angle and focus well done, I like the way this photo captures the expression and conversation.
    2nd, is my favorite it really puts your eyes on what’s happening, with good lighting and I like the way the background is blurred to bring out the action with great detail/focus. very appealing.
    3rd, I like the angle and the expressions but I don’t like the lighting or the background, seems like a great one for the photo album.
    4th, this one isn’t anything special to me, the cat is cute but it’s cut out partially and the lighting is off. Don’t like the way the bottom left part of the carpet is bright from the flash, distracting I think.

  25. August 25, 2010 at 5:23 pm

    Looks like the 1st and 2nd photo was taken with a digital SLR. Of course the second is my favorite, nice framing, emotion, action with the burred out background, makes it very interesting. The last 2 was taken just with a point and shoot, there is no focal point, the color is dull, nothing really special.

  26. 26 david
    September 13, 2010 at 2:18 pm

    im no expert in this field but the 1’st really catches my eye
    more so as this has to be taken quickly and only once
    i would not know about colour balance’s or what makes or dosen’t
    just like`what i see and this is why i enjoy taking photos

  27. 27 david
    September 13, 2010 at 2:21 pm

    sorry i ment the second picture

  28. 28 Stephanie Burns
    October 26, 2010 at 3:43 pm

    I think the second photograph is a great Photograph. It captures movement, expression and emotion all in one image. I also like how the subject is perfectly clear while everything else is blurred, with no importance.

  29. November 4, 2010 at 8:48 pm

    I don’t understand any of you. These shots have nothing special about them. None is any more exciting than the other. They’re all photos that we would throw in the album or the closet.

  30. 30 Mario Loy
    February 4, 2011 at 8:00 pm

    there is success in capturing the precise moment or scene but what do the picture tell about
    the essence or transcendence of existence ? If your most advanced camera “freezes” a humming
    bird sipping nectar …how this fact enhance our social values or better our life…?
    Imitating, copying still life at its best must bring up goodness ,educate, and move us the viewers to refine our senses ,embrace and appreciate beauty around us…

  31. 31 dina
    May 28, 2011 at 4:22 am

    I think the second one is the best, although the photo would be MUCH better if the shot was taken a little bit to the left cuz it really pisses me off. Anyways, they’re not bad at all! Just the angle in which the photo was taken is annoying πŸ™‚

  32. 32 Shanin
    May 29, 2011 at 1:56 pm

    I think it all depends on what you feel as a higher ed or non higher ed photographer or hobbiest. The question asked is not an easy simple answer because not everyone views the world the same. I think the one of the dad and his daughter is great, would make an excellent black and white while some of the other show perfect exapamples of “rules” in photography, like motion and movement or thirds and so on. I think that a great photographer and a sucessfull photo is one where the photgraher high ed or not can get you to feel how they felt when they decided that they should capture that just right moment of time or memory. I love black and white photos. But not everyone feels the same, I think this is a great discussion and look forward to any replys!

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