Taking a good photograph is the goal of any professional or amateur photographer. We will all make a nice shot at some point in our lives, but getting something that is remembered and changes things is really complicated. The problem is that it is difficult for us to know when is a photograph good.
Technique is often confused with quality, and fashion with its own style. And we end up falling too easily into reductionism. Something is good or bad according to our criteria. And we do not accept more opinions. And as happens in life, you have to keep your windows open -read others- to understand if a photograph is good or bad. So when is a photograph good?
The relative importance of the technique to take a good photograph
One of the biggest problems with digital photography is that technique is confused with quality. Today, in society, a sharp photograph is valued much more than a shaken one, even if it does not communicate anything. It is something that has been dragging along throughout the history of photography, in fact.
Nowadays, a sharp photograph is valued much more than a shaken one, even if it does not communicate anything
The pictorialists created impossible methods to differentiate themselves, to create a wall between them and the rest of the fans. Exactly the same thing that happens now. Many authors like to focus solely and exclusively on the technique, that the photo is beautiful so that it looks good.
For this reason there is so much talk of complex programs or techniques. It seems that everything can be done in front of the computer, but if everything depends on the change of pixels and there is no intention behind it, only virtuosity, we may have a problem.
You always have to reveal (take out all the information inside) a photograph, but if we have to spend a lot of time or many layers on it, it will be because the moment of shooting was not the best.
The problem with the technique is that there are only a few steps to take. Steps we can all learn to do exactly the same. For this reason it is easier to follow Joel Tjintjelaar than Alex Webb, for example. Michael Kenna is simpler than Sergio Larraín. And they are all good.
And it has reached the point of showing only locations to get photos as trophies, as if we were hunting until we got the desired piece (there is nothing more to remember than that swing in a town in Portugal and the huge queues to take the same photo for Instagram) . It’s your achievement, and it’s perfect, but in front of you and behind you there are many more people doing exactly the same thing. What if, the difficult thing is to be original and communicate.
How to get a good photo
At the time of shooting our camera (no matter what type) the visualization should exist. It consists of having the finished photograph in the head. Ansel Adams spoke at length about this concept. See the photo before taking it. Know what you mean by what you are going to capture.
But this does not make the picture good. It is more important to have a speech. A single photograph that anyone can take is useless. The important thing, what helps us get a good photograph is the series, insisting on a theme.
If we are involved in what we do, if we have investigated what we are looking at through the lens, if we know when to steal that moment in time and if we do not lose ourselves with the technique, then we will have the opportunity to take a good photograph.
And all this is achieved with dedication, the only thing that really differentiates amateurs from professionals: time. There are those who are born with the luck of a good look, but the rest of us have to train continuously until we achieve that shot. And be very clear about what we want to do. You see it and take the photo.
A good photo for great photographers
There is nothing better than ending this article by asking several well-known photographers to find new answers. Surely if we add them all we will find our own answer to go out with the camera and begin to forget things that we took for granted.
So let’s see the opinions of professional photographers, from National Awards like Isabel Muñoz, to great masters like Tino Soriano, José María Mellado or Matías Costa, to the question “When is a photograph good?”:
“For me, a photograph is good when it reflects exactly the ends pursued by its author. That does not mean that this assessment is universal, but in any case, the person who took it is the one who must be satisfied with the result.
From a more analytical standpoint, there are dozens of criteria for technically scoring an image, but the great photographs of history often lack them. Also, with fads and inputs from technology, these assessments may vary.”
“For example, in the 1970s it became fashionable to inflate the grain of emulsions by developing them at high temperatures; or to use highly exaggerated contrast papers (Agfa’s number 5 was famous); or to work with special effect filters for all tastes (sometimes even Vaseline to imitate David Hamilton) or experiment with fisheye and wide angles that greatly distorted the photographs. Finally, the passage of time and the author’s own maturity certify that his initial purpose remains valid”.
Ruben Garcia Happy
“In my opinion, for an image to be considered a ‘good photograph’ it must have, together and not in isolation, five characteristics: skilful composition, attractive aesthetics, defined context, interesting idea and a distinctive visual style. of the author”.
“In my case, a good photograph is one that makes you think (or rethink) about the why of the image. I believe that good photographs are polysemous and, therefore, capable of offering many answers to those who see them, regardless of what the author wanted to express…”
“In my opinion, a photograph is good when it is in tune with the way of thinking, feeling and dreaming of the person who took it. For me, photography is good or bad depending on the degree of authenticity it contains.
In other words, a good photograph is any one that transmits and condenses the inner world of the person who made it into a visually attractive image, or the reflection of some aspect of that inner world in the reality it shows us.
And lastly, I don’t know which photographs are bad, but I detect when, in my opinion, a photograph is unnecessary or superficial, and they are all those false photographs that imitate a canon of beauty or a specific look that is not the author’s own. image and does not provide any information or meaning about his way of seeing the world and his own relationship with it”.
“It’s very simple: the photos have to say something. To achieve this we have two paths that do not necessarily have to go the same. One is the technique, knowing the technique, how to use it and how to skip it is always an advantage, it means that we know how to handle the material with which we work”.
“The other way is to surprise and create a certain fascination. I always think that a photo should have details, if you look at it a second time and it shows you a detail that you had missed the first time I forced you to stop at her, is that you have triumphed. You have drawn attention and convinced. And if they have a certain irony, something that surprises or breaks your schemes, that is already to make you wave “.
“Some are like a crush. You don’t know what it is, it’s not perfect, it doesn’t suit you and your parents won’t like it, but you fell in love as soon as you saw it.
Others are like an Adonis, of an overwhelming beauty that you can’t stop looking at. And then there are the ones that hook you because they make you so emotional that they take your breath away, you can’t get it out of your head and when you remember it, you feel that awe again.
“A photograph is good when it moves you in some way, both positively and negatively. I think any image that moves you is important and that’s what it’s made for. It’s sad when it doesn’t move or touch you.”
Jose Maria Mellado
“I think that a good photograph is one that transmits -or provokes- some kind of emotion in the viewer, positive or negative, that evokes lived or desired moments, that in some cases has a certain ambiguity that allows us to imagine or ask ourselves things about the image. Ultimately, an image is one that is not forgotten”.
Marco Antonio Alvarez
“In my opinion, a photograph is good as long as it fulfills the objective of the person who takes it.
If you are an amateur and intend to have fun and learn, your photos will be “good”. If you are a professional and you have a commission, you must meet the client’s objectives, if it does it will be “good” and if you are an artist where your objective is reflection or contemplation and you achieve it, then you also have a “good” photo.
Objectivity is part of photography and there should not be a common framework or standard of photographic quality, but objectives that a photograph must meet to fulfill us, and these objectives can be banal or more demanding, but the ideal is to always mark yourself some”.
“As a portrait photographer, I would say that a good photograph is when the person conveys a feeling with a look and attitude. That when you look into their eyes you feel that emotion of when you took the photo. It does not have to be technically perfect, but it does reflect what the photographer or the person photographed wanted to convey”.
Maria Antonia Garcia de la Vega
“It is the one that tells you or transmits something, an idea, an emotion. What does not leave you indifferent and even, that you cannot forget, if the impression is very strong. In a word, it moves you. Then aesthetic analyzes could be done, about whether it is iconic and has a more universal language, etc”.
Virgilio Hernando Vañó, Uveñe
“Defining what is meant by good photography is always complicated, because quality is subjective.
In any case, my first response would be: “I think a photograph is good when I feel envious that I didn’t take it”. Subjective and direct answer.
Other symptoms that I find a good photograph: when I resist turning the page where I see it, or the screen of my computer. Or, and I recognize that it has happened to me a few times, when I can’t get it out of my head, when I remember it no matter how many months or years go by.
All of this, of course, regardless of who its author is, which I don’t think is influenced at all.”
As you can see, in the end everything depends on our taste. And how pragmatic we are. As Vicente Nadal told me: a photograph is good when I see it and I want to put it in my house, to contemplate it, in the living room or somewhere prominent. Maybe that’s the solution, but, I insist, a good image has to tell me a story. What is it for you?
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism