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A little something about judging a photograph…

When you look at a photograph, how do you decide whether you like it or not? Ask yourself this question – is this a good picture? And consciously or subconsciously your mind tries to answer many questions that help’s it answer the first one.

Judging whether a work of art is good or not, is a very subjective thing. Different people, with time, develop different tastes and different sets of rules with regard to what they look for in a work of art. The same is also the case with photography. If you’ve ever read in a magazine, a judge’s views when judging a photo contest, you’ll know that there are a number of preset qualities that they are looking for in the pictures. So if your picture doesn’t satisfy all those presets, it won’t be considered good enough. But that very picture could be one of the best in another judge’s view, simply because his criteria for judging are totally different. It is then very clear, that a picture looking good or not so good is all very relative… relative to the views of the people looking at it. But as a generalization one can judge a picture on two aspects.

The first is the technical aspect. How technically sound a picture is, depends on the way different aspects of a picture have been used.

Focus and sharpness: This is something I was taught by a very experienced photographer. E said, “Sharpness is the key to a good picture”. A picture that is not sharp doesn’t invite any attention. Obviously, if you can’t even see the subject clearly, then what’s the point of the picture?
About focus. Focus is used differently in different situations. Street photography, for example, requires as much of the frame as possible to be in focus. So do landscapes. Wildlife photography however often calls for a blurred background, in order to eliminate the distraction caused by the backdrop and focus the viewer’s attention to the subject. This is done because wildlife backgrounds are mostly a clutter of distracting leaves and branches. So what and how much is in focus affects the impact the picture has on the viewer.

Exposure: Does the picture show you all that it’s meant to? The shadows, the highlights… the dark and the light? All these factors come into play when you set the exposure for an image. It takes good technique and quite a bit of experience to get the right exposure. In fact, most of the research in the photography industry is targeted towards equipment that allows you to get proper exposure in low light without compromising the sharpness.

Some questions you should ask yourself are: Are the highlights burned out? Are the shadows too dark? Are the colours nice and saturated? Is there too much noise? Do you like the tonal range and variation?

The final element that decides the ‘fate’ of a picture is the composition. The frame, the subject, the angle, the elements in the picture: These are the ingredients that mix to form the wonderful recipe that is a photograph.

Composition again is led by certain general guidelines like the rule of the thirds, leading lines, etc. But out of focus, exposure and composition, composition is the most subjective. One sure question – does the composition take your attention to the subject or away from it?

This takes care of the technicals, and brings us to my favourite part – the message. They say that a picture is worth a thousand words, and I more than agree. For me, personally, the message conveyed by the photo comes before anything else – the mood captured, the mood conveyed. A photography legend once said, “For me, a good picture is one that makes me saw wow”. Do I need to say anything else?

As you grow as a photographer you’ll develop an instinct of sorts (regarding the elements of a good photograph) which will become second nature to you, and what you look for in a picture will show in the pictures you take. In the end, I just want to say that there is no right or wrong about a picture (except the technical aspect). It is what you like or don’t like, what you would do differently and what the picture says to you that matters.

So just for fun, I’m posting two pictures and invite all of you, our fabulous readers, to tell me what you think about them 


Ride like the wind..




I’ve purposely left the pictures without a description because I want to know what YOU think when you look at them. I look forward to your comments and critique.

EDIT: Thanks to Ilan, he reminded me of something very important that got left out. What makes a picture stand out from the crowd? – Originality. The rules are there as a basic guideline, to guide you as you start out. But as you learn more and grow, you develop your own characteristic style which is different from the others. And it is this difference that gives you and your pictures a photographic identity. Break the rules (“in the right way”) – dare to be different – experiment – not as a necessity, but only if you or the picture demand it be done. Make a statement with your photos. Afterall they’re your photos!

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  • Linda

    My eyes took in the first photo and quickly left it. The second phtoo I gazed at and drank in the beauty.