What Makes A Photograph “Great”?

I’ve taken plenty of photographs over the years that could be considered technically “perfect”. The exposure is dead on, the expression and composition are great, and the picture tells a story. But none of them are my favorites.

For me, what makes picture superior is the feeling it evokes. It makes me laugh, it moves my soul, or warms my heart. It makes me look twice, soak it in, and then examine it again. This photo is a great example of that.

It’s not perfect by a long shot. It’s a bit overexposed. The backdrop lighting is a little too unbalanced for me. But it’s striking and a bit ambiguous. The expression sucks you in to make you look at it a bit closer. Her presence is commanding and makes the whole frame intriguing.

This is a bit more of a personal example. The kids and I had gone to the lake for the 4th of July. I had promised myself that I would leave the camera alone and be present in the moment. I had done pretty well until these two fell asleep on our blanket after a hot day of running around and a subsequent food coma.

All I had with me was my backup camera and a kit lens. The sun had dropped, they were positioned in the shadows, and I hadn’t packed a flash. But the moment was too pure to pass up.

It’s still my favorite photograph of these two inseparable siblings, twelve years later, not because the photograph is perfect but because the moment was perfect. It completely exemplifies the relationship between these two, and for me, that’s what makes a great photo.


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