What makes a photo great?

dryanparker

Art photographer based in Miami.
Oct 9, 2011
121
0
42
Coconut Grove, FL
www.dryanparker.com
We love CR, and we're here because it's fun to discuss and debate new technology, engage and speculate upon rumors, share techniques and advice...among so many other great reasons. That said, I feel like someone needs to lower the boom every once in a while to keep things in check. MTF charts, megapixels, noise and JPEG artifacts have their place!

Let's not forget what an iconic photo looks like. The reality is most of them are soft and grainy; and any one of us would be blessed to bear witness and capture such a moment just once in our lifetime.

The last thing I want in my portfolio is a bunch of perfectly-lit, ultra-sharp, mural-sized, noise-free crappy photos. I'd be happy with a single epic image that I can be proud to have captured. That search continues.

Soapbox dismount!
 

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Don Haines

Beware of cats with laser eyes!
Jun 4, 2012
8,265
1,938
Canada
Bigfoot and the Loch Ness Monster..... two of the worst iconic photos ever taken :)

Uniqueness has a lot to do with it....
 

Arctic Photo

EOS 90D
Oct 31, 2013
173
0
I completely agree with you, not that there's a chance ever that my library would contain only perfect images. I normally bring a camera wherever I go and try to be ready. Not that the Tiananmen square events would take place where I live. But I do think, whatever equipment one has, it comes down to master it so you can handle it in a high pressure situation.
 

cid

"light is defining shape"
Nov 27, 2012
401
0
500px.com
I think this is very interesting topic and probably people will have different opinions on this.

All 4 photos posted are photo journalist stuff. Indeed they are great shots but what I think is that the moment captured is very strongly dragging them to be great. Are they better because of this than a perfectly done portrait, landscape or macro? I think they are only more spread because of the moment, because they were print in newspaper or maybe even books and that because of the moment itself if very influential for lot of people.

RLPhoto said:
Light, subject and composition.

I completely agree with this, I'll add one more think - creativity (which is somehow part of composition, but let's face it, sometimes it's really missing).
 

sb in ak

EOS M50
Dec 13, 2013
33
0
I'd argue that all of those photojournalism shots would still be incredible even without ANY background. They're stunning works in their own right.

A great photo make something fire in your brain and will suck you in. That's all you need.
 

cid

"light is defining shape"
Nov 27, 2012
401
0
500px.com
sb in ak said:
I'd argue that all of those photojournalism shots would still be incredible even without ANY background. They're stunning works in their own right.

That's why I wrote that there will be lot of different opinions and I just wrote mine ;)
I simply don't think the shot with Ali and Frazier would be so praised is there were no Ali and no Frazier but they were some unknown boxers. Yes, the photo is great, but I wouldn't call it incredible without capturing THAT moment. But that is what photo journalism is all about, so no offence.
 

cid

"light is defining shape"
Nov 27, 2012
401
0
500px.com
cid said:
RLPhoto said:
Light, subject and composition.

I completely agree with this, I'll add one more think - creativity (which is somehow part of composition, but let's face it, sometimes it's really missing).
and one more thing to add - The Moment
 

Eldar

EOS R6
Jan 14, 2013
3,250
7
www.flickr.com
cid said:
sb in ak said:
I'd argue that all of those photojournalism shots would still be incredible even without ANY background. They're stunning works in their own right.
That's why I wrote that there will be lot of different opinions and I just wrote mine ;)
I simply don't think the shot with Ali and Frazier would be so praised is there were no Ali and no Frazier but they were some unknown boxers. Yes, the photo is great, but I wouldn't call it incredible without capturing THAT moment. But that is what photo journalism is all about, so no offence.
I think the difference of opinion here is what makes this such an interesting hobby/job and why we get so many discussions going on this forum. What catches somebody´s attention, makes somebody want to go back and have another look, stirs emotions etc. is different from person to person. Personally I have only once returned to a photography exhibition and that was Nick Brandt´s large format portraits of African animals, where he has captured that extra IT, which makes you stop at every frame. Shot with a Pentax 6x7, normal and 2xnormal focal lengths, in B&W, but still technically close to flawless.

There are numerous photographs which captured that split second happening and are great because of that. Very few of them are technically flawless and they primarily live because of the moment they captured. Architecture, portrait, landscape, sports and wildlife photographers today need to deliver near technically perfect images, unless it´s of something extraordinary like bigfoot, a plane crashed into the building or a lion ate somebody´s wife.

Our tolerance for poorly composed, low contrast and grainy images is not what it used to be. Today, I´m sure the Ali and Frazier images would have been shot with a 1DX and a 200/2 or 300/2.8, at 12 fps and after selecting the best frame and run it through PP it would be technically flawless. Considering the equipment that photographer had at the time, that image is probably close to what was technically possible.
 

jwilbern

EOS 60D, G5X
Aug 8, 2012
142
1
www.flickr.com
cid said:
sb in ak said:
I'd argue that all of those photojournalism shots would still be incredible even without ANY background. They're stunning works in their own right.

That's why I wrote that there will be lot of different opinions and I just wrote mine ;)
I simply don't think the shot with Ali and Frazier would be so praised is there were no Ali and no Frazier but they were some unknown boxers. Yes, the photo is great, but I wouldn't call it incredible without capturing THAT moment. But that is what photo journalism is all about, so no offence.
Excellent topic. The boxing photo is actually Ali vs. Sonny Liston. Ali had just landed the famous "Phantom Punch" which was so quick that many of those in attendance didn't see it, and no photographer captured it. It's a fascinating story, and for more information, see Wikipedia Muhammad Ali vs. Sonny Liston.
 

cid

"light is defining shape"
Nov 27, 2012
401
0
500px.com
Eldar said:
I think the difference of opinion here is what makes this such an interesting hobby/job and why we get so many discussions going on this forum. What catches somebody´s attention, makes somebody want to go back and have another look, stirs emotions etc. is different from person to person. Personally I have only once returned to a photography exhibition and that was Nick Brandt´s large format portraits of African animals, where he has captured that extra IT, which makes you stop at every frame. Shot with a Pentax 6x7, normal and 2xnormal focal lengths, in B&W, but still technically close to flawless.

There are numerous photographs which captured that split second happening and are great because of that. Very few of them are technically flawless and they primarily live because of the moment they captured. Architecture, portrait, landscape, sports and wildlife photographers today need to deliver near technically perfect images, unless it´s of something extraordinary like bigfoot, a plane crashed into the building or a lion ate somebody´s wife.

Our tolerance for poorly composed, low contrast and grainy images is not what it used to be. Today, I´m sure the Ali and Frazier images would have been shot with a 1DX and a 200/2 or 300/2.8, at 12 fps and after selecting the best frame and run it through PP it would be technically flawless. Considering the equipment that photographer had at the time, that image is probably close to what was technically possible.

Agreed. I have to say I was not thinking about available equipment. Maybe we can say that the level of what is considered great is moving up with the technology development.
 

cid

"light is defining shape"
Nov 27, 2012
401
0
500px.com
jwilbern said:
cid said:
sb in ak said:
I'd argue that all of those photojournalism shots would still be incredible even without ANY background. They're stunning works in their own right.

That's why I wrote that there will be lot of different opinions and I just wrote mine ;)
I simply don't think the shot with Ali and Frazier would be so praised is there were no Ali and no Frazier but they were some unknown boxers. Yes, the photo is great, but I wouldn't call it incredible without capturing THAT moment. But that is what photo journalism is all about, so no offence.
Excellent topic. The boxing photo is actually Ali vs. Sonny Liston. Ali had just landed the famous "Phantom Punch" which was so quick that many of those in attendance didn't see it, and no photographer captured it. It's a fascinating story, and for more information, see Wikipedia Muhammad Ali vs. Sonny Liston.
sorry, my fault ::)
 

dryanparker

Art photographer based in Miami.
Oct 9, 2011
121
0
42
Coconut Grove, FL
www.dryanparker.com
Sporgon said:
Visual impact

+1

This is what it's all about. I mean, it might be a captivating wall-sized print of an Arizona sunset captured with $80,000 in gear...or it could be a street photo made on ISO 3200 film in 1982.

I guess my point is...it doesn't matter how you capture the moment. It's about being there and recognizing the power in making images that are meaningful to YOU.
 

jwilbern

EOS 60D, G5X
Aug 8, 2012
142
1
www.flickr.com
Eldar said:
cid said:
sb in ak said:
I'd argue that all of those photojournalism shots would still be incredible even without ANY background. They're stunning works in their own right.
That's why I wrote that there will be lot of different opinions and I just wrote mine ;)
I simply don't think the shot with Ali and Frazier would be so praised is there were no Ali and no Frazier but they were some unknown boxers. Yes, the photo is great, but I wouldn't call it incredible without capturing THAT moment. But that is what photo journalism is all about, so no offence.
I think the difference of opinion here is what makes this such an interesting hobby/job and why we get so many discussions going on this forum. What catches somebody´s attention, makes somebody want to go back and have another look, stirs emotions etc. is different from person to person. Personally I have only once returned to a photography exhibition and that was Nick Brandt´s large format portraits of African animals, where he has captured that extra IT, which makes you stop at every frame. Shot with a Pentax 6x7, normal and 2xnormal focal lengths, in B&W, but still technically close to flawless.

There are numerous photographs which captured that split second happening and are great because of that. Very few of them are technically flawless and they primarily live because of the moment they captured. Architecture, portrait, landscape, sports and wildlife photographers today need to deliver near technically perfect images, unless it´s of something extraordinary like bigfoot, a plane crashed into the building or a lion ate somebody´s wife.

Our tolerance for poorly composed, low contrast and grainy images is not what it used to be. Today, I´m sure the Ali and Frazier images would have been shot with a 1DX and a 200/2 or 300/2.8, at 12 fps and after selecting the best frame and run it through PP it would be technically flawless. Considering the equipment that photographer had at the time, that image is probably close to what was technically possible.
If Ali's "Phantom Punch" happened today, it would have been perfectly captured at the moment of impact. Of course, then it wouldn't be known as the Phantom Punch, and the mystery and legend of this fight would be diminished.
 

distant.star

EOS 5D Mark IV
Jan 19, 2011
1,813
0
USA
wetracy.smugmug.com
.
It's good to see this topic pop up. Thanks for originating the post. The arcane back and forth of technical
minutiae usually grows wearisome, and I see most of it as the equivalent of picking fly poop out of the pepper.

I have a strong interest in what makes not only a great picture, but also a good one. None of us, probably, will ever make a great picture, but I think we all have a great chance of making some good pictures. The first step, of course, is to understand what makes a good/great picture. Most of us are trying very hard to make good pictures -- but if we don't know what makes a great picture, how do we judge our success and or progress?

My initial response to the question was simply, consensus and/or acclaim make a picture great. When just about everyone agrees it's a great picture, perhaps it is. Or, maybe not. I've long been told Mona Lisa is a great picture, but I don't really see it. I've long tried, but to me, it's just another portrait. I understand some of the artistic elements, and perhaps in 1520 they were novel. Today, frankly, I've seen lots better.

A few folks here seem to suggest that "visual impact" is what makes a picture great/good. That seems like a cheap answer to me -- sort of like saying horsepower makes a car great.

The examples of "iconic" pictures here don't seem to clarify the issue. Most are mediocre pictures at best, and when a background story is needed to make them important, they are reduced to simply supporting documents. One thing I most love about the Ali picture is to see the expressions on the faces of photographers behind Ali. They all know the guy on the other side of the ring just got the great shot, and all they have is Ali's rear end -- such is sport photography.

While I have years and years of experience taking pictures, I have not a single moment of formal training. I've always felt deficient because of that. I have a good eye for composition, but I don't have the formal education to elucidate why one picture works and another doesn't. Of course, that never stops me from trying! One of the best things I've come across in this regard is a B&H presentation by Adam Marelli, Bridging the Gap: Classical Art Designed for Photographers:

Bridging the Gap: Classical Art Designed for Photographers

In that lecture, he begins with the basics of what he calls "visual language," going from straight lines and arcs and circles to volumetric figures and arabesques, etc. He has formal training both in photography and sculpture so he actually knows what he's doing when he's taking pictures. While I'm plodding along hoping something good shows up in my visual field, he is looking for specific visual imagery that makes a good picture. So, probably for every good picture I get, he gets 50 or more. He not only knows what makes a great picture, he knows how to see it (visualize, some would say) and capture it. He did a worthwhile followup to that video with another one, How to Talk to Strangers: 7 Tips for Photographing People:

How to Talk to Strangers: 7 Tips For Photographing People


As some folks here probably know my first photography interest is public photography, what's generically known these days as "street photography." I like people in public spaces -- whether in streets or parks or markets or public transport or festivals, carnivals, etc. For reasons I've never been able to adequately articulate, I like good pictures of people in public places. Interestingly, I usually get bored rather quickly looking at such pictures, and Marelli explains why. He says 99% or more of what is considered good street photography does not make good pictures. There is far more to good public photography than a picture of a homeless man with a kitten peeking out from under his tattered coat. That may be cute, but if it does not contain the essential elements of a good picture, that's all it is.

An example of a good, perhaps even great picture, I like to use is one by Henri Cartier-Bresson:

http://www.copypasteculture.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/12/henri_cartier_bresson_photo_001.jpeg

I believe this comes from France in the 1930s -- so he didn't have the resolution of a 5D3 or the post processing power of Photoshop. What he got is an image contrasting stolid classic lines and shapes in hard, cold steel and stone with the warm, fluid flowing movement of a person on a bicycle. One second earlier or one second later and the picture would not work. I'd like to think he was just walking down the steps one day and he saw this and snapped, but you can be sure that's not what happened. He surely saw the forms and waited for something to come along to accentuate it through contrast. That's why Cartier-Bresson is a big name in photography -- and I'm not!

Anyway, I could go on, but this should be enough to tweak some folks who think "visual impact" is the characteristic of greatness.

Thanks again.
 

Hillsilly

EOS R
Oct 16, 2010
1,100
2
By "Great" if you mean worldwide instant recognition, then the current perception of photography is one of a documentary nature. You'd need to capture a photograph that is of historic importance and relevance to a high percentage of people. Essentially, a photograph of an event or somebody that people care about. Today, given the ubiquitous nature of cameras and phones, that would also mean being the first to publicise your photo.

Don't believe me - flick through any book of famous iconic photos. How many are of an artistic, wildlife or landscape nature? Typically, only a small percentage. And, while you and I would recognise the work of many famous photographers, most people wouldn't. To most people, if its not a photo of them or their family, they normally couldn't care less.

So, how to make a great photo. The Answer is easy. Be there and be ready when "it" happens.

If you want to make a great photo without seeking worldwide fame and acclaim, there are quite a few guides available on the internet. For a simple read, I thought this was good: -

http://www.lccc.org.au/EVALUATION_MANUAL_JAN_2012.pdf

In particular, I liked one of the starting concepts, attributed to Cecil Beaton,

"A technical 'failure' which shows some attempt as aesthetic expression is of infinitely more value than 'uninspired' success."