SOMEONE ASKS, “What makes a good photo?”
According to modern philosophies, if any answer to this question is given at all, it is usually convoluted, unsatisfactory, or it has nothing to do about photography. Instead, I will go back to ideas discovered by the philosophers of Greece and the Middle Ages, eras that produced great art that astonishes us still.
A good photograph will please the eye and give it rest. Nothing can be seen that ought to be removed, nor can the imagination perceive anything that ought to be added or changed.
A good photograph will cause the viewer to stand outside of himself for a brief moment. The viewer, in his imagination, is transported within the frame of the image.
A good photograph will reward a viewer every time he sees it. He can contemplate it many times for many years, and yet discover new things never before noticed. It does not grow stale or boring over time.
A good photograph will evoke immediate recognition within the viewer. The viewer will think that he has seen the photograph before; indeed, the photograph will seem to be a part of the viewer’s earliest memories.
A good photograph will become a part of the viewer. The viewer will use his memory of the photograph as a type and model for other things.
A good photograph will cause the viewer to see that this particular photograph is the most appropriate medium for expressing the subject.
A good photograph will have a sense of unity — each part will relate in some way to every other part.
A good photograph will have due proportion and symmetry, a formal structure that is harmonious and expressive of the subject matter.
A good photograph will have a clarity and vividness that expresses the photographer’s intention.
A good photograph will clearly show the truth, even if what is depicted is not factually true, but rather instead expresses a higher truth.
A good photograph will obviously show that the photographer has mastery over the medium.
A good photograph will elicit a lively positive response from all who view it, without regard to age, sex, race, nationality, education, class, party, or religion.
Now, this is a very high target to aim for, and very few photographs ever come close. But it helps to know what we are aiming for, even it we always shoot low. These ideas are also applicable to very many of the fine arts, and not just photography.