10 Elements of a Good Photo

Learning photography can be intimidating at first. On top of learning the technical aspects such as ISO, aperture, and shutter speed, there’s also composition rules to learn and equipment to buy. A good photo requires more than just clicking the shutter and you may wonder how you can possibly think of everything for every photo. I’ve outlined what makes a great photo… don’t worry, it’s simpler than you think.

Oscar Wilde Quote

1. Authenticity

Photography is an art, and art is subjective. There will be people who love your photos and people who hate them. Authenticity means staying true to yourself so it’s important to shoot what speaks to you and avoid the validation trap.

Rule of Thirds

2. Composition

The rules of composition guide photographers in creating compelling compositions that make a photo interesting and lead the eye to the subject. However, the first rule of photography is there are no rules, so don’t be afraid to experiment and break the rules.


3. Remove clutter

Clutter is the element in a photo that does not add to the message you trying to portray. To declutter a photo try different angles to cut out the distractor, get a tighter shot, or use a wider aperture to blur out the background.

Mushroom on a log

4. Tone

A good photo will make the viewer feel something and image tone contributes to the portrayal of emotion. Tone in photography refers to the overall lightness and darkness of a photo as well as the warmth (red, yellow, orange) or coolness (blue, green, and purple). Images in black and white or dark tones appear dramatic. Images using cool tones can portray sadness while warm images are vibrant and happy.


5. Tell a story

This one has always tripped me up – “How do I tell a whole story in a single frame?” Don’t let this intimidate you, not all photos have to tell a story. A story can be told in a single frame or a series of shots and should stop moments in time in a way that makes the viewer feel as if they were there. Capturing iconic moments in history is one way of telling a story, but capturing the little things in life is just as compelling.

Black Lives Matter

6. Iconic moments

2020 has had no shortages of iconic moments. The Australian fires, the pandemic, and the civil rights movements have all been moments for the history books. The news has shown countless images of images captured by everyday people. We’ve all experienced these trying times in different ways, capturing your perspective through photography is a way to add to the narrative that will be told for generations.

Owl Bokeh

7. Lighting

Lighting plays a huge role in photography – not only does the amount of light impact the exposure, but how light is used can change the tone of a photo. Silhouettes, color filters, sun glares, and shadows are all types of light that can help set the mood or give a unique perspective. Intentionally under or overexposing photos changes the tone, silhouettes give ordinary photos a unique look or hide clutter, and shadows emphasize certain parts of the photo. There are many ways lighting can alter the look and feel of a photo; a perfectly exposed photo isn’t always the most interesting.

Raindrops on a leaf

8. Detail

You don’t have to fit the whole scene into a single frame to tell a story. Focusing on the finer details can be more powerful in storytelling; too much in the frame could lead to clutter or loss of important details. Rain, for example, is difficult to capture in a landscape photo. Closeups of raindrops on an object or reflections in a puddle do a better job of telling the story of a rainy day.

European Starling taking over

9. It doesn’t need an explanation

A viewer should be able to view a photo without commentary to understand. If you have to point out the subject or provide an explanation of the photo, you have failed to deliver the message.

10. You Like It

I’ll begin and end with how photography is about YOU! Shoot the things you love; the ultimate qualifier for a good photograph is YOU like it. A good photo does not have to be technically sound, if the photo takes you back in time, reminds you of a loved one, or makes you feel something, then it’s a good photo.

If you haven’t gathered from my landscape gallery, I love mountains and sunsets. This photo was taken from the driveway of my grandparent’s house the day after my grandfather passed and I like to think it was his final gift to me. By no means is this my greatest work of art, but it follows rules 1, 4, 5, and most importantly 10.

At the end of the day your photography is about you, so cut yourself some slack and enjoy the ride.


Elements of a good photo pin