What Makes a Good Photograph?

By Andrew Hudson

Four elements are common to all good photographs: simplicity, composition, lighting, and practice.

Simplicity is actually a deceptively difficult element to capture. What you as a photographer need to do is let the camera help you simplify the things you see in front of you. You begin with a very busy canvas (everything in view) and have to work to simplify by eliminating some of the contents. You can do this either by getting physically closer to your subject, or by using a telephoto lens to zoom in and crop the shot tighter. When you photograph a person, for example, photograph his or her face only, rather than the whole person.

Composition is equally important. An artist’s technique, called the “golden mean,” is to divide the picture into imaginary thirds both vertically and horizontally, like a tic-tac-toe board. Then, place the subject of the photo on or near those imaginary lines or their intersections. Study photographs that you like and You’ll see that almost every one has thirds that you can find.

Lighting is the third key ingredient. Photos that win competitions almost always show a skilled use of light. Try to photograph only at dawn, in the late afternoon, and at dusk, when the low angle of the sun produces rich, warm colors and long shadows. Avoid shooting at noon, a time when light is very “flat.”

Practice: Taking photographs that you like won’t take a lot of special, expensive equipment. But it will take lots of trial and error. Even professional photographers take many photographs of the same subject to get just one that they like. Remember, only practice makes perfect!

Copyright 1998–2007 Andrew Hudson for PhotoSecrets / Photo Tour Books, Inc. You may reproduce this article for personal, educational, non-commercial and non-Internet use, such as in a local photo club newsletter or school project. No Internet publishing is permitted. For commercial use, please email me for permission. This article was edited by Matt Wiseman and first appeared in Postcards Magazine, a publication for Carlson Leisure Group by Cowles Creative Publishing. Tips | photography books | Email



Reply by Tom

March 7, 2016

Hi Andy. Hope you don’t mind me calling you Andy, it makes me think of my pet chihuahua. Anyways, really enjoyed the post! Regards, Tom the locomotive steam train.

Reply by Andrew Hudson, PhotoSecrets

March 14, 2016

Thanks, Andy the pet chihuahua.

Reply by Anonymous

August 17, 2015

Thanks. It is encouraging to read that even good photographers take photos that are later discarded.

Reply by Anonymous

October 30, 2014

Thanks for the tips. I just have to win the photo competition.

Reply by CJ

December 4, 2012

Hi Andrew! I am a HH(Hard of Hearing) person, and limited when it comes to my job prospects. I am also a photography student. I want to thank you for telling us about stock photography. I never thought about doing stock photography until I saw this website. So, thanks! Keep the info and tips rolling out!

Reply by Andrew Hudson, PhotoSecrets

December 4, 2012

Hi CJ,

Thanks for the nice words. I am preparing some more stuff to add to the site.

Good luck,


Reply by Kim

September 5, 2011

the information was very helpful. I love to do phogography and have been thinking about taking courses but put it off due to costs. I enjoyed reading your articles.

Reply by Andrew Hudson, PhotoSecrets

September 5, 2011

Thank you!

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