Fundamental Elements of Great Photographs

We all know when we see a good photo. We enjoy looking at good photos, we buy photo books and look at them, but we rarely can explain why do we think a particular photo is good. It seems that everything in it just clicks together. But why?

What makes a photograph great? I honestly think that a good photo is one that causes some sort of emotional response in the viewer, be that curiosity, anger, joy, sadness, happiness etc..

How can we as photographers do that?There are a few fundamental elements that used correctly, or even better, combined will make a photo to stand out from all the rest. Lets see what these elements are:

  • Light

Light is THE fundamental element all photographs need, whether it be natural light or artificial light the quality and direction of it is what’s important! Light will help you create a particular mood within the photo and can bring emphasis to key elements (subject) within a frame. Good light can also help create depth and texture in an image by a mix of highlights and shadows.

Kitzbuhel, Austria / Fujifilm X-Pro2 and Fujinon 35mm F2 WR

In the above image the natural light creates great mood and helps make this regular winter landscape image to become striking.

  • Colour

Evoking emotions in the viewers is important in creating strong images and colour is one of our primary tools to do this. Just like light, colour will help you to set the mood of an image, can give sense of time and can play a significant role in touching the viewer on an emotional level. Right use of colour is one of the factors for making the photo feel striking, exciting, mysterious, interesting etc..

Kitzbuhel, Austria / Fujifilm X-Pro2 and Fujinon 35mm F2 WR

The above photo is taken early in the morning, when the sun was slowly climbing up. I wanted to convey a sense of peace and calm, but also to show how the cold morning is slowly making way for a great sunny day. The contrast between the colder lower right part of the image and the warmer upper left is what helps make this image interesting.

  • Strong moment

Creating a great photo with a strong moment in it is very hard. Combining good light and colour is hard enough (don’t worry it gets easier with enough practice). Adding a strong moment in the mix is where it gets tough. Creating a moment in a photo is about having all the elements in a frame come together to tell a captivating story.

Gozo, Malta / Fujifilm X-Pro2 and Fujinon 23mm F1.4

The photo above is an example where you have a mix of good light and colours, strong composition, but also a nice emotional moment. This is my 2 year old daughter running, very exited by the surrounding views, towards me and screaming “daddy” 🙂

  • Composition

Composition is a way of guiding the viewer’s eye towards the most important elements of your photo and sometimes in a very specific order. Done right, composition can make a good photo even from the most dullest objects and subjects. A poorly done composition is also something you can’t usually fix in post-processing. Cropping can sometimes save an image, but only when tighter framing and removal of certain portion of the image is at all possible. Using the rule of thirds can help you master your composition, but learning how to break this rule can help you even more! There are numerous rules, principals and guidelines for creating strong composition, but in the end it’s up to you to find something that works for the given situation.

Dumbo, New York, USA / Fujifilm X100S

In the photo above the composition if fairly strong with the bridge and the path are being “leading lines” that guide you to explore the photo.

  • Subject matter

Interesting and engaging subject matter can help your photo become truly great! Even if certain technical aspects are not well executed for example focus and composition, the photo can still be beautiful and meaningful. Everybody will find different subjects in photography appealing to varying degrees, which is why photography is considered subjective.

So how to look for a subject matter for your photograph? When you look for subject matter, you can have a specific idea in mind about the goal of the photo, or you can look for something that may catch your eyes and spark inspiration.

Canon 5D Mark III and Canon 35mm F1.4L

In the photo above the subject matter are clearly the three dogs and the connection between them. It certainly evokes an emotion in me 🙂