What makes a good photograph?

“Photographs bear witness to a human choice being exercised in a given situation. A photograph is a result of the photographer’s decision that it is worth recording that this particular event or this particular object has been seen. If everything that existed were continually being photographed, every photograph would become meaningless.” – John Berger

When we look at a photo, what is it that we like about what we’re looking at? Is it the composition? the exposure? Is it the colour or tonal range? could it be whats been photographed, is it the human form? male or female? a flower?

It could be a number of these elements coming together. Most people don’t know how to read a photograph, yet there are more people than ever taking photographs, how many of them understand the camera they’re using to say what it is they’re truly trying to say?

In the age of Instagram the amateur photographer has overtaken the professional photographer in the public domain, and what does the amateur photographer like to record? most of all… Sunset! On Instagram alone; one hundred seventy-two million six hundred seventy-three thousand three hundred seventy-seven (172,673,377) photos of sunsets have been recorded at the time of writing this post.

I’ve taken my fair share of sunsets as there is something awe inspiring about sunset. The light, the colours, it often makes you slow down even if it’s just for one minute. The question is, does the professional photographer need to record this? with the 172 billion plus records of sunset, can you say anything new about the sun setting? Penelope Umbrico is doing a great job of collaborating with Flickr users to collect photos of the Sunset check out her work here;-


Penelope Umbrico sunsets 2006-present

“All photographs are memento mori. To take a photograph is to participate in another person’s (or thing’s) mortality, vulnerability, mutability. Precisely by slicing out this moment and freezing it, all photographs testify to time’s relentless melt.” 

― Susan Sontag

A key factor in photography the photographer’s job to record reality as best as possible though not always accurately. Does one always perceive reality accurately? I think not. For example; when we look up at the sky during the day, (before sunset) what do we see? Human perception doesn’t reveal all that lies behind the blue sky, we use the lens to explore this in order to see beyond.

Photography is used to explore the far reaches of the galaxy to the things that exist around us on a nanoscale, our reality is made up of atoms undetectable by the human eye, so everything in between is what the photographer records, presenting to the viewer an image in which the viewer can give meaning, to challenge the perception of the viewer or to accurately describe a moment in history.

What a photo says it what you want it to say, but if you keep imitating what you see other photographers do, you’ll just keep repeating what they’ve already said, find your voice say something new go out and make a good photograph, challenge your audience give the image some meaning that’s what makes a good photograph.

Below is a photo of mine in which I consider one of my favourites. To me it describes our existence, it mystifies, it represents what we need, what we hold onto it speaks of the unknown. it is firmly rooted while being withered by the elements. Defiant in its spirit.


Published by Ashley Hardman

Image maker from the north west

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