Ansel Adams said that “there are no rules for good photographs, there are only good photographs.” While I’ve benefited from this view and have made good images that have nothing to do with typical or standard rules of color/composition/style/event/moments, I feel that there are some underlying commonalities in the images I’m drawn to. This is in no way a definitive list of how to take good pictures, and I can’t emphasize enough that these are just my own views, not universal rules, but it’s a catalogue of what I’ve developed over the last 6 years (pun intended).
1. A great image is not an image anyone could take at any time. Whether it’s the color you waited for in the sky, the moment you were prepared for, the type of negative space, the scale, a particular composition – it’s either a lucky grab or something that needed to be strategically captured. Either way, the next photographer in line would have to get as lucky as you or plan every detail ahead.
2. A great image feels the way it felt when you took it. This is one of the things I focus on the most. If it was a light/airy/fun moment, then think like that when you edit. Make a playlist that enhances that mood and try to get that out of the image. If it was dreary or serious, go in that direction instead. The trick is to make your overarching style consistent while being able to capture those different moods.
3. A great image sparks imagination. If people wonder how it happened, the story behind it, the hike before it, the song playing, or the crowd involved, it takes the interest way beyond the picture.
4. A great image has a subject. If it’s cluttered or confused, people will move on (unless you mean for it to be cluttered, but in this case its purpose should be clear).
5. A great image may mean nothing to anyone else. Some moments will mean nothing to the masses but are captured for one person’s or just a few people’s enjoyment. Images that are universally pleasing are not necessarily great, but might still be popular. In this sense, thinking about how to take great pictures could be split up into different categories. Start with the person or people you’re making it for, and go from there.