Proprieties of a Good Photo


“The picture that you took with your camera is the imagination you want to create with reality.” — Scott Lorenzo. However, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. “… Seeing and composing the beauty is what separates the snapshot from the photograph” (Matt Hardy). The following are the fundamental elements that will help you identify a good photography.

1. Composition

A strong geometrical shape is the key to good composition photo composition. You must then lean the vocabulary relative to visual analysis. Though a photography is on a flat plane, it should give the effect of depth. In your analysis you should include a discussion on whether or not the photo provides the two dimensionality and how it gives the effect of depth. This is done through an analysis of (1) foreground and background, (2) use of the frame, and (3) use of perspective.

1. Foreground and Background

numble lighthouse
The water and stones are used as foreground and the Lighthouse as the background

2. Use of Frame
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Space left front of key subject suggests waiting for another incoming subject or impatient waiting.

3. Perspective
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Perspective is used to lead viewers’ eye to the horizon

2. Geometrical Characteristics

When analyzing whether or not a photo is balanced, look at these elements:
A. Positive and negative space. An visual interest in negative space and its composition is a major principle of photography.
B. Figure-ground relations. How does the artist compose the background as well as the major figures?

Foreground and Background

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The reflection relationship between the lighthouse, the sky and the water.

C. One of the common rule used for placing subject in photo is The rule of thirds. To achieve the rule of third, thephotographer places the most important objects one third or two thirds of the way across the image. Asymmetrical balance, achieved by the rule of thirds, contributes to variety and sharpening.

Rule of the third

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The barn is placed one-third vertical left of the frame. Also the foreground (the snow) occupies one third horizontal, the barn, another third and the sky the last third

D. The classical balance is to place the subject in the center of the frame. However, doing so, creates a little dynamism in this compositions and it is used in ads.

The Classical Balance

numble lighthouse

3. Lines

Good photos have movement. Movements are often designated by lines. In your analysis, you must find a strong visual force. These can be actual lines or implied lines. Actual lines are those you can actually see in building and bridge structures. Implied directional movement can be seeing in landscape photography. In your analysis, describe how do you read these movements.

A. Horizontals: Does or should the artist use the rule of threes in composition? Describe emotions elicited. Discuss placement of the horizon line in the frame.
B. Vertical: Describe the emotions elicited, which are often kinetic, urban, aspirational or authoritative
C. Diagonals give a sense of motion, inconclusiveness, or instability.
D. Shape: design element formed when lines close back on themselves. Commonly square, circle, triangle.
E. 3-D shapes: masses, which can only be distinguished from shapes by use of light and shadow.

When conducting your analysis, you must discuss how the lines and shapes lead the eye. Is there a point where the eye returns or temporarily rests? This point is referred to as the point of emphasis. The point of emphasis creates a center of interest. A good photograph should achieve visual emphasis. Do you see any emotion or narrative implied by that visual emphasis? If so describe it. Look for any the following:

1. Implied motion can create emphasis by lending eye motion. The two main eye motions are: those created with geometric shape (graphic vectors) and those led by a figure in the content of the image that is going or pointing in a certain direction. These are known as motion vector

  • Examples: a car going in a certain direction, a person walking or picking up a forkful of food, or a glance in a certain direction.
  • Human form: in case of photo including people, human form is most interesting thing in the image.
  • An intricate shape is sharpened when there is also something very simple alongside it.
  • Textured: Most textured area commands the most attention.

2. Points and Areas in the frame: The foreground and the right, lower quadrant have more emphasis. Also, in case of multiple subjects, those in front always gets more attention than those in back.
3. Though humor, the spectacular or unusual subjects gain our attention, a photography with aspects should include other graphic qualities besides to make a good image.

4. Contrast

Photographers use contrast to creates “sharpening” and provide quick understandability or reading of the photo. Contrast comes in different categories. Look at the following in the photograph. Contrast defines hierarchy, creates emphasis, suggests the relationship and relative importance of content, and can control how quickly the photograph is read. Discuss the use of and meaning of contrast in the photograph. Photographer creates contrast through thoughtful use of:

  • Scale
  • Weight
  • Color
  • Tone
  • Texture.

5. Unity

Line, shape, and texture create a unity in which the whole. They glue the parts in the photo in one theme. Often repetition and parallelism are used as key elements to establishing unity. These cannot be ignored when analysing a photography. Look for Rhythm, motif, redundancy and discuss the following in the photograph.
Rhythm is repetition with alternation or repetition with progression. Repetition alone is boring.
Example of progression: From large to small versions of a shape.
Example of alternation: Shift from light to dark and back again.
Motif is a repeated image reinforcing a theme in the photograph as a whole. [e.g., the color red or romantic violins].
Redundancy is used to reinforce an emotional effect or visual impact in a number of ways within a photograph as a whole.


Dondis, Donis (1973). A Premier of Visual Literacy. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
DuBois, William, Hodik, Barbara J. (1983). A Guide to Photographic Design. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.
Zettl, Herbert (1973). Sight, Sound, Motion: Applied Media Aesthetics. Belmont CA: Wadsworth.