gill moore photography

What makes a great photograph? … “how long is a piece of string?”

This year, for the first time, I am entering the Shot Up North Awards.  These UK awards are for photographers based anywhere from the Midlands northwards including Scotland.  The Awards used to be affiliated to the Association of Photographers (AOP) however SUN is now a stand-alone organisation aimed at celebrating and promoting Northern photographers and their work.

I started to ponder what is the key thing that makes an image a great image.  First port of call was viewing some of the previous winning images from Shot Up North.  Though hugely inspiring, I was struck by the variety and disparate array of images selected for the Top 50 over the years.
Studying the photograph at first-hand is always the ideal and what usually happens is you have a gut reaction upon initial viewing and this surely provides the key to answering the question.
I then took a read of the always excellent blog by J M Colberg “Conscientious” which featured a really in-depth piece: “What Makes a Great Photo?” with many gifted photographers and creative’s discussing their own take on answering that question.  After that I just jotted down lots of random thoughts which I list below.

  • emotional kick “wow” factor/connection/memorable tho it also may not wow it could linger and not go away.
  • tells a story/intrigues/shows a voice
  • captures a moment
  • has a sense of style/atmosphere/beauty
  • makes you think/question/can challenge or inform
  • has a high degree of individuality/fresh perspective
  • compelling blend of colours/form/composition
  • intimate – can open a direct channel viewer/photographer.  It communicates.
  • evocative/memory
  • has depth, image encourages/demands repeat viewing
  • reveals something new of the subject; a person/object/environment
  • has an ability to move and touch the viewer
  • element of mystery
  • powerful … it transports you to another place

Sure, it is a bit like asking “how long is a piece of string” but it is such an interesting question with no right or wrong answer; just more for the mix and people react so differently and that it what is so fascinating.

UPDATE : Newer post featuring my Special Edition image and other winners at Shot Up North plus details of the SUN exhibition can be found here.

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1 Response to “What makes a great photograph? … “how long is a piece of string?””


  1. 1 Rob Birrell

    I entered for the first time this year with four images, one of which got accepted much to my suprise (http://www.robbirrellphotography.co.uk/?p=70). Looking at the entries as a whole and the entries that were selected I see no logic in it. Many excellent images weren’t selected and even my selected image was not the best of my entries in my opinion. It just shows how subjective it all is.

    Had a look at your website. You’ve got some nice work there and love the design.

    Rob

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