The one thing that all great photos have in common

When I was in photography school, the entire first year was spent on learning the technical skills involved in taking a good photograph. We learned how to use a light meter for proper exposure (this was before in-camera light meters and auto exposure). We learned about composition such as balance, leading lines and the rule of thirds. We learned how aperture (F-stop) affects depth of field and how shutter speed affects focus.

The second year of school was spent on developing our unique “eye” and vision of the world. Our goal was to create artistic photos and to steer clear of cliche photos like sunsets and flowers. Our instructors stressed that we needed to think of ourselves as artists and to create imagery using the camera as our paintbrush. Thinking back, I created some pretty bad photos in an attempt to create an artistic photo.

Today, almost anyone can take a good photo because current cameras and cell phones take care of the technical stuff for us, resulting in nearly perfectly exposed and focused images. What then makes a good photo great?

What I have learned over these many years of both taking photos and looking at photos is that all great photos have one thing in common . A great photo evokes an emotion in the viewer.

I am not simply referring to a sad photo of a child caught in a war zone or a basket full of cute puppies. Yes, both those images evoke an emotion but there are many other ways to evoke an emotion in the viewer. Here are a few to think about next time you are taking a photo.

Compelling subject mater. Images of unusual or beautiful subjects evokes an emotion. Travel photos often fall into this category because it is subject matter we don’t see in our day to day lives. My designer friend Kathleen Dipaolo has moved to India for a couple years with her family. Almost daily she posts compelling photos and every day I look forward to seeing what’s new. If you want to be inspired you absolutely need to follow her on Instagram.

India: Photo by Kathleen Dipaolo

India: Photo by Kathleen Dipaolo

You don’t need to travel to exotic lands or live in India to find compelling subject matter. Even the most mundane subject can evoke an emotion like this chair did for me.

Linda Holt Photo

Linda Holt Photo

It’s just a simple chair but the well worn wood and the sculptural shape evoked a feeling in me of curiosity. The chair itself is beautiful but I would have loved to meet the person who sat it in.

Think about the lighting. The “golden hour” (dawn or dusk) is always a preferred time to shoot because the quality of light is so beautiful and sunrises and sunsets evoke an emotion in the viewer. You can also use light to enhance the feeling of the photo. For example hard lighting evokes an emotion of drama due to dark shadows and high contrast whereas soft lighting has the opposite effect.

Linda Holt Photo

Linda Holt Photo

Tell a story. When I was working as a head shot photographer, I would always ask my subject, “what is your goal for this photo and what do you want to convey to the viewer?”. A good portrait is more than just a mug shot of what someone looks like. Everything from the subject’s clothes to the expression on their face as well as their eyes tell a story of who they are.

If you are a designer, photos of your completed rooms should do the same thing. Ask yourself before shooting, what is the story I want to convey to the viewer? Is it the architecture? or the creative use of colors and products? Is the story the location or the outside view? or is the story about the family who lives there? If the image has no story then it is little more than a room mug shot.

What evokes emotion in a photo is different for each of us. I might be wowed by a photo that you might not give a second thought to and visa versa. The point is, think about what you are shooting, think about why you are shooting it and think about the best way to shoot it. Simply by taking the time to give each photo some thought will increase your chance of making a good photo a great photo.

Next week I will not be posting on my usual Tuesday because I will be in Spain traveling as a guest for Tile of Spain. I am so excited for this trip and just as I did in London, I will only have my iphone camera. My intention is to post lot’s of great photos so be sure you are following me on Instagram.

See you in two weeks!


11 Responses to The one thing that all great photos have in common
  1. Allyson Paris Reply

    Thank you, Linda, for this well-thought-out and comprehensive post. I have already read it twice and imagine I will be reviewing it again until I internalize all these points that create the subtle nuances that elevate photographs from good to great.
    As always, your photos are lovely. Looking forward to applying these principles as well as to seeing your photos from Spain. Have a great trip!

    • Linda Holt Reply

      Thanks so much Allyson! It’s funny how most of us rarely give thought to why we take a photo. When I decided to write this post though I had to stop and really think about it for awhile. I actually think my own post will help me take better photos in Spain.

  2. Debra Del Toro- Phillips Reply

    Wow, Linda, as an avid photography enthusiast, who has taken many photography classes, I’ve heard the same lessons you’ve shared today but never as succinctly and emotionally driven as you have in your blog! Makes me want to run out and create a great photos! Thank you for the inspiration!! Needed it on this cold wintry day in the North East. By the way, enjoyed your voice for the first time on the LuAnn Nigara’s, #welldesignedpodcast – Now, I’m a fan! Have fun in Spain!

    • Linda Holt Reply

      Wow! Thank you so very much Debra for such a kind comment! I so appreciate you taking the time to listen to the podcast and to read my blog. It’s makes all the time I devote to writing worth while.

  3. lisa bolin Reply

    Wonderful post…AGAIN! Thanks for enlightening our beautiful world! Sending lovelovelove. 🎈🎈🎈

    • Linda Holt Reply

      Thanks Lisa! Like you, the best I can do during these trying political times is to spread as much beauty as I can.

  4. Kelly Reply

    Love the photos! Especially of the single chair. Love it. Have a great time in Spain. Looking forward to seeing the world through your lens!

    • Linda Holt Reply

      Thanks Kelly. You’ll be seeing mostly tiles because I will be submersed in seeing tiles all week!

  5. Adrienne Reply

    Another wonderful blog post. Alot of great things to think about. I will read this several times as I head on vacation next week and try to capture the perfect image

  6. Darla Powell Reply

    I love the simplicity of the chair photo. I think it’s my fave in this article.

  7. suzanne Holt Reply

    I can’t thank you enough for the tip on accessing the camera feature on your phone!!! Love your blog and beautiful photos!

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