Tutorial What Makes Good Photography 01. Logo. David Osborn



What makes good photography is a photograph that creates an emotional response in the viewer. The first step of learning photography is to ask the question; so we know what we are aiming to achieve in our photographs.

An emotional response is creating a real bond with the photograph on a human level that goes beyond good photographic technique. We travel into, then around the photograph in our mind, searching and exploring; momentarily lost ‘somewhere else’.

Old master painters for over 600 years have searched for their own solutions; solutions we can apply to our photography. I teach their solutions, aesthetic quality and the technical skills to achieve them.

Tutorial What Makes Good Photography 02. Castlerigg Stones, England. David Osborn

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Aesthetic Quality 01

Aesthetics 01. Emotional Response

What makes good photography above all else, is the ability to evoke an emotional response in the viewer, a feeling, a reaction, an opinion. Photographs that we respond emotionally to, we connect with and form a bond. We are grabbed by them and want to study them. An emotional response is an instant sub-conscious response without any logical thought. They communicate. On a physical level the subject content, on an emotional level the mood. Without that emotional response we glance and walk by, forgetting we had seen the image. An image that fails to create an emotional response, fails totally. Emotional response is the ultimate end goal of all good photography.

Aesthetics 02. Captivate the Viewer

The photograph with light, form, mood and depth, even a feeling of time, creates a photograph that you mentally walk into, around and explore. Good photography really captivates the viewer. They hold the viewers’ attention, taking you on a personal journey, creating a personal experience in your imagination. They offer enough to grab our attention, but not enough to tell us everything. They ‘imply’, making us fill in the gaps and make the viewer work, engage and explore. They leave something for our imagination to fill in. A good test, is that you should be able to easily write a short narrative on paper about what the image evokes in your mind. If it only inspires ‘castle on hill’, it probably failed!

Aesthetics 03. Clear Idea

Would you write a book without an idea? How much time do you spend doing things without any idea of why you are doing them! So, why take a Photograph without any clear idea of why you are taking it! All you end up with is an image that has nothing to say. What I call a product shot or a, ‘so what’ picture. What makes good photography is communicating an idea and a story to tell. A purpose. The most effective way is to have a ‘one picture, one idea’ rule. This avoids confusing mix messages. A single idea with clarity of thought, is most likely to communicate fast. Communicating fast and with a clearly defined purpose, is a photograph well on the way to being successful.

Tutorial What Makes Good Photography 03. Cumbria, England. David Osborn
Castlerigg Stone Circle, Cumbria, England

Aesthetic Quality 02

Aesthetics 04. Geographic Signature

Good photography capture the feel and soul of the location, its geographic signature. A photograph taken in America should ‘look’ American. An image taken in France should ‘look’ French. Geographic signatures capture unique physical objects whose style are clues to the photos location. Ask “What does this location have, that you will not find anywhere else?”. This can be the feel of the hills, style of mountains, architectural design of the buildings even the weather that is ‘typical’ to that part of the world. When we first look at the photograph we must have edited down its location from ‘the world’ to Norway, Dubai, Qatar, Germany. All different countries with different style signatures.

Aesthetics 05. Story of light

Light is the aesthetic language of good photography. Light communicates the life and soul of the scene, the mood, the emotion. The objects are the physical description, the light is the story. What makes good photography is mood. A cohesive story of how the light interacts with the scene and creates mood. Taking inspiration from the old master painters such as Rembrandt, I teach Photoshop techniques taken from the principles of old master painting where light was such an important quality. A photograph without a sense of light will be have no soul. Portraying light is the heart of good photography.

Aesthetics 06. Clean Composition

Composition is simply deciding what content is relevant to communicate your idea, then placing those elements in harmony both with each other and as a complete image so your idea is communicated well. There is no neutral content, everything in the photograph works either for the idea or against the idea. The aim is to keep only the most minimal yet relevant content. One object is a fact, two objects make a story because we want to understand the relationship between the two. More than two, means more complexity to analyze and therefore less speed, The more minimal the content, the clearer and faster the message. Simple and clean compositions, make strong photographs.

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Tutorial What Makes Good Photography 04. Fly fishing, England. David Osborn
Fly Fishing, Cumbria, England

Technical Quality

Aesthetics 07. Optical Illusion

Technically, what makes good photography is creating an optical illusion on paper, fooling our brains into thinking that what we are looking at has depth, form and light, the three-dimensional quality. Technical craftsmanship gives us the means to create this illusion. If the technique is of a poor standard, our brain is unable to go beyond seeing the literal ink on paper. There is no convincing illusion created. Psychologically we always remain disconnected from the scene. Create that illusion and we enter a whole new world psychologically. Combine this with aesthetic mood, we create the two critical elements required for an emotional response. Optical illusions with mood.

Aesthetics 08. Rich Tonality

Rich tonality is the technical language of all good photography. On a technical level alone, photography courses spend a great deal of time teaching Photoshop editing techniques to control tone and contrast; to create correct tonal relationships that convey the mood, atmosphere, object form, spatial form, texture and distance. Rich tonality and having tonal control is essential. In a photograph we only have tone and color as our language to use in creating the image, the optical illusion. Heavy tones create the pictures structure, its foundation, the subtle silvery tones the life and sparkle. The more tonal range we have and use, the more the photograph comes alive.

Aesthetics 09. Sharpness

We see the world sharp; we need to make our optical illusion sharp. The more we remove all signatures of the photographic technique like noise, grain and keeping the image sharp, the more we enhance the optical illusion. We have less to remind us, that what we are looking at is not real, but only a photograph. Signatures of the photography technique create psychological barriers; preventing us from getting into and exploring the photograph in our mind. Have you ever embarrassingly walked into a glass door? You did that because the glass door was so clean. It had no signatures to remind you of being a door; you had psychologically, already entered the room making you hit it.

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Tutorial What Makes Good Photography 05. Edinburgh, Scotland. David Osborn
Edinburgh, Scotland

Aesthetics 10. Why Images Fail

What is the most common reasons images fail to make good photographs? Two reasons. A lack of thought and over emphasis on technical quality alone. The common approach to photography, is to shoot hundreds of frames from all different angles, then choose the best frame after the shoot at home. There is only one problem with this approach. If you take an image without an idea, the picture ‘communicates’ a lack of idea to the viewer. If we shoot hundreds of frames, then all we end up with is hundreds of frames – that ‘communicate’ a lack of any idea to the viewer. How can it communicate something it never had? Volume will never replace ideas, thought and planning. Less is quality.

With my photography tuition, I place enormous emphasis on transferring the questions you ask yourself when editing your images back home, to being THE questions to ask yourself – before shooting. Asking “What makes good photography?” – at the camera while you have time to make changes. The theory that by pure chance, you will find one you ‘like’ is flawed. What happens if you ‘like’ the angle in one photo, the light in another, the people in a third? The number of possible variables is enormous. Without an idea, you will never get all the perfect elements you ‘like’ together. Remove luck by thinking first, shooting second! Photography is also very intellectual.

The second failure, over emphasis on technical quality alone is a big mistake because technique is only the language of photography. Like a foreign language, the more fluent we can speak it, the better we can express our ideas, but it is only of value when we have an idea to express. Language on its own is pointless. What we want to communicate is our ideas, not how well we speak. All good photography communicates, uses a location as a prop for an opinion and a mood. Compose the subject, shoot the light, print the mood; create a personal artistic statement that evokes an emotional response through aesthetic quality and technical craftsmanship together in harmony.

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