It’s a question lots of people grapple with. What makes a good picture? (Or what makes a picture good?). Like the headline says, I suppose the answer depends. On what? Well, purpose and perspective. What makes a picture of my family doing something goofy might be “good” to me because of the memory I associate with it. To you it’s cropped goofy, composition is wrong and light is abhorrent. It’s pretty subjective.
There are categories of photography where the determination is a little more objective. News photography (the field I focus on) fits that bill. Photographs are made, selected and published with the goal of communicating to a large audience. But what makes a few pictures among those stand out? Still an open question. Lots of research has been done on things like novelty. Barthes wrote about studium and punctum. And photographs that are expected to “speak” to a broad audience still speak more loudly to some people than others. That’s where it becomes subjective again.
I’m privileged to be based at the home of the Pictures of the Year International competition. Every year panels of judges come here and evaluate thousands of photographs, selecting the few that will receive awards. Judging just wrapped up for this year. One of the judges, Alex Garcia, has written his reflections on the experience and his answer to that question: What makes for compelling images?
Give it a read.