What Makes a Good Photograph? 5 Key Elements to Consider

Ivan Martinez
Corporate photographer with expertise in business headshots, events, commercial, and construction photography.
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We live in a time when an overwhelming amount of images can be found just by looking at our smartphones. While there are tons of images out there, not all images grab our attention and make us stop scrolling. So what makes us stop and watch an image for a bit longer? A good photo, the one that catches our attention, is an image that is intended to reach and easily convey the correct message. 

A great photograph isn’t made by a good subject or a good camera, but by what it makes us feel. It’s not about the gear, the subject, or the composition but rather about successfully making its intended target react.

Important Take on Making a Good Photograph

To make a great photograph, there are some aspects that need to be correctly implemented to achieve the greatest results. This is however subjective territory; the same photo can be great for some people and terrible for others.

The way I see it, the perception the public, consumers, or just viewers have of the purpose of an image is what determines if it is good. What a photograph is taken for is what will make all the technical and composition elements come together in any photographer’s creative process.

5 Key Elements of a Good Photograph

There are five important elements that make up great photos, here are some of my best photography tips:

Example of photography composition on a construction site


In a nutshell, when we refer to a photograph's composition, we are referring to what is in the picture and where. Composition is how the elements are arranged within the frame, what is included, and what is purposely left out. 

Generally speaking, all good photos are built around the subject matter, creating symmetry through leading lines and patterns and trying to narrate a story. 

Any good composition starts with the subject. This can involve showing a large part of a scene or zooming in on a specific object by using the depth of field and leading lines. There are widely known techniques to keep in mind while composing your images such as rules of symmetry and the rule of thirds to help to draw the viewer’s eye into a specific section of an image.

It’s important to learn what aspects will make your composition stand out, but also allow yourself some space to break the rules and get creative—here is where the magic happens. 

Light Exposure

Just how much light is in a single photograph is called exposure. This is the essence and substance of photography as an art form. Understanding light and how it affects the subject is a key element in becoming a better photographer. Light will make or break your image. Some subjects can be better portrayed in some light than others; it’s a matter of knowing how to convey the story that you want to tell with the picture.

Not all light is created equally, it varies in angles, strength, and color. To better understand light in photography you need to look at these three different aspects: direction, quality, and color. 

  • Direction will help you emphasize shapes and textures. For example, side light is great if you want to show lots of textures, while direct light will hide texture and wrinkles.
  • Quality is the term we use to distinguish between hard and soft light. Soft light provides less contrast with very few shadows. Hard light provides more contrast and easily defined shadows.
  • Color is what is used to show the temperature of the light. It can be warm or cool. For example, orange conveys a warm a sunset, and blue will be for early morning or night after sunset. Read more about color of light below under Color and Tone.
Example of photography that seems to freeze time, where children play under water fountains


Taking a photograph is essentially being able to freeze time. Just when you press your shutter can make the difference between a great and a poor image. While there can be great pictures taken in the spur of the moment, timing is key to capturing the right frame. 

Finding that moment that tells the story you want to share generally requires anticipation and planning. Knowing just the right time to snap a picture can make the difference between attention-gathering cool photographs and a boring one.

Anticipation will depend on what you are photographing, and your planning can be more casual depending on what you intend on capturing. For high-action wildlife and spot photography, few great photos happen in the spur of the moment. There’s usually a certain amount of preparation, specialization, and technicality that goes into play, including visiting the place before the first time you try to create the photograph you’re after.

Composing your image in anticipation of what you hope to capture is one of the best ways to achieve your goal. Whatever situations you find yourself in, it’s important to observe and familiarize yourself with the scene’s flow and rhythm so you can capture it at the right time.


Even if all the other elements are on point, a picture is less impactful if it doesn’t have a purpose. A photograph can be technically accurate and still be boring. The camera is a tool that shows the world through your eyes, and inspiration on how to portray the world around you in a way that is unique and attractive is essential to making a good image.

Finding your own inspiration and muse is about developing your own view of the world, rather than strictly adhering to technical rules. In fact, some photographers skip some “unwritten rules” of photography and still end up with great pieces—just because of the interesting view of the world they showed through their work.

Making a great photo is a matter of being creative and being able to apply your personal drive to your pictures. Inspiration comes through practice and exploration. It takes time. You have to commit and be willing to try things that are difficult, different, and new. Sometimes they work and many times they don’t. 

It is not easy to develop a look that is unique and effective, it takes dedication and willingness to learn as you go through the process.

Color and Tone Range

Seeing that photography is all about light, it should come as no surprise that every photo has a range of tones and color components based on the light captured by a camera. 

The tone in photography refers to the levels of brightness in an image, from solid black (shadows) to pure white (highlights). In any shot, we will see a range of tones from darkest to brightest, with various shades in between. 

Broadly speaking, we can classify the colors into two categories: warm and cool. Warm colors include red, orange, and yellow, while cool colors include green, blue, and violet. Human society has always given colors a meaning. All of us feel different things depending on the colors that we see and using them appropriately and intentionally in your photography can have a powerful and striking effect.

Example of commercial photography with warm tones

Warm colors and tones are generally used to convey gentleness or even romance; while cool harsher color schemes may evoke passion, danger, or even fear.

 example of commercial photography with cool tones: a bottle of liquor with two glass cups can be seen

Find ways to communicate, knowing how color is perceived by the audience you are communicating with. Knowing this will help you create images that are not only attractive but effective.

Taking better photos is more than just pointing and shooting and capturing a passing moment, or obsessing about technical details such as compositional rules. It goes beyond any obvious cliché. You will make (and not take) a good photograph once you put thought into your creative process and combine it with your technical knowledge to produce a meaningful message, whatever your subject might be.


Example of composition in a construction photography

In today's digital age, where countless images flood our smartphones, it takes more than just a good digital camera to create a photograph that truly captivates and resonates with viewers. A great photograph is not solely determined by the subject or the equipment used, but rather by the emotions it evokes and the message it conveys. To achieve this, several key elements must be considered.

  • Composition plays a crucial role in guiding the viewer's eye. By arranging the elements thoughtfully, utilizing leading lines, and embracing creative techniques, photographers can create visually striking and engaging compositions.
  • Understanding light sources and its impact on the subject is another vital element. By mastering concepts such as exposure, direction, quality, and color, photographers can effectively use light to convey the desired mood and draw attention to specific areas of the image.
  • The right timing, both in terms of capturing the decisive moment and planning ahead, also plays a significant role in creating impactful photographs.
  • Finding inspiration and developing a unique point of view are essential for producing meaningful and compelling images.
  • Finally, the skillful use of color and tone adds depth and emotion to photographs.

By considering the elements of composition, light, timing, inspiration, color, and tone, as photographers we can create images that not only grab attention but also leave a lasting impression in the digital age of social media and visual storytelling.

If you’re eager to have the best pictures taken for your business, let me help you bring those ideas to life! My name is Ivan Martinez, and I am a professional photographer with over 36 years of experience in the field. Contact me, I look forward to the opportunity of working with you.

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