What makes a good photo?

What makes a good photo? I started thinking about this the other day after a conversation with one of my best friends, “Everyone with a camera thinks they’re the best,” he mused. Photography has certainly gained popularity in the last decade, especially with the advent of smart phones and social media. Is it truly becoming harder to stand out?

With the 8mp camera on my HTC phone, I can snap a high resolution photo, run it through Instagram, and come out with a decent looking end product. That doesn’t make it a good photo, however. Part of my job working in digital media at a newspaper is to browse through social media looking for viral content. I see THOUSANDS of photos every week. Most of them are “meh”.

In fact, our world has been flooded with “meh” photos that we’ve been told are “good” because they were taken with an expensive camera or run through fancy software. In my opinion that’s okay! There’s a big difference between the debate over photography’s purpose and what a good image is. A good deal of “meh” photos still have value in what they share and make you feel.

Instagram, photoshop, a D4 can all produce nice images, but they can’t make you an artist. Getting an eye for composition requires practice. Finding interesting subjects requires proactivity. Even as the number of photographers and ease of photography increases, the “good” photos–ones that really move you–will still stand out amongst the masses. And for the most part I love that photography is becoming popular. The more the better! As long as photographers remember to respect their subjects, especially when they’re people.

If you want to see absolutely stunning photos look up Diane Arbus here, or Ansel Adams here, or Daido Moriyama here

Arbus took photos before there was such thing as photoshop, instagram, or even digital. Her portraits are proof there is no “make the viewer say ‘holy shit that’s creepy’ ” button. Adams is one of my favorite photographer to just sit and look at. Moriyama is probably my biggest influence for black and white photos.

The following images are ones which I consider some of my better photographs that I just haven’t posted yet. I’ve written a brief critique of each one. Please feel free to add your own comments. I love feedback!

This is Shibuya, the worlds busiest intersection. I like this photo because there is so much going on. The people in the intersection, the rooftop stadium, the vibrancy, etc. I had to sneak up to the 19th floor of the Excel Hotel to get this shot, which makes it exciting from my standpoint. I wish the angle was a bit better, and that I had waited for the sun to set just a little more and that you could see some sky.

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I took this one last night in Omotesandō. These guys were putting up a new add on the window, and the one fellow was giving directions. You could probably tell that though without me explaining. It has a narrative, which is what I like about it. Creating scenes and giving narratives is one of the hardest things to do. I wish my camera had better low light performance for this, but otherwise I love the coloring and reflection on the glass.

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This little guy was at the Ueno Park zoo. I think it was one of the only decent photos out of the 200 I took that day. Taking pictures somewhere like a zoo is frustrating because the light is always changing, there is glass or fences in the way, and it is super crowded. I suppose a negative critique of this one is it’s just not the most interesting subject. I wish he(she?) had their tongue sticking out or something. It’s one of those “meh” photos that’s still cool.

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My favorite thing about this photo is the incredible juxtaposition. I snapped it at a big shrine in Akasaka (the name escapes me). The temple building is hundreds of years old, and remains unchanged even as the city evolved around it. It serves a sacred purpose. The Prudential building is modern and represents the complete opposite. What you see here is what I might describe as the “essence” of Tokyo (please bear with the cheesiness). If you can think of a negative critique let me know 🙂

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Last week I decided to walk home half way from work rather than take the train. It was a beautiful evening and the sun was setting just as I was passing the Diet building. I took this in the middle of an intersection. I think the best aspects by far are the lighting. The color of the sky is excellent and I really like the illumination on the pavement. The moon is also a plus. The brightness of the street lamp is a minus I think.

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You might wonder why I put this one on. A picture of a picture. What value does that have? I’m not exactly certain but there’s something that intrigues me. I like the guy’s hat at the very least. I don’t think this would be a photo that “sells” at all, but still from an artistic standpoint it’s worth something. After I’ve looked at it again the way it’s cropped jumps out at me. If you were to see the sign as it is in real life, the dramatic affect wouldn’t be the same.

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Again this was taken at the Shibuya intersection but it’s a completely different photo. I was standing on a curb right in the middle if things waiting for a good scene. In any big city you could get photos of lots of people crossing the street. Perhaps only in Tokyo could you get something like this. From the juxtaposition down to what the guy is wearing. If you have any constructive criticisms, again, I’d like to hear them.

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This is my favorite portrait photo. The woman’s bucket hat, her aviator sunglasses, the hand on the chin, inquisitive look, the meerkats in the foreground. This happened by chance and I was lucky enough to snap the shutter at the right time. My biggest criticisms are that you can see the reflection of my arm in the glass, and that this is digital. I so wish it was on film. With digital you are only getting a tiny fraction of the potential image. On film, the only real limitation is how advanced the scanning technology is for the year you live in. All those old films “remastered” in blue-ray? They’ve been high definition the entire time, the technology just didn’t exist to realize it. Why do you think the majority of films are still shot on film? This is roughly a 6.4 million pixels-per-inch photo. With the current scanning technology available for about $200, I could have made it 126 million. O well, I still like it :).

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Please please please feel free to add your critiques of my photography. I’d like to hear it so I can keep improving.

Thanks for stopping by!

Au revoir!

Chris