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.


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.


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.


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 🙂


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.


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.


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.


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 :).


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

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Au revoir!


Views from the street: part 2

Saturday night I decided to have another go at street photography, and headed up the hill to Roppongi. On weekends the sidewalks are filled with a sea of international club seekers and promoters all too willing to oblige them. The scene is absolutely chaotic, and makes for endless interesting photo opportunities.


Huomasin monia suomalaisia ​​katsomaan blogiani. Kiitos tuesta!


This guy stopped me to promote his club. I was surprised he let me take his picture! (and didn’t stick around for him to change his mind)






Very common scene: absorbed in the cell phone.


Casual Ferrari.



Yours truly at the Grand Hyatt Roppongi. (I have a habit of sneaking up to the top floor of expensive hotels to take pictures)


Roppongi is one of the few places in Tokyo I see graffiti. Adds character?




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Kiitos, että pysäyttäminen on!


Hibiya Park & Kokai Gijido (Japanese Government HQ)

Sunday evening I decided to visit Hibiya Koen and Kokai Gijido. Despite being within a 20 minute walk of my apartment, I still hadn’t made it to this beautiful area. Kokai Gijido is the government headquarters for Japan where all of the ministry buildings, the Diet (equivalent of the Capital) building, and the Prime Minister’s residence are located…

First, meet Tavish and Dahlia. This are my fellow fellows here in Tokyo. Tavish unfortunately had to return to the United States so we had a nice goodbye lunch yesterday.

I see the funniest things written on t-shirts here.



I really like the composition of this one, but its too bright :/ I’m slowly learning to take way more photos than I think I need to get a good shot.




This cat posed for some pictures…


…and then decided to take a nap 🙂 — side note: this was THE BIGGEST cat I have ever seen.


A short walk from Hibiya is Kokai Gijido.



This is the Diet Building (no, it isn’t the ministry of losing weight) which is equivalent to the Capitol in Washington D.C. An interesting fact, this building was completed in 1936, just at the start of Japanese aggression leading up to World War II…Just think about all the conversations that must have occurred in there.


I met these two women outside the Diet building. I asked them what their signs said and if I could take a picture, “Japan doesn’t need nukes anymore!” they replied, and asked if I would like to have a picture with them as well.


Which I did…There was a police officer standing right behind the woman who took this and appeared very curious as to why this foreigner would want a picture with the ladies.


The Prime Minister’s official residence was obscured by a huge wall and bushes, but you could see the very top of it. Apparently he whines about having to live there. Hah!



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Night Moves

If you don’t get the Bob Seger reference it’s okay. If you don’t know who Bob Seger is please educate yourself – http://youtube.com/watch?v=_mRFWQoXq4c

Taking photos at night is a blast! There are so many opportunities to create neat effects with lighting and lack-there-of. All of these are from the Omotesandō area. If you can’t tell, I love bikes. Tokyo has THE COOLEST bikes ever. There’s not too many descriptions to go along with these, just pure enjoyment. The pictures are easily most of my new favorites.

















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Omotesandō and Meji Shrine

I’ve been meaning to visit the Meji Shrine and Yoyogi Park for some time now. The area could be described as the Central Park of Tokyo (there’s even a building that looks strikingly similar to the Empire State). The Meji Shrine was built around 90 years ago on a piece of neglected land, and is now one of the most pleasant spots in the city. I was also told that Yoyogi would be a good place to see some of Tokyo’s more…colorful…personalities. The nearby Harajuku area is actually famous for its striking fashions, but for now enjoy these photos of the park. 🙂

Tokyo has some incredible juxtapositions of the natural and developed worlds…


I forget the story behind these barrels of wine, but they’re “old-ish” (that’s an official wine term)


The park was quite dark under the shade of the trees, but opportunities presented themselves. I’m considering investing in a fast 35mm lens for my Nikon, but I also really want an old film, compact rangefinder and they’re about the same price…decisions, decisions >:)










After my visit to the shrine I walked back through Omotesandō and passed the Audi Forum Tokyo.


I love Audis. How cool is that!!??



I have a small obsession with taking pictures of my meals here (usually to the dismay of whoever I’m eating with). They’re so cool though! Everything comes on a neat little tray and they even give you a wipe to clean your hands. Lavazza coffee is delicious so I was excited to find a café here 🙂


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When life gives you lemons…take pictures of people with umbrellas!

I went to visit the Rat Hole Gallery in Omotesando today (which is much nicer than the name allows) and it was pouring. I stopped at a small cafe to eat lunch and was told the seating area was only for those who ordered a drink as well. I politely declined paying ¥400 for a small coffee, and took my lunch outside. While I stood there eating a grilled cheese, I noticed the scene unfolding in front of me would make for great photography!

I’ve discovered some of the best photos come in this way, finding a scene and waiting for the right subjects to walk into it. I snapped around 70 photos of people walking by with umbrellas. The ones below I would consider the ‘best’ and each work in their own way. I’d definitely like to hear what you think though.










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Ueno Park and Tokyo Met Art

I was eating lunch in Ginza yesterday when I happened to meet a woman from Chicago, living in Japan, who told me I had to visit Ueno Park. It was awesome! Ueno Park is not just a park, but the home of several museums including the National Gallery and Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum. I only went to the Met Art today but will be making trips back in the future. I love art museums and was pretty much in heaven. This post is a bit long and represents about a quarter of the pictures I took.

I’ve been trying to focus on lighting and exposure as my photography improves. I’m learning to remember to set the ISO and white balance properly, as well as use the compensation feature. I shoot in aperture priority mode 99% of the time except in really dark environments. I’m also trying to change up my subject matter a bit. I tend to photograph a lot of things, but not really scenes. In my opinion the best photos are ones that you can imagine stories behind or create intrigue. This coming week I’m going to try to photograph more social situations and really try to capture emotion. Although, I still have a bunch of photos from the Imperial Palace and Akasaka neighborhood that I’d like to post. In the mean time, enjoy!

I really like the way the lighting turned out in this photo. More by accident than my my skill as a photographer 😉



Neat looking totem pole at the entrance to the zoo.


All these people were taking a nap!


Nicest Starbucks I’ve ever seen.


Playful little dog.



Cute kid running circles around the globe 🙂


I couldn’t resist haha!


Inside the Tokyo Met Art…





I wish I could have understood what this guy was saying about his piece.


Not a bad idea though!


Great looking escalator. I took a bunch of pictures of it until people started looking at me oddly…





This guy was immensely popular and had a huge crowd gathered around him. I guess juggling to ‘sandstorm’ blasting in the background is poplular.



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