How to create an award winning photograph

April 27, 2020  •  Leave a Comment

If I could provide some tips on what it takes to create great photographs, would you be interested?

When it comes to art, you may have heard the saying, "beauty is in the eyes of the beholder". Although not everyone will agree all the time, great photographs, as viewed and accepted by professionals, typically meet certain standards and criteria as I've described below. For the purposes of this blog, I'm going to focus on what professional photographers consider to be acceptable standards and rules that make great photographs. If you were to join a camera club and submit your photos in a photo contest, or submit your work to be juried by an art association, jurors would follow many of the guidelines discussed below. Perhaps you'd like to take out a few of your best and favorite images and critique them using the standards: Image Quality, Point of Focus, Artistic Elements, Uniqueness and Emotion. 

Image Quality (Focus and Exposure): Beginning with this first standard, your photograph must be in focus and properly exposed. If your photo is out of focus, this isn't something you can fix with software, like Photoshop. So what needs to be in focus?  For starters, your main point of interest needs to be in sharp focus. Sometimes, other elements in the foreground or background, can and should be, out of focus. This way the viewer's attention is drawn to the main point of interest. An example of this would include a photograph of people, where the background might distract from the people. Another example would be a close up of a flower, where you would want the background out of focus. Successful images also need to be properly exposed and not over exposed (too light), or under exposed (too dark). Every effort should be made to properly expose the image in the camera using a combination of ISO, white balance, correct metering etc, but in the event your photo was over or under exposed, you can often correct for this using Photoshop or a similar software program. For those of you that are using a Smartphone or basic camera without adjustments, you'll just have to do the best you can with exposure and adjust later in your computer. 

Point of Focus: Most successful photographs have one main point of focus, interest or theme. Competing points of focus often send mixed messages to the viewer, making it difficult to discern the photographer's intent. When taking photographs, concentrate on the the area of greatest importance and move in closer, or zoom in if you have that capability. Framing and cropping your images should be done in the camera where possible. 

Artistic Elements:  Do your best images meet artistic standards for elements like color, form, moment, perspective, view and composition? I'll cover this subject in more detail in a future blog, but here is a summary of these important elements. Some great photographs meet the standard of being artistic with just the use of color (complimentary: opposite on the color wheel), or harmonious (similar in color). Others meet the artistic standard due to the use of form (lines, shapes, patterns or texture), moment (cycle of the day, weather, seasons, or being in the right place at the right time), perspective (representing depth, space and a third dimension), view (use of a wide angle, normal or telephoto lens) and composition (proportion, balance, rhythm, motion and the rule of thirds). While many great images incorporate one or two of these elements, the best photographs exhibit most, if not all of these elements. My plan is to cover Artistic Elements in greater depth in a future blog.

Unique: Again, most great photographs are unique. By this I mean that they capture a certain place and moment in time, which can't easily be duplicated again. For example, photographs of people are unique, because it would be nearly impossible to capture the person's unique expression again. The same could be said for animals. Landscapes can be unique if they incorporate some unusual lighting or weather conditions. 

Emotion: This is the last standard I'd like to touch on. The most revered and successful images of all time have a strong emotional impact on the viewer. They could invoke any of the following feelings of: love, joy, happiness, sadness, anger, fear, excitement, anticipation, memories, wonder, awe, curiosity or a host of other emotions. 

Incorporating the above elements in your photographs will help improve the quality of your work. My recommendation is to read photography books, guides, articles or view other photographer's work on line, in art galleries or join a camera club and seek out a mentor. Like any other profession, constant attention and experimentation will help you improve. I've been involved with photography for the past 50 years, as an amateur and professional photographer. If you enjoy nature/landscape photography, I encourage you to visit my website:  You can also comment on my website, or send me an e-mail via my web contact page. 


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