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  • Writer's picture Tony Brown Photography

The 3 Main Elements of a Good Photograph

Every good photo has three major things in common, and they’re not hugely surprising.

In this post, I thought it would be useful to share the three key elements that make up each and every photograph we take. Of course, they're not the only elements, however they are the most important. And without them, your shot would be severely lacking anything of interest.

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When shooting specific mediums, such as fashion or architecture, a photographer will require all sorts of preparation and specific skills. However, at the photographic level, three key elements will always remain the same. If you every time you take a shot, you consider your composition, light, and subject, you will be well on your way to making a successful photograph.

What are the 3 Main Elements that Make a Good Photograph


Normally, when we decide to take a photo, it's because something has caught our eye. That, something, is the subject.

When describing a photo to someone, the subject is probably the first thing you’ll tell them. For instance, 'that photo of my friend', 'the photo of the bird' or 'a shot of my dog on the sofa'. A powerful photo is such because of the subject, and how it is presented. For the casual observer, it is all about the subject, and less attention is paid to the presentation.

That’s because a good subject can captivate your viewers, and the other parts of an image – including crucial elements, such as light – are allowed to fade into the background.

This is why you need to think about how you are portraying your subject? Do you want to isolate it with a shallow depth of field, or do you want everything from the foreground to the background to be in focus? Will your photograph be sharp and detailed, or impressionistic and blurred?

Every technical decision is really just a creative decision on how to portray your subject in the best possible way.

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Photography is light. Without it, you couldn’t take pictures in the first place, let alone good ones.

Light is what gives your photography its underlying structure. You’ve probably seen photos with beautiful light, photos which otherwise would have been somewhat ordinary. So what is it about light that makes it so important to the ultimate quality of your photos?

At its most basic, light gives the viewer the emotion of the shot. The feel of your photograph will be vastly different depending on the lighting conditions. Be it a harsh light, gentle light, warm light, cool light, and anything in between. Each type of light conveys a different emotional message, which changes the character of your final image. Although there are other ways to convey emotion in your photo as well, light is one of the most powerful. And most basic.

The best example for the powerful nature of light in photography is found when taking pictures outdoors. The golden hour, a time around sunset and sunrise, when the sky is filled with amazing colours, and the atmosphere is filtering light in a soft glow. It's a magical time to shoot, and well worth an early start for.

The quality of light you have depends on the conditions you encounter, and it isn’t always something you have the power to change. However, for especially important photographs, you always have the option to wait and capture something amazing when lighting conditions improve.

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The last crucial element of every good photograph is composition. Composition is, quite simply, the arrangement of the items in your photograph. And it encompasses the position of your camera, the relationships between the elements within the photo, and the subjects that you frame, or choose not to frame. Composition is how you tell a story.

A photo with composition tells a story effectively, without any distractions or confusion. Free from the puzzle of needing to sift through a mess of imagery to figure out why an image was taken.

How can you arrange the elements of your photo to make the image successful? A good composition emphasizes the parts of a photo that are the most significant, while downplaying anything that distracts from it.

There are a lot of different tools we can use to perfect composition. But the most important one is, of course, our brain. We are able to make decisions on where to shoot, which direction to shoot, and what time of day to shoot. All of these things influence what will be in the frame, and what will be out of it.

If you always consider these three variables, light, subject, and composition. You will have mastered perhaps the most critical part of photography, and learned how to actually convey an emotional message with your shots.

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