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News & Insight

Techniques – 10 Characteristics of Great Photos

By Christopher Lin on June 22nd 2009

We are often asked by people, how do you take “good photos?” As a studio, we try to develop a methodology for everything we do so that we can consistently create amazing photography over and over. Throughout the years studying our art, we have compiled a list of 10 characteristics a photo should have in order to make it an amazing image. While we use examples from our wedding and engagement portfolio for the images below, these rules apply to every type of photography.

If there is one overarching characteristic whose importance precedes that of all the characteristics listed in this article, it’s that every image need to have a purpose. The image has to be captured for a reason, e.g. to show something beautiful, to tell a story, to capture a moment. Moreover, if you comb through your portfolio and find yourself asking, “why did I take that picture?” there’s a good chance its lacking some or all of the following characteristics. While it is impossible for an image to have every one of these characteristics, there are some characteristics marked “must have” that every picture should have when possible. So, without further adieu here are the 10 Characteristics of Great Photos.

10 Characteristics of Great Photos

1 – Has a Great Composition (Must Have)

There are many different rules and methods out there for creating great compositions. You have common rules and techniques such as the rule of 3rds and rules of symmetry as well as the not-so-common techniques involving asymmetric compositions using object balancing, leading lines and framing. I mention this rule first because it doesn’t matter which particular style, technique, or rule you follow, so long as every image has a solid composition. There will be times when composition needs to be thrown out the window in order to just grab the shot, but where possible, it should always be considered.

The image above, shot on a 70-200mm f/2.8L Zoom Lensis using symmetry as well as the rule of thirds. The couple is symmetrically centered on the image while the image is sectioned into approximately 1/3 ground and 2/3 sky horizontally.

The image below uses a symmetrical leading line composition where each of the lines from the descending staircase leads the viewers eye into the couple.


The image below is uses several different compositional components including leading lines, the rule of thirds and unique framing. The leading lines in the scene bring the attention of the eye to the subject which occupies the space within the triangle framing. In addition, the entire composition is framed using thirds, the right third where the couple resides, and the left 2/3 occupied by the wall and leading lines.


2 – Captures Emotion

As human beings we are drawn to emotion. Whether it is something that makes us laugh or cry, emotion is what ties each and everyone of us together. Images showing emotion and timeless moments will always capture the audiences attention.

The image below is of a bridesmaid at Eucalyptus Lane rocking out as she comes down the aisle.


The image below was captured at Orella Ranch during a Father/Daughter dance as the two shared a laugh at a nice inside joke.


3 – Tells a Story

Some of my favorite images do nothing other than tell a story. They may not be great compositions or have anything unique to them other than the fact that they capture history. Some of the best examples of these types of images are found all throughout news and photojournalism. From capturing liberated shout of a newly crowned champion Kevin Garnett to capturing a protester standing in front of a tank in the Tiananmen Square massacre. These images capture and freeze moments in history for everyone to become a witness.

Chris shot the image below of a poverty stricken child while traveling through Peru.


The image below was shot at a Calamigos Ranch cabin as one of the bridesmaid’s helped put on her daughter’s shoes.


The image below was taken during a wedding as the bride tossed her bouquet into a group of crazed single girls. The girl in front is doing quite a great job of boxing out the girls behind her, great form!


4 – Leaves Something to the Imagination

I love images that tell a story, but even more, I love images that tell stories with something left to the imagination. Everyone knows that the book is always better than the movie, because it allows us to use our imagination to create the most amazing and personalized special effects in our minds. Images that leave something to the imagination tend to do the same thing. They allow us to have just enough information to imagine the rest of the scene.

This image was shot in Laguna Beach during an engagement shoot. I love how the image shows them inside of a phone booth on a street, but it doesn’t give you much information on anything else going on. Rather, letting you imagine the rest.


This image was shot during an engagement session at Griffith Observatory. As the couple sat on the bench, we sneaked up and took a shot of their feet. The image implies closeness and shows off the couples differing styles, leaving the rest to the imagination.


5 – Captures an Iconic Moment

Iconic moments are moments that are created or modeled after meaningful pop culture. Whether it is a reproduction of a shot from a classic movie, or creating a unique moment based around something trendy, these shots allow the audience to feel emotionally connected to the moment within the imagery.

The image below was inspired by trying to recreate a classic scene of girls at a salon waiting to get their hair styled as they indulge in some of the latest gossip and fashion trends.


While shooting one of our couples in Cabo, Mexico we thought it would be a lot of fun recreating the iconic Corona beer commercial scenes as they relaxed on the beach.


This shot was taken during an engagement shoot in Los Angeles. As our couple was walking back to the car, we noticed an older couple walking right in front of them. Pye saw the shot and positioned himself to create an iconic image that shows our young couple following right behind their older counterparts.


6 – Presents the Unique

What’s an easy way to create an interesting image? Simple, shoot something that is unique to the respective audience. While a Christian wedding may seem quite common in the United States, a traditional Chinese wedding isn’t so common and therefore is automatically more interesting to an audience in the states. While unique always resides across the seas in foreign countries, you can find plenty of unique things to shoot right where you live.

The image below was shot during one of our bride’s henna parties prior to her wedding. The unique henna painting and pose creates a composition that keeps the viewers attention fixed on the image.


This shot was taken during a traditional Indian Wedding in Los Angeles. The unique clothing and composition creates an image where the audience can focus on the traditional Indian clothing and hand art.


7 – Juxtapositions Contrasting Concepts

Some of my favorite images juxtapose (compare) completely contrasting objects and concepts. Examples of this could be a beautiful bride in a completely white and flowing wedding dress shot in front of a background littered with trash and graffiti. Thus juxtaposing beauty and purity with ugly and uncleanliness. Or perhaps a homeless person downtown sitting with all of his belongings with a glowing Merryl Lynch sign in the background, contrasting utter poverty with a symbol of wealth and power.

The image below was shot during a wedding in Orange County on a Canon 5D Mark II. The concept was to juxtapose the beauty of a dress with the drab and plain background of a local street.


The image below was shot in Corona against a graffitied up wall close to the freeway. The beauty of the bride-to-be and her dress contrasts well against the graffitied background.


8 – Uses Unique Lighting and Color

Lighting and color is really where a lot of great images start. Great lighting can turn a mundane scene into an amazingly colorful scene full of texture and life. In nature, these types of scenes happen all the time during sunrise and sunset and while we can’t control the lighting of those fleeting moments, if you happen to be in the right place at the right time, you just may be able to capture it. However, we can control and create unique lighting on our own with the proper knowledge using off camera lighting, flashes and more.

The image below was shot in Santa Barbara at Stearns Wharf during sunset. While the sky was completely clear, the sunset created some amazing colors in the sky which we amplified by shooting the reflection of the sky in the ocean.


The image below was shot during an engagement session in Los Angeles. We positioned our couple in front of the glowing fountain to create a silhouette against the brightly lit fountain.


The image below was shot by Pye during a Jewish Wedding at the Langham Hotel in Pasadena. The image was created by Pye using a long exposure and painting the word “mazeltov” in with a light gun. To see exactly how Pye created this image, check out the article here.


9 – Shows Overlooked Detail

In our time and society where everything is about speed and efficiency, images that capture overlooked detail can be enough to make someone stop to smell the roses. While pictures of unique and unseen detail is amazing and breathtaking, you can often get the same reaction out of your audience by simply shooting the detail in everyday life.

The shot below was taken at a wedding in Orange County. The close up shot of the rings, along with the blue backlight and bokeh creates a beautiful scene that may otherwise be overlooked.


The image below is a simple shot recording the detail and beauty in this table setup during a birthday party we shot in Beverly Hills.


10 – Uses a Unique Perspective

Most of us live our lives viewing the world with relatively the same perspective. This is what makes unique perspectives so interesting to the audience. Instead of shooting a child from an adult’s perspective, why not get down low and shoot them from the child’s perspective. Very low bottom-up and high top-down can often create a much more unique and interesting image.

The image below was shot during an event as some of the kids were having a little party of their own. What better way to shoot kids, then to shoot it from their perspective. You can imagine how this shot wouldn’t be nearly as special were it shot from a standing (grown up) perspective.


The image below was shot with a unique perspective in order to show the beautiful background above the couple. Remember that backgrounds can be above or below you!


The image below was shot at the Beverly Wilshire in Beverly Hills. To capture the shot, Pye ran to a conference room on the 16th floor of the hotel and shot out the window as the bride was being walked down the isle.


We hope you enjoyed this article! If so, please share this article to show us your love! Also, please add your additional ideas on creating great images below in the comments.

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Co-Founder of SLR Lounge and Photographer with Lin and Jirsa Photography, I’m based in Southern California but you can find me traveling the world. Click here to connect on Google +

Q&A Discussions

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  1. swag master

    i think im dying call the pope

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  2. Denise Webb

    The article and tips were great, but I’m still confused about composition. 

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  3. Cornelius Parkin

    Very nice article… Thanks

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  4. Joseph Prusa

    Great advice

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  5. Jessica Vieira

    That was exactly the kind of tips I was looking for. Sometimes I ask myself what is the purpose of my photos and I often can’t find a proper answer for that. Thanks for sharing that.

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  6. Kurk Rouse

    very interesting stuff indeed

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  7. Taylor Wellborn

    Awesome article! Also, some great shots!!

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  8. Waqas Haider

    A good teacher you are ..*respect*

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  11. levu

    Fantabulous !

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  13. Deaonhawkins

    i need help 

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  14. Filallisonlo

    tnx 4 da help!!!

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  15. Filallisonlo

    tnx 4 da help!!!

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  16. Anonymous

    I like your blog,your photography technique is awesome,i want to say that you nice wedding photographer.
     wedding photographers bristol

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  17. Gochesser

    Very helpful,thanks.

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  18. Hertha Piechoski

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  19. Jason Harris

    Love following the blog

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  20. Anna

    very helpful thanks

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  23. ArenaCreative

    Well done! The photos, the 10 points, everything – definitely sharing this one.

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  25. Hanif Lokat

    Thanks for the great tutorial/info, you guys rock!

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  26. Me

    Every shot needs to have spirit and express the joy of witnessing the world unfold before you. Purpose comes second.

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  27. Jarette Howell

    Great read! I found this very helpful–wonderful photos as well!

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  28. Bim

    Thanks for the great advice and sharing the great photos from the shoot. Appreciated.

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  29. Kevin

    Awesome photos and instruction! My three favorite are henna one, the Indian couple chest down, and the wedding dress in the road. (although the dress in the middle of the road makes me think of a runaway bride leaving her wedding and taking off to the road!) Still awesome.

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