What makes a good photograph

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This topic contains 3 replies, has 3 voices, and was last updated by  Ian McNab 1 year, 7 months ago.

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    Ian McNab

    If your pictures are going to be good, the received wisdom says that they must be sharp, with the main subject on the crossing point of thirds, no distracting bright areas near the edge of the frame, etc, etc.

    This morning I came across Henri Cartier Bresson’s dramatic and historic photograph of Nehru announcing Gandhi’s assassination to a weeping crowd at Birla House, Delhi, 30 January 1948:


    © Henri Cartier-Bresson/Magnum

    (click photograph to see larger version on black)





    Every thing to go wrong with the photo has gone wrong—there we have the recipe for one of the great photographs–great find Ian–and taken by the Master.  Mahatma  Gandhi was shot three times in the chest in the gardens of  Birla House as Ian explains where the photo was taken. I remember so well for a particular reason.  News was slow getting through in those far off halcyon days. My late elder sister explained while we were at breakfast – her dream in the night that  Gandhi had been stabbed to death . Nothing to surprise as at the time Gandhi was always in the news on the old steam radio”s–no tv then for the masses. Imagine our surprise later in the day  to hear he had been assassinated–but shot!.  The image  we associate with Gandhi in his loin cloth bares no relation to those as a young man learning law in this country.  What was the famous remark about Gandhi made by the late Queen Mother??? must look it up.  Great interesting find Ian.


    Pete Robinson

    I think that the photo is a great documentary photograph that’s recording a historic event. It is a very powerful and dramatic photograph that aptly captures the atmosphere of the event. It doesn’t need to conform to any ‘rules’ to make it a good photograph. It’s job isn’t to entertain.


    Ian McNab

    I agree with you, Peter – and probably more generally it’s true that conforming to rules doesn’t make a good photograph.

    But in that case, why do we so often hear rules used when people (and not only ‘judges’) are judging or evaluating photographs?

    I’ve been wondering whether the ‘rules’ – or perhaps it would be better to call them guidelines – are really just to help beginners to start thinking about the visual organisation of their early pictures. And they are probably helpful for that: getting some order into your photographs gives you a feeling of progress in the early days.

    But once you can do that, then what? Cartier-Bresson’s picture is about the drama and singularity of that momentous announcement; and yes, there is order and organisation in Cartier-Bresson’s photograph, but all of it is integral to, and in the service of, the drama of the picture. He’s not using ‘rules’ to make the picture: the picture is organised because of his intention to describe the dramatic event with a photograph.

    But shouldn’t that also be true of any photograph that’s worth taking – that it should be organised by our intention to describe as well as possible the drama or beauty or delicacy – or whatever – of what we photograph?

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