What Makes a Great Image?

Been looking at the top photos on ARSBETA.COM, and super inspired by all the great new imagery I’ve been exposed to.

Which makes me want to spend some time to reflect on the question:

What makes a great image?

CASE 1: Woman Through Watery Glass

Photograph by Robert King on arsbeta.com

For this photograph, one of the anonymous ARS users commented:

“Unsettling… haunting… and beautiful. Brilliantly exposed.”


I think this is a good critique, because the critique shows the aesthetic/emotional qualities of the image.

For myself, I love this photograph by Robert King because:

  1. The pursed lips (emotional/sexual connotation)
  2. The cool/black and white tones (literally feels cold) — yet juxtaposed against the warm of the woman’s hand on the glass.
  3. Open-ended/surreal: Shot through glass, with water drops (romantic).

To re-summarize, the points I love:

  1. Open-ended (anyone can come up with their own story)
  2. Emotional impact
  3. Hand/lip gesture

I almost feel as if the woman is reaching out to me personally. Thus, the photograph strikes an emotional chord with myself.

More great photos from Robert King’s ARS account:

See more on Robert King’s Profile >

CASE 2: Two Men

Photograph by Dinu Lazar

Another very very powerful photograph — this image by Dinu Lazar.

For myself, this is why I love the image:

  1. The man on the right, looking slightly to the left (who directs your eyes to the second subject of the frame).
  2. The beautiful textures on the man’s face on the right– you can feel his emotions of uncertainty.
  3. Separation (negative space) between both subjects.
  4. Hand-gesture of man on the left, who is turned away from the man. If we were to make an open-ended juxtaposition (contrast) between the two men– perhaps they have some sort of conflict?

To re-sum, what I think makes this a great photograph:

  1. Strong emotional juxtaposition/contrast between two people in the frame
  2. Strong emotions conveyed via hand-gestures and eye-expression
  3. Simple image, with deep complex human-relationship.

More great images from Dinu Lazar’s ARS profile:


Image by Sandra Guldemann Duchatellier

From a compositional and story-telling street photography perspective, this photograph is great.

First of all, I want to break down the wonderful composition (sub-division of the frame). Note the left of the frame (blue) is larger than the space on the right of the frame (red). This is good because it adds more dynamism to the frame (to make a more dynamic composition, better to have one section of the frame to be larger than the other):

Interestingly enough, this composition fits the rule of thirds:

Also note how the two subjects are facing/moving in opposite directions. The man on the left facing left (hunched down), and the person on the right standing and running to the right:

There are also tons of other interesting compositional elements– can you see them?

Simple yet dynamic composition.

Photos by Sandra

See more photos by Sandra on her ARS Account >


My thoughts on what makes a great image:

  1. Strong emotional content in image: Via hand-gestures, facial expressions, the look in the eyes.
  2. Simple yet dynamic composition: No clutter in the frame, simple and elegant subjects/visual elements, and repetition of lines/shapes/forms.

Or in other words:

Emotion and form (composition).

Thus to make greater photographs:

  1. Strive to make photographs that pulse and bleed with soul/emotion.
  2. Simplify your scenes in order to create stronger compositions.



To have the opportunity to have your photograph featured, and to get honest and constructive critique to your photos, join arsbeta.com and start uploading/critiquing photos there. Excited to have you!