Top 10 Elements of Amazing Pictures

Top 10 Elements of Amazing Pictures

Close up of an elephant's eye - elements of a good photo feature image

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All photos are original to the author unless otherwise noted. 

This blog post may contain affiliate links.  I may earn a small commission for any purchases made through these links. Click here for the disclosure statement.

All photos are original to the author unless otherwise noted.

Learning the concepts of photography can be intimidating at first. On top of learning the technical aspects such as the exposure triangle, there are also composition rules to learn and equipment to buy. Capturing amazing pictures requires more than just clicking the shutter and you may wonder how you can possibly think of everything for every photo. I’ve outlined the characteristics of creating beautiful images… don’t worry, it’s simpler than you think.

1. The Best Photography Is Authentic

Photography is an art, and art is subjective. There will be people who love your photos and people who hate them. Authenticity means staying true to yourself so it’s important to take pictures of what speaks to you and avoid the validation trap.

Oscar Wilde Quote - Be Yourself, everyone else is already taken
Blue glacier demonstrates rule of thirds using the upper third for the horizon

2. Amazing Pictures Use Great Composition

The rules of composition guide photographers in creating compelling compositions that make a photo interesting and lead the eye to the subject. However, the first rule of photography is there are no rules, so don’t be afraid to experiment with breaking the rules.

Popular composition techniques: negative space, leading lines, and rule of thirds.

3. Good Pictures Don’t Have Clutter

Clutter is the element in a photo that does not add to the message you are trying to portray. To declutter a photo, try different angles to cut out the distractor, get a tighter shot, or use a wider aperture to blur out the background.

White Mushroom Growing On A Log

4. Use Tone To Portray Emotion

Great photography makes a viewer feel something and image tone contributes to the portrayal of emotion. The tone in photography refers to the overall lightness and darkness of a photo as well as the warmth (red, yellow, orange) or coolness (blue, green, and purple). Images in black and white or dark tones appear dramatic. Images using cool tones can portray sadness while warm images are vibrant and happy.

5. The Most Beautiful Photos Tell a story

This one has always tripped me up – “How do I tell a whole story in a single frame?” Don’t let this intimidate you, not all photos have to tell a story. A story can be told in a single frame or a series of shots and should stop moments in time in a way that makes the viewer feel as if they were there. Capturing iconic moments in history is one way of telling a story, but capturing the little things in life is just as compelling.

Woman walks through a decaying town
Photo By Tajmia Loiacono On Unsplash
Cardboard sign as a Black Lives Matter Protest that says "It's a privilege to educate yourself about racism instead of experience it"
Photo By James Eads on Unsplash

6. Take A Picture of Iconic Moments

2020 was an unprecedented year full of unprecedented events (side note, does anyone else hate the word unprecedented too?). The Australian fires, the pandemic, and the global civil rights movements have all been moments for the history books. The news has shown countless images of images captured by everyday people during these iconic events. We’ve all experienced these trying times in different ways, capturing your perspective through photography is a way to add to the narrative that will be told for generations.

7. Capture Unique Lighting For Cool Photos

Lighting plays a huge role in photography – not only does the amount of light impact the exposure, but how light is used can change the tone of a photo. Silhouettes, color filters, sun glares, and dark shadows are all types of light that can help set the mood or give a unique perspective. Intentionally under or overexposing photos changes the tone, silhouettes give ordinary photos a unique look or hide clutter, and shadows emphasize certain parts of the photo. There are many ways lighting can alter the look and feel of a photo; a perfectly exposed photo isn’t always the most interesting.

Black and White Screech Owl Silhouette
Raindrops on a green leaf

8. Beautiful Pictures Capture The Details

You don’t have to fit the whole scene into a single frame to tell a story. Focusing on the finer details can be more powerful in storytelling; too much in the frame could lead to clutter or loss of important details. Rain, for example, is difficult to capture in landscape photography. Closeups of raindrops on an object or reflections in a puddle do a better job of telling the story of a rainy day.

9. Good Pictures Don’t need an explanation

One of the most important elements of a great image is that the viewer must be able to understand to photograph without commentary. If you have to point out the subject or provide an explanation, you have failed to deliver the message. There are exceptions to this, such as abstract which is intentionally obscure.

European Starling Taking Over
Sunsetting Over the Mountains

10. If The Photographer Likes It, Then It’s A Good Photograph

I’ll begin and end with how photography is about YOU! Shoot the things you love; the ultimate qualifier for a good photograph is YOU like it. It does not have to be technically sound, if the photo takes you back in time, reminds you of a loved one, or makes you feel something, then it’s a good photo.

If you haven’t gathered from my landscape gallery, I love mountains and sunsets. This photo was taken from the driveway of my grandparent’s house the day after my grandfather passed and I like to think it was his final gift to me. I didn’t have my usual equipment, I wasn’t in the right frame of mind for photography, and the image is by no means my greatest work of art; but it follows rules 1, 4, 5, and most importantly 10.

Learning the concepts of photography can be intimidating at first. On top of learning the technical aspects such as the exposure triangle, there are also composition rules to learn and equipment to buy. Capturing amazing pictures requires more than just clicking the shutter and you may wonder how you can possibly think of everything for every photo. I’ve outlined the characteristics of creating beautiful images… don’t worry, it’s simpler than you think.

1. The Best Photography Is Authentic

Photography is an art, and art is subjective. There will be people who love your photos and people who hate them. Authenticity means staying true to yourself so it’s important to take pictures of what speaks to you and avoid the validation trap.

Oscar Wilde Quote - Be Yourself, everyone else is already taken
Blue glacier demonstrates rule of thirds using the upper third for the horizon

2. Amazing Pictures Use Great Composition

The rules of composition guide photographers in creating compelling compositions that make a photo interesting and lead the eye to the subject. However, the first rule of photography is there are no rules, so don’t be afraid to experiment with breaking the rules.

Popular composition techniques: negative space, leading lines, and rule of thirds.

3. Good Pictures Don’t Have Clutter

Clutter is the element in a photo that does not add to the message you are trying to portray. To declutter a photo, try different angles to cut out the distractor, get a tighter shot, or use a wider aperture to blur out the background.

White Mushroom Growing On A Log

4. Use Tone To Portray Emotion

Great photography makes a viewer feel something and image tone contributes to the portrayal of emotion. The tone in photography refers to the overall lightness and darkness of a photo as well as the warmth (red, yellow, orange) or coolness (blue, green, and purple). Images in black and white or dark tones appear dramatic. Images using cool tones can portray sadness while warm images are vibrant and happy.

5. The Most Beautiful Photos Tell a story

This one has always tripped me up – “How do I tell a whole story in a single frame?” Don’t let this intimidate you, not all photos have to tell a story. A story can be told in a single frame or a series of shots and should stop moments in time in a way that makes the viewer feel as if they were there. Capturing iconic moments in history is one way of telling a story, but capturing the little things in life is just as compelling.

Cardboard sign as a Black Lives Matter Protest that says "It's a privilege to educate yourself about racism instead of experience it"
Photo By James Eads on Unsplash

6. Take A Picture of Iconic Moments

2020 was an unprecedented year full of unprecedented events (side note, does anyone else hate the word unprecedented too?). The Australian fires, the pandemic, and the global civil rights movements have all been moments for the history books. The news has shown countless images of images captured by everyday people during these iconic events. We’ve all experienced these trying times in different ways, capturing your perspective through photography is a way to add to the narrative that will be told for generations.

7. Capture Unique Lighting For Cool Photos

Lighting plays a huge role in photography – not only does the amount of light impact the exposure, but how light is used can change the tone of a photo. Silhouettes, color filters, sun glares, and dark shadows are all types of light that can help set the mood or give a unique perspective. Intentionally under or overexposing photos changes the tone, silhouettes give ordinary photos a unique look or hide clutter, and shadows emphasize certain parts of the photo. There are many ways lighting can alter the look and feel of a photo; a perfectly exposed photo isn’t always the most interesting.

Black and White Screech Owl Silhouette
Raindrops on a green leaf

8. Beautiful Pictures Capture The Details

You don’t have to fit the whole scene into a single frame to tell a story. Focusing on the finer details can be more powerful in storytelling; too much in the frame could lead to clutter or loss of important details. Rain, for example, is difficult to capture in landscape photography. Closeups of raindrops on an object or reflections in a puddle do a better job of telling the story of a rainy day.

9. Good Pictures Don’t need an explanation

One of the most important elements of a great image is that the viewer must be able to understand to photograph without commentary. If you have to point out the subject or provide an explanation, you have failed to deliver the message. There are exceptions to this, such as abstract which is intentionally obscure.

European Starling Taking Over
Sunsetting Over the Mountains

10. If The Photographer Likes It, Then It’s A Good Photograph

I’ll begin and end with how photography is about YOU! Shoot the things you love; the ultimate qualifier for a good photograph is YOU like it. It does not have to be technically sound, if the photo takes you back in time, reminds you of a loved one, or makes you feel something, then it’s a good photo.

If you haven’t gathered from my landscape gallery, I love mountains and sunsets. This photo was taken from the driveway of my grandparent’s house the day after my grandfather passed and I like to think it was his final gift to me. I didn’t have my usual equipment, I wasn’t in the right frame of mind for photography, and the image is by no means my greatest work of art; but it follows rules 1, 4, 5, and most importantly 10.

Author Bio

Author Bio Image

Delaney is a project manager by day and a travel and wildlife photographer by night who is using her skills for translating complex technical language into easy to understand concepts to make photography achievable at all skill levels. You have questions; she has answers.

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