What Makes A Good Photo?

By Abi King | Travel Chat

Dec 14

Iguazu Falls Brazil & Argentina

What makes a good photo?

Recording memories

This is a terrible photo. It’s taken with a point-and-shoot about as old as shoulder pads and legwarmers. It has splashes from water and glare from the sun (just in case you hadn’t noticed.) It’s also one of my favourite photos of all time.

Why? Well, for all the reasons that photographs mean something to us. Really mean something to us. We can (and I do) work on improving composition and balancing exposure. We can play around with aperture, shutter speed and ISO and we can definitely, steadily, professionally work on improving what our images manage to say to complete strangers.

Recommended reading: Why do people travel? 25 Reasons or is there just the one?

But as for what our photos mean to us? It’s almost irrelevant what others think.

The splashes in this image remind me how the spray from that snarling, raging waterfall blasted my skin that day.  The glare brings back the sunshine, the squinting and the heat, despite the fact that we were only an hour from dawn. The blurred colours and clouds reflect the disorientation from sleeplessness and soundlessness as I surrounded myself in the sensations of Iguazu Falls.

Above all, this photo reminds me of how I spent my time feeling truly alive, snapping at the chance to capture a memory rather than crafting a product for others to enjoy….Breathless, hair sticking to my face, hope and youth spiralling into the drops of water that formed white breaths in that tropical sky.

Looking back, I’m so glad that my photography has improved over the years. But I hope I never forget how to enjoy what is real while I’m there.

In this case, for me, the answer to what makes a good photo?

The memory it inspires. What do you think?


About the Author

Hi, I'm Abi, a doctor turned writer who's worked with Lonely Planet, the BBC, UNESCO and more. Let's travel more and think more.

  • Steve says:

    It’s not as bad as you think you know, and the others are stunning! I like the little bird swooping under the rainbow….

    • Abi says:

      Thanks – I love these photos but I can understand why others may not…

  • Jenna says:

    “Above all, this photo reminds me of how I spent my time feeling truly alive, snapping at the chance to capture a memory rather than crafting a product for others to enjoy…” Beautiful, Abi! Most of my favorite travel photos are from when I lived abroad 14 years ago. I try to scan them (and many of them are slides!), and of course they look terrible, but they have so many great memories attached to them. I took them for myself, to record my experience and the things that were important to me, and I still love them for that reason.

    • Abi says:

      Glad it resonates! Where were you living?

      • Jenna says:

        I lived in the Czech Republic (in SE Moravia) from 1996 to 1997. It was a really special time in my life.

  • Angela says:

    Gorgeous shots, I would love to go to Iguazu again, I had such a wonderful time, the falls are overwhelming…

    • Abi says:

      I’d head back in a heartbeat as well. I know that when I’ve tried to explain what it’s like there, many have said “So it’s just a waterfall?”

      Yet, as you know Iguazu/Iguassu is so much more than that!

  • Sophie says:

    Iguazu Falls is probably best experienced without stressing about photos, without a camera at all… but then again, one can’t not take pictures of such a heart stopping sight.

    Some of my fave photos are not even digital.

    • Abi says:

      Sophie, you’re giving away your age ;) (PS, Shhhhh…Me too!)

  • Tu Nguyen says:

    Cool photos Abi, the first one especially really makes you feel you’re there.

    • Abi says:

      Thanks! (I still think it’s pretty bad though…)

  • instead of a bad photo, call it an ARTSY photo! (by the way I like it, but then I sometimes intentionally put obstructions in photos to make them artsy)

    • Abi says:

      That’s right! Genius idea…It’s art. PS – Quite like the idea of being a misunderstood artist…

  • Abi says:

    Thank you. I still love looking at these photos as they bring back such happy memories…

  • A photo don’t have to be beautiful to be good. Your first photo manages to capture the environment and that is often more interesting than a ‘postcard’ shot. I like it!

  • Amelia says:

    The photos mean something to you and that’s the most important thing unless of course you are getting paid:) I’ve seen plenty of photos of Iguazu, but haven’t made my way up there yet. When I do I’ll definitely be doing a post about it as well. It just seems like it is utterly breath taking. Hopefully I will be going there in early late February or early March and then I’ll post my pics


    • Abi says:

      I hope you’ve made it there by now – and I hope you enjoyed it. It was one of the best natural landscapes I’ve seen…

  • True. I love taking photos to preserve precious memories. When I look at each one, I can vividly remember what was happening when I took that photo.

    • Abi King says:

      Yes – I’ve started taking (and printing out) more – especially family photos. For that, it’s definitely the memory that counts!

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