Simple question it would seem. But how many times have you looked at a shot that really blew you away? Was it a certain element that did it or the image as a whole? Did you know exactly why it was great or was it one of those situations where you didn’t know exactly why you liked it- you just did? Of course the terms “good” or "great" are interchangeable according to any given individual’s taste and preference. However sometimes a “good” photo can cross boundaries and inspire almost anyone to agree that it is impressive on whatever level or perspective that they appreciate. I think that a great shot is an amalgamation of several elements occurring at once. I saw a shot recently that impressed me and I asked myself why I liked it. It was by some no-name model mayhem photographer but it was just a beautiful shot. It was of a model, doing her model thing- but I wondered if had it been an average person in the shot would it have the same impact? If her hair wasn’t styled that way? If it would have been shot in a different environment? It was just a good shot all around. The model, her expression, the lighting, the location, the hair, the makeup, the wardrobe and the photographer’s vision were all elements that occurred at the split-second the shutter clicked. One can plan all-day to put together a great shot, but if all the elements (and frequently, luck) don’t come together at the button push, you could be looking at a lackluster performance at 1/125th of a second.
It's funny to me how much my "eye" improves the more I shoot. What used to be a great shot to me a year ago now falls short. And what is a great shot to me now falls short to someone else who has more experience than me. I love to see my work through the eyes and opinions of others because it helps me to see with less "tunnel vision" why my shot might not be so great, or just that I missed the mark here or there.
How to improve your odds of getting the really great shots? Practice. Practice and knowing what elements you want to come together. Casting the right people, knowing what the vision is and how to light it. Directing those in front of the camera to perform what’s in your head. Making the photo instead of taking pictures. It’s a major factor in what makes photographers that are shooting commercially and those that are shooting as a hobby. Especially 5 years from now.
A good photo is still a good photo even if the only ones who tell you it is is your mom and your friends- or just yourself. But the shots that turn heads are the ones that just about anyone can agree that they are impressed by it in some way- or would pay money to buy it or have it advertising their business. Getting all the elements to come together when you click the shutter is the pathway to getting the shots that can cross visually-opinionated boundaries. Learn from others. Practice what you enjoy shooting. Get out of your comfort zone. Define your style. Feel free to make mistakes and just keep applying what you learn.
All great photographers sucked at one time, but I think that they figured it out, moved ahead and as a result we look up to them now. It's not impossible to conceive that many others may look up to you one day