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Is this a good photo?

The short answer… “No, no it’s not.” The long answer isn’t quite so definitive.

Recently, on a Facebook photography page that I follow, a gentleman posted a photo with the following question, “Give me some honest critique. What do you like or not like about this photo?” I won’t post the actual photo here for copyright considerations, but essentially it was a photograph of a Canada Goose in flight. Below the goose was a chain-link fence and the blurred background included trees and brush, picnic tables, and trash cans. The goose was in focus and had its tongue hanging out which was interesting. The comments ranged from “It’s fabulous!” to “Here are all the things wrong with it…” I didn’t wade into the conversation on Facebook, but here are the issues I had:

  1. Really busy background
  2. Too much “hand of man” (man-made things combined with wildlife)
  3. The fence
  4. There was a tree in the background that cut right though the body and wing of the goose

The above were all issues that other people also had with the photo. The gentleman who took the photo made the following justifications for the shot:

  1. You can’t control nature so you take the shot when you can
  2. The fence and background tell a story of nature and man living together

The bottom-line is, he’s right on all counts, and it really got me to thinking… does that make it a good picture? A few blogs ago I wrote an article entitled, “Perfect Imperfection” that was based on a vlog by YouTuber Jamie Windsor (“Wabi-sabi: When Bad Photos Are Better”). The take-away from Jamie’s vlog are that sometimes it’s the intentional imperfections in photos that can make them amazing. As a photographer with an emotional attachment to just about every photo I take, sometimes it’s very difficult to separate the “good” imperfections from the “bad”. When looking at the above photo of a black bear that I photographed during a trip to Maine I could certainly make the argument that it also tells the story of man and nature coexisting; however, I think the mistake we often make as photographers is not asking the second half of that question, “does it tell that story well?” and in the case of the goose and bear photos, the answer to that second half is a definitive, “No!” Why? Several reasons:

  1. It’s bland and a photo anyone could have taken
  2. There is no purpose to the “hand of man” elements
  3. There is absolutely no emotion to it

What would have made these photos better? The animal with people, the animal with trash, or maybe the animal interacting with something man-made.

Do I love my bear photo? Yes, I certainly do. It was the first time I saw a black bear in the wild, it was the first time I’d ever been to Maine, and it reminds me of a wonderful vacation with my husband. When I look at this photo it makes me smile and brings me joy and for those reasons, it has value. Will it win any awards, absolutely not. Does that make it any less valid? I don’t know because I think it comes down to why you, me, or anybody takes photos. For me personally, the photo does have value. For other people it probably doesn’t, and you know what, that’s okay, because at the end of the day, art is incredibly subjective and value is indeed in the eyes of the beholder.

About the author

Cheryl Johnson

Cheryl Johnson

Cheryl Johnson has developed quite a following as a wildlife photographer working under the pseudonym “Backyard Bird Nerd.” Her photos have been featured in magazines, websites, and art galleries. As the owner of an advertising agency, writing has always been a part of her life and career. Her literary work has included producing text for websites, brochures, television and radio commercials, and a variety of magazines articles. Delving into the world of children's literature has been an exciting and challenging adventure, and pairing these books with her love of photography has proven to be the perfect outlet for her passions and talents. When not prowling around in nature looking for something to “fly” by her lens, she lives in South Texas with her husband, two daughters, and dog.

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Cheryl Johnson

Cheryl Johnson

P.O. Box 3926
Victoria, Texas 77903

If you would like to see my books or art, please stop by my offices Monday-Friday from 8am-5pm
Outburst Advertising
5003 John Stockbauer, Suite J
Victoria, Texas 77904


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Nature is Amazing

These beautiful books by writer and photographer Cheryl Johnson, are designed to not only engage your child but to encourage their imagination, exploration, and discovery of the world around us.