What Makes A Good Photograph?

What is it about some photos that makes us really make us stop and take a look? Those photos that make us think? The photos that make us feel?

Before I go on; I’m not even just talking about the “worthy” photos, the ones that end up in National Geographic lists about photographs that changed the world. I mean even a photo that your grandmother took of you at your fifth birthday; you can look at that twenty years later and you can hear everyone’s voices singing happy birthday, you can feel the weak heat coming from the candles, and smell the cake. Photographs are powerful no matter who took them and how.

Bath time, phone photograph 2014

If you think about how many different images our brains take in and filter through in any given day, it’s a wonder that we are actually able to fully process and engage with any singular image. But some images really do have a unique power. It’s arresting, that sudden stop that you make when you see one. All it takes is that small seed, that tiny tug on the rope that pulls us in. But what is that? And is it the same for all of us?

The truth is I’m not really sure; I’m just as in the dark as you and as a photographer these are questions I ask myself all the time. When I’m shooting, when I’m culling through whatever I’ve shot, when I’m editing, when I’m deciding what to post; what’s foremost in my mind is what is going to be the one thing about each photo that is going to give that tiny pull. You know when you have a magnet, and you hover it over a fridge or something metal? And there’s that point, right on the edge of where the pull only just starts. That’s the feeling I’m looking for.

Kim Rhodes, Jared Padalecki, Misha Collins, Phoenix 2016

Kim Rhodes, Jared Padalecki, Misha Collins, Phoenix 2016


Parade, 2014

Parade, 2014


Angie and Brooke

Angie and Brooke

But I could shoot a hundred images and never feel that personally about any of them. Or I could shoot one image and feel it so strongly and someone else doesn’t feel anything at all. It’s the thing that makes photography so amazing and confusing and frustrating at the same time. We all come to look at different images bringing a lifetime of other images with us. Not only that, we’re bringing every thread from our own individual lives – who we’ve loved, who we’ve lost, what we think, what we know, what we think we know, what we’ve learned, what we’ve forgotten. No two people will look at an image and have that same background framing the meaning of a photograph for them.

Rob Benedict, Seattle 2016

Rob Benedict, Seattle 2016


Briana, Seattle 2016

Briana, Seattle 2016

As an example, if I take a photo of a person and another person looks at that photo, how they see the subject in that photograph can be dependent on so many different, very personal things. Do they know the person? How does this person make them feel? Have they interacted with them? Have they heard of the person? Does the person remind them of someone else? Someone they loved? Someone who hurt them? Is whatever the subject is doing something universal that we can all relate to? Does the person’s facial expression make us feel joy or discomfort? Is there more than one person in the photo? What does their dynamic suggest about their relationship?


Misha Collins, Vancouver 2014


Makayla and Dani


Richard Speight Jr and Rob Benedict, AHBL 4

Richard Speight Jr and Rob Benedict, AHBL 4

Not only that, but there is a third person in the equation – the photographer. Are they trying to make you see the subject in a certain way? Or is the photo candid, and so it reflects something the photographer doesn’t even really know they themselves feel? This tension is a theme in all art forms; once it is out there, your work never really belongs to you anymore. It is a part of you, in some aspects a deep part of you that you don’t really know, and now suddenly it’s up for interpretation by anyone else.

As scary as that is, that’s actually why you do it though. At least that’s how I see it. I want people to feel something looking at my photography, because I feel so much when I do it. It’s another form of communication, it’s a narrative, it’s an expression, it’s a question, it’s an answer.


Matt, 2016

Osric, 2016

Osric, 2016

And yes, there are some photos that just simply exist. They just are. They don’t offer deeper meaning, they don’t need to be read. They just exist. That photo from your birthday may never make a list in National Geographic but for that time you look at it years down the track it won’t matter, because it means something for you. We need those too. The more we look the better we get at seeing.



Someone once said that the only person you should compare yourself to is the person that you were yesterday. I think the same goes for people who create.

(This is one of those times where I completely don’t take my own advice, by the way)

I’ve just been through a period where I’ve felt burnt out and started questioning why I was doing what I’m doing. I couldn’t face editing, or taking photos, and just tried to ignore everything. I was actually tired of it.

We have a tendency when we create things to measure what we create by what is out there already; it’s natural. It’s very human. We see what others are creating, we admire it and on a good day it motivates us to strive further to evolve and learn and create new things, that will in turn be looked at and inspire others etc. It’s a perpetual, self-feeding cycle.

On a bad day though, we look at what others are doing and can’t help but think that everything we’re doing is wrong / bad / not good enough / insert self-deprecating adjectives here. Suddenly what once became a shiny point in a tantalizing distance for us becomes an oasis in a desert that for some reason we’re stuck in but no one else can see. So while your friends or family or even strangers are telling you that what you’re creating is good, you’re thinking, “Yeah, but it’s no oasis is it?” A future that seemed ripe with possibility is suddenly …. Not. You start wondering why you’re doing it, why you are expending so much energy and time and passion (and money!) into something that you’re obviously never going to be “good enough” at. Do people think I’m wasting my time? Are people just being polite? “Oh this month she wants to be a photographer let’s support her, but you know, how long will that last?”

The truth is, people don’t think that way. Sure, your Mum maybe is being polite because she is polite. But we’re the only ones who actively compare our work to other people. Other people look at it from this magical place we’re not allowed in, called an objective space. They see two photographers and they don’t compare them, they just think, “Wow, all these people are giving me pretty things to look at, isn’t this cool?”

So why do we compare ourselves? Why can we see beauty in what others create but not find it in our own work? I am extremely guilty of this. I will look at other people’s photography and say, “Why doesn’t mine look like that? My colours aren’t punchy enough. My focus isn’t sharp enough. Is there some professional filter people run things through that I’m not aware of? Is it a plug-in for Photoshop?”

I can see that my work has an emotionality that people connect with, but I doubt every time I post anything. I think technically I’m not where I want to be, and I feel like it shows. Every. Single. Time. I can probably count on one hand the number of times I’ve actually been excited about sharing photos because I’ve felt like I’ve come far technically – the Louden Swain Saturday Night Special in Pasadena, 2015 and Osric Chau’s Captain American cosplay shoot are two examples in a tiny list.


Rob Benedict, Louden Swain SNS, PasCon 2015

Rob Benedict, Louden Swain SNS, PasCon 2015


Osric Chau, Captain America, Vegas Cosplay Portrait, 2016

Osric Chau, Captain America, Vegas Cosplay Portrait, 2016


It’s only because I had such a strong reaction personally to them that I felt like they would be successful. The whole process – taking them, editing them, posting them, there was very little of the usual doubt that I have. There was nervousness, there always is. But not the same doubt. It was liberating, and I wish I knew how to feel like that more often, but so far I haven’t mastered it.

The thing about creating, and about photography, is that it is such a personal thing. There are technical considerations that are universal, but other than that it becomes very much about how each person sees the world and how they want to show others how they see the world. There are always many, many photographers at the conventions but each one gets something different. Even pressing the shutter simultaneously, we will all have different interpretations of a moment. That’s what makes it incredible. But we also have to remember that each person is coming to that moment from very different circumstances – over and above different camera equipment, we’re sitting in different places, we’ve been photographing for different periods of time with varying experience levels, we’re concentrating on different things, we’ve focused on what we think tells a story.

I think what makes it so difficult today is the rate at which we can find information is so fast that we seem to expect ourselves to be able to learn just as quickly. The technology is so advanced that there isn’t the slow burn of learning how to process a photo in a darkroom, or really lining up a shot and being deliberate like you would using film because you don’t have as many chances to make a mistake. Film was very unforgiving compared to digital photography. Because that side of it comes relatively quickly (it’s still not easy, but you know what I mean), it’s too easy to think you’ll be the photographer you want to be in the blink of an eye. But things like photography don’t work like that. The people that I look up to mostly have been working for ten, twenty years longer than me. To them I’m probably an upstart who wants everything to happen for her straight away.

Instead of thinking about who we want to be, we should try to be gentle with who we are now. Doubt is normal. It keeps us honest and keeps us learning. If we felt 100% sure of everything we would never try. We would never push ourselves in directions we didn’t think we were capable of. We’d become complacent, and our work would suffer. As long as we don’t let doubt cripple us, we need to use it.

And I know it will take me time to listen to this, and I know I’ll go away and still compare. But I’ll try to focus more on comparing who I am now to who I was when I first started and there’s a surprising distance between the two of us. There’s no doubting that, and that’s something to be proud of.

Elinchrom Studio Lighting Test 3 // Two Lights

Today was the first day I tried adding a second light to my set up and I immediately felt like I forgot everything I read.


I just had a basic setup with two strobes in softboxes, one acting as a key light and one slightly angled to create fill and hopefully bring them out from the background.

It was hard balancing the ambient light in the kitchen with the two lights, but I had them on the lowest settings possible.






As you can see, the glamour of having her portrait taken has well and truly gone for Charlie.



My post processing has made them look a lot darker than they did SOOC (straight out of camera), so I think I was a bit heavy-handed in that respect? Something I need to watch out for.


Straight Out Of Camera (SOOC)




It’s a very steep learning curve, but I think I just have to keep trying to experiment!

Melbourne Zoo // January 2015

It has been blistering hot in Melbourne the last week or so, and so it wasn’t the best day to go to the zoo yesterday but my friend Nicole and I persisted. I’ve been waiting to go to the zoo for a long while – it’s a completely different skill set taking photos at the zoo to taking photos at a convention. I guess they both involve waiting for the right moment (which is fundamental in all photography) but there’s a level of patience required with taking photos at the zoo that you don’t have at cons.

I also find that the audience actually plays a huge part in how I photograph conventions, and I’m feeding off the push-pull between the crowd and the people on stage. Whereas a lot of times at the zoo I’m trying to filter out the other people around me – and usually trying to fight for space in amongst everyone!

And, in fairness, I haven’t heard on of an actor refusing to go out on stage because the weather is too hot, and this happened quite a bit at the zoo yesterday (It could happen though, never say never).

So I didn’t get a huge quantity of photos, but I was happy with the ones I did manage to get.

Lion resting at the new Lion Gorge, Melbourne Zoo

Lion resting at the new Lion Gorge, Melbourne Zoo


The heat was getting to everyone :( Gorilla, Melbourne Zoo

The heat was getting to everyone :( Western Lowland Gorilla, Melbourne Zoo


My favourite - Sumatran Tiger, Melbourne Zoo

My favourite – Sumatran Tiger, Melbourne Zoo


Capuchin monkey, Melbourne Zoo

Black Capped Capuchin monkey, Melbourne Zoo


And, funnily enough, I ran into a Canon photography club a few times as we were walking around and they were all carrying these massive L-series super telephoto lenses, something like this, and I felt very jealous and very inadequate!

Many Layers

I belong to a lot of photography groups of Facebook. Whether or not this is a good idea really depends on my mood and how I’m feeling about my photography – I feel like I’ve learned so much just watching other people and reading feedback, but on the other hand if I’m in a bad headspace it can make me feel like I will never get anywhere.

One of the biggest concepts I see thrown around in these groups (it’s almost uniform in all of them) is the idea that you should edit cleanly and exercise restraint. Don’t rely on actions, or presets. A black and white conversion can’t save a poorly exposed or focused photo (I have to admit, this latter one I have tried on occassion :/ )

I do use actions sometimes, but I play around with them and adjust them to suit the mood I’m going for. After reading so much about them on those groups I was, however, trying to move away from that when I found textures.

And I went a little crazy.

Misha Collins, ChiCon 2013

Misha Collins, ChiCon 2013

It happened by accident. I had read somewhere in my travels a process that a photographer used to put textures on portraits without overwhelming them. I was editing one of my photos for my 365 Project and I thought I’d test it out.



I really, really like how it looked and I thought it made the photo so vibrant, and so colourful. I’d been striving for that kind of depth of colour for so long, and now it seemed like I had found it!

Jensen Ackles, ChiCon 2013

Jensen Ackles, ChiCon 2013

So I started trying it out on convention photos. I love colour theory, so I either tried to spot reference a colour in the photo (like the red of Jensen’s shirt, above) and take that as the overall colour I went for, or I tried to work with complimentary colours (as below)

Jensen, BurCon 2013

Jensen, BurCon 2013

Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn’t. My photographs of Henry Cavill from the MoS premiere weren’t the best to edit in this way.

Henry Cavill, MoS Premiere 2013

Henry Cavill, MoS Premiere 2013

But it was all about experimenting and pushing myself and finding my “voice” in my photos. I would love for one day my photos to become recognisable because of a certain flair or signature. That would be amazing.

But I will try to exercise restraint, I promise.