Every art form is subjective, but for some the instant they look at a photograph they have a reaction. If the viewer smiles, gets emotional or ganders at the photograph longer than a passing glance, the image must be good. The photograph did its job by telling a story, capturing emotion or by creating a visual feast for the eyes. Whether the subject matter is colorful and happy or a grim glimpse at harsh realities, technical execution and visual appeals always makes one photograph stand above others.
Although rules are made to be broken in the art world, good photographs have usually been composed with one of a few classic art techniques in mind. The classic rule of thirds breaks the photograph into three distinct symmetrical sections. For example, the sky may take up two-thirds of the frame, while a scene on land fills the final third. (See Reference 2) Look for lines and connecting patterns among the subject matter in a photograph. This linear, or cyclical effect, keeps the viewer's eye moving through the photograph, garnering it that extra linger of appreciation.
After looking at a photograph you may feel that you understand a situation more completely, feel the emotion of the event or want to take action based on what you've seen. This element of telling a story is desired by photojournalists and documentary photographers trying to make a good photograph.
Instant sighs, gasps or wide-eyed reactions to a photograph are a good thing. This instant moment of emotion means the photograph can elicit a response from its viewer. This is a good, and desired, photographic quality in advertising, marketing and sales photography.
Photographers strive to show everyday things in a new and inventive way. Having creative vision makes a photograph good in the eyes of both the photographer and the viewer, according to author Darren Rowse at The Digital Photography School. Rowse says the ability to find beauty in anything creates a great photographer and photograph. (See Reference 1)
Fleeting moments in time that last for a mere second can be preserved forever by a photograph. (See Reference 2) The moment your son hits his first home run, the instant you kiss your bride or groom for the first time and the first time you hold an infant grandchild are all moments that deserve to be preserved forever. A good photograph of these moments will capture the exact moment emotion is released and facial expressions tell the rest of the story. Many photographers train for years to catch that one perfect moment.