View Full Version : Elements of image quality

01-20-2009, 01:23 PM
I'm not sure I understand very well so I want to know what you think of the following considerations:
I was always wondering how some good images have that 3D look; they have a certain depth that makes you feel it draws you in. What exactly are the elements that give such quality to a picture? I figure it must be:
- Quality of light
- Composition
- Multitude of tones
- Contrast
- Sharpness

I think this is all part of the process that takes place in our brains where objects are identified, set apart from the foreground/ background and placed in space. Moreover the brain constantly compares current images against esthetical standards from the memory data base or even with other images qualified as exceptional respectively poor/ unacceptable.
This is where we get the “like” or “dislike” feeling when we look at an image.
Even ordinary objects can look extraordinary when these elements are taken into account by the photographer. I know this is a very complex and specialized topic however keeping things at the common sense level please let me know how you feel about it; Am I missing something?

Lukas Werth
01-29-2009, 03:55 AM
Interesting thought which I would like, however, to qualify somewhat:
I am not certain it would be so easy for, say, three different people looking at a picture, to point out the particular features which make a "3D look". I am also not at all certain a good picture has to have a "3D look". A multitude of tones, for instance, may not quite work in the same direction as contrast: say, a well executed platinum print is distinguished by an extraordinary multitude of subtle tonal values from shadows into highlights, but you neither get the deep blacks nor the sparkling whites of a bromide print. Does it look three-dimensional? I would say yes, in a way a good etching of drawing does - but others might disagree.
Concerning sharpness: I like pinhole pictures with their soft sharpness, and they also may look quite three-dimensional. Also, last week, I have seen some large Rubens paintings (among others), executed with extraordinary broad strokes, and drawing you inside from a viewing distance. The same holds true, for me at least, for many impressionist paintings.

01-29-2009, 05:11 AM
I tend to see the depth more in slides/trannies than on paper.

When I see it on paper there is a definite set of layers in the picture that have differing qualities.

01-29-2009, 07:58 AM
- Quality of light
- Composition
- Multitude of tones
- Contrast
- Sharpness

Seems to me that you would rarely get all of these to come into play in a single image. Which one is most significant in a particular scene would likely depend on what motivated you to make the shot and your intent.

01-29-2009, 09:32 AM
Thank you all for taking the time to address my topic. I started thinking I raised a stupid issue that no one else cares about. I'm sure I didn't formulate my thoughts exactly how I intended (English is not my first language) but you made valid interesting points.

01-29-2009, 09:41 AM
I don't think it was a stupid question at all. It made me think.

02-03-2009, 12:42 PM
It's a good question and it goes to the heart of painting and photography. On the simplest level it's about modelling of form as created by the fall of light. A standard professional portrait approach, which seeks to emphasize three-dimensionality, is to place the subject in strong unidirectional light against a very simple background which, being far enough behind the subject, is out of focus. The most famous example of this is probably Karsh's portrait of Churchill. Its success is dependent on the strong lighting, with a little light lifting the dark side of the face, too dark and fullness of form would be lost. Perhaps a small spotlight here and there, to lift a detail, a hand on a cane, for example, in the case of Karsh's Churchill picture, out of darkness. This gives another level of "coming-outness". With the figure fully formed, in focus and sharp, when it is then seen in full against the blurred background, there is yet another layer of "coming-outness" in the separation between the blur and sharp figure. So here there are at least three graphical layers working to give the illusion of three-dimensionality. It has a lot to do with how our eyes are trained to "read" three-dimensionality. Skilled photographers work consciously to exploit to the full our ability to read in this way. There is of course a limit to this, and it can only be so interesting. Painters like Braque and Picasso lost interest in this game, they turned to flatness of form and pure colour to give picture-making new vitality and interest.

02-15-2009, 08:36 PM
when I was studying photography we went through a list of nearly 50 image elements and the basic were the first 6: shape, tone, color, order, texture and volume. Of course these are all technical and do not address the more subjective aspects of what makes a good photograph.

I was listening to a Brooks Jensen podcast (#354) in which he goes through the characteristics of what he considers a bad photograph, on his list are: pretentious, arrogance, shallowness, boring. Something to think about.

Michel Hardy-Vallée
02-15-2009, 08:44 PM
A while ago I culled comments about a similar concern:

I was working under a descriptive rather than appreciative perspective, so it would apply both to the fabled "3D-looking photos" but also to the flat, low-contrast, but utterly engaging photos of a persuasion distinct from the typical Straight/f64/Adams/etc school of photographic aesthetics.

I assume that's the kind of works you refer to when you speak of "quality" ; my modest contribution here will be simply to point out that the quality of a print is not a universal given, but rather contingent to a particular way of working, an artistic practice.

02-15-2009, 09:31 PM
Thank you Michel for articulating what I couldn't find the words for.

Michel Hardy-Vallée
02-16-2009, 10:20 AM
No problem, Jason; you need help with your tax report too? :)