What is a good photograph?


Many photographers never reach their potential or receive the recognition they deserve, or think they deserve. What makes a good photographer? or a good photograph?  Simple question, well no it is a very complex question. Do you mean a recognised photographer or a good photographer? Do you mean a financially successful photographer or a good photographer? Do you mean  a photo you’d hang on your wall or a headline image from the newspaper?

Image from Exhibitions Gallery – Newmarket – looking upwards to the Phillips Fox building in Queen Street, Auckland.

Let’s look at these  options. A recognised photographer is someone whose name is familiar to many people. This might be due to them working in the media: NZ Herald photographers often became household names. People like Peter Bush sports photographer  and others. Peter Bush is a household name in New Zealand. Yes he is a great sports photographer. So are several others whose names would mean nothing to you.


Peter Bush is one of New Zealand’s leading sports photographers –

I personally don’t want to hang on my wall a photo from 9/11 or some other big news story, however these images are still good or even great photographs. I’m in awe of war correspondents who bring us these iconic images.

Fiona Pardington is a very successful NZ photographer and commands the highest prices for her work. Lawrence Aberhardt also commands good prices for his work.  These folk didn’t arrive at the top of their game overnight, they did the hard yards, they backed themselves, they persevered and yes they have talent. I also know many photographers with talent that never become well known , never sell their work, they don’t have any idea how to self promote. But their work is outstanding.

img_1649  Above: Fiona Pardington – from her Huia Series.

A professional full-time photographer is a tough road to make a living from, most end up doing weddings every weekend and family group shoots. They never make a lot of money but they survive. They advertise a lot and so within their communities people know their names but they are not really ‘great’ photographers. They are good at wedding photography but not ‘fine art’ or commercial. Then the commercial photographers with big corporate clients do OK if they are good…. But seldom do they indulge in ‘fine art’.  Some folk only do ‘fine art’ work but usually they have another income source. One such person is Boyd Webb lives in the UK , his work is very collectible.


Above: Boyd Webb and Lawrence Aberhardt

People,talk about spiritualism in photography. I think they are talking about  the connectivity between the image and the viewer. As a photographer you sometimes get very excited when you ‘nail’ a photo. Sometimes you don’t realise you’ve captured something special until the next day when you review your work. The beauty of photography is that people respond so differently to the same image. Many men love photos of sailing or race cars. Many women respond to soft romantic palettes and floral images.  This doesn’t mean one style is better than the other. I have exhibited flowers, corrugated iron, street photography, water patterns and this year black and white city imagery.  All totally different genres; appealing to different audiences or buyers. This doesn’t make my flower image less desirable than my black and white shot of the Parnell Pool.   (see below) This image actually surprised me; it is reminiscent of a musical lute, it conjures up emotions within people. Thousands of Aucklanders have swum in this pool and never seen this viewpoint. It is striking, a conversation piece.


‘The Parnell Pool ‘by Lynn Clayton –  2/5  from the Festival of photography Exhibition opening June 1st at Exhibitions Gallery 19a Osborne Street Newmarket.  Phone 09 5235560 Ngaire for information.

I mentor quite a lot of people who love photography. Most of them don’t want to exhibit,  but a few do. I suggest to these few that they start of at community galleries who don’t charge for space. Share the space and costs with a couple of friends.  Number your work in limited editions 1/5 or 1/10.  It is un-common to sell 5 of one image. The edition can be a variety of sizes but it is still out of five works..or should be!  Otherwise you could have 20 sizes and 5 or 10 of each – this would make the numbered editions valueless.  Integrity is essential. Price accordingly, for your first exhibition have a smaller mark up and hopefully sell a few works. As you become better known increase your mark up. If you start exhibiting with a main stream gallery they will take 30-45% of your sale price. Suddenly your work is of real value and those who buy it need to know you have integrity, a reputation and value as an artist.  If you are formally art trained it is easier to get a main stream gallery to take you on; but it is not essential.

Personally I purchase a few photos and have a collection of 20 or so works. I don’t buy photographs that are easy to take, I try and buy photographs that I couldn’t go and take myself.  Works that awake an emotional response or are meaningful.  Works that are signed and  numbered, works I love. The better the CV or reputation the more likely you can resell your purchase at a later date, however if you love an image –  just buy it – you’re not going to want to sell it anyway!. Gallery Exhibitions and Auction houses are  a very good place to purchase photography. Build up a collection of New Zealand photography, you will discover the journey to be exciting and challenging as you become more knowledgeable as to what makes a good photograph.  Watch for pixelation, muddy colours, poor paper quality etc.

These are a few of the most important things to look at before purchasing.

1/ do you have an emotional response to the work?

2/ is it printed on archival paper?

3/ does it have longevity as a subject?

4/ is it mass produced or a limited edition?

In June the Auckland Festival of Photography starts.  22 days, 60 venues, 100 events. This is a wonderful opportunity to look at many styles of work. There are also talks at The Auckland Art Gallery. Expand your knowledge and go and see  6-10 exhibitions. You will be surprised how this fine tunes your judgement.   www.photographyfestival.org.nz  the festival is divided into three sections, FRINGE for amateur or new photographers, camera clubs etc. SIGNATURES  selected by the Festival  organisers and the HOME section, these are often by invitation. Lawrence Aberhardt, and Fiona Pardington are amongst the HOME exhibitions. I am part of the SIGNATURE shows along with Trente Parke, David Lloyd, Ilan Wittenberg and others.

So check out the program and locations of these exhibitors and  immerse yourself for a day in photography. People travel to Auckland especially for this event…so don’t miss out. Brochures at most city galleries, ask at your local gallery.





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