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What makes a good photograph?



There is an old saying in photojournalism that suggests the quality of a photo depends on how close you are to the action. Renowned photographer PETER HASSALL discovers, to his dismay, that proximity is not enough.

The same applies with commercial architectural and aerial Photography. For this discussion, I am going to assume that the technical quality of the photograph is a given – it has to be perfect, i.e. exposure, sharpness and resolution are all correct for the intended use. And then … it’s all down to the composition ‚ it has to work !

I recall recently going to a David Goldblatt exhibition. The exhibition images included an interior of a shopping centre in Soweto and some aerials of townhouse developments in Johannesburg and an informal settlement in Midrand. This was of great interest to me, as I had ‚exactly‚ the same images in my portfolio. I was happy with my images (as were my clients), but I had never considered them to be art pieces.

And here was David Goldblatt, a truly great photographer, showing them off as art!

I left the exhibition, a confused photographer. After reflecting on this, I returned a few days later and looked closely and deeply. And I saw the magic and the artistry.

Firstly, the Soweto Mall. My image was so close, yet so far. David’s camera was possibly in the exact same position, give or take 30cm. And the ambient light was similar.

But that slight difference added a tiny extra bit of tension to the image. And then I got it. He waited (I’m sure patiently), for just the right movement and interaction to occur.

I don’t quite understand it, but real magic happened. There was incredible symmetry everywhere. Just a tiny little extra interaction turned a great commercial image into a piece of art. And for me, a great bit of learning.

My photograph is inserted below and, if you go to, you can look at David’s image. Look at the little boy in red, running across the mall. His reflection is captured in both escalators. How did David even see that and how did he mange to capture it? I am truly humbled.

As for the aerial’s, his images were from a helicopter at a similar height and a similar angle. My composition and camera angle were very similar, but David had, among other things, people interacting with him!

I hope this inspires you to think about what you want your photographs to do for you.

* Visit Peter Hassall’s web site at


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