The Three Elements of a Good Photo

A Bride and her father enter the church before the ceremony

This is one of those photos where all the elements line up perfectly. The balance in the composition, the strong backlight (slightly reflected from the inside of the church) and the moment between father and daughter make this photo work.

Light, Composition & Moment

Once you’ve got your exposure triangle down, it’s time to work on the deeper triangle of what makes a good photo. Any photo is made up of three elements – Light, Composition and Moment. Different photographers will prioritise these differently. This in part, will help define their style (as well as how they use the three elements). Personally I’m a moment junkie. I’ll take photos with bad light and terrible composition if it’s a good moment. But ideally I’m after all three, with two being good enough.


Light is the number one thing that brings character and mood to a photograph. Light can convey emotion and help tell story. Mastering light and how it works can really distinguish you as a photographer. Mastering light as a documentary photographer is a whole new game altogether – most reportage photographers don’t want to be stopping people and telling them where to stand, or where to look. It becomes more a matter of deciding where you are going to place yourself as a photographer, and how you are going to expose for the light you have been given. This means knowing light inside out – and the metering on the camera. It’s a huuuuuge topic and we’ll delve into it a lot more thoroughly. All we need to know at the moment is that it’s important, and beautiful, and essentially what photos are made of.

Beautiful light can make an image so much more captivating. You learn to anticipate it and know where to be. I knew this slice of sunlight was going to be here five hours before it appeared, just by observing the angle of the sun and the shape of the trees in the background. As long as clouds didn’t appear and ruin it, that is.



There was me saying light was a big subject. Composition is a many layered thing that keeps getting more complex the more you delve into it. Look at the street photography of Alex Webb or the wedding photography produced by York Place studios. It  becomes trickier when working with real moments because you’re can be waiting for several things to line up before you trip the shutter (or once you’ve tripped the shutter several times already – as we’ll cover later in an article on perseverance).

And having said all that – However many complex elements you’re trying to put into place, the ultimate goal is to simplify and declutter your compositions as much as possible. If all this sounds a bit challenging, don’t worry. As we’ll be starting simple and building up.

And the icing on the cake of any nice composition is……

The Moment

I’ve left this until last because I think it’s the most important, and also the most personal element. The moments you choose to capture inform who you are as a wedding photographer. There are so many fractions of every second – and what I’ll be looking for and what you’ll be looking for are probably two distinctly different things.

You can never capture a moment after it’s happened. Often pulling the camera to your eye as it happens you’re too late. You need to think about how you capture moments – often shooting through them and finding the moment you need later in editing. I’m not a machine-gun shooter except when I have to be.

There are many things we can cover about capturing moments, and anticipating capturing moments. In the end, though, only experience and practice will help you anticipate moments and be prepared for them when they happen.


This was one of those photos where you place yourself where you think you need to be and cross your fingers that everything comes together. Bringing the elements together; The light is OK – Soft and flattering. The moment and composition become integral to each other.


Next>> Composition


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