What is a great image?

“Just what is a great photo?” It’s one of the most common and most fascinating questions I have received. 

Despite certain predispositions and preconceived ideas I decided to write down my personal definition of a great photo. As such it will be my own journey through a great image – a sort of emotional map of how I view others’ great work. Let’s begin.


The invitation is there. As I am scrolling through a multitude of images I suddenly stop. I don’t know why just yet, but I pause. The invitation is there. What is the trigger? Is it the lure of light or colour? Is it the perspective or subject that stops me scrolling? I have to pause as if it was the last image ever taken on this planet and the birth of something new.

I know from the start it will not be a fleeting encounter. This visual invitation requires me to pause my life. No more talking, scrolling or double-tasking. I am all in – even though it doesn’t fit the purpose of this moment. I close my eyes to see more.  

Then I feel tension. Wait a minute! You invited me with this element of seeing, only to ask me to dive deeper, to search and make a connection. Here it is. It’s another visual hint, a leading line or traces of light, or it’s form or shape that leads my eye, not permitting a moment of lassitude. Should I go there? 

The temptation is too strong to quit, not now! I am glad I stayed. I like where this is leading me. It is no longer an impulse. It has become an experience! We mesh together.

The sense of convergence with what’s in front of me is growing quickly. I forget the tension of the initial pause. The image is melting into layers of interrelations and visual exploits. I feel I am here for good. The nuances of my daily existence have faded away. 

The abandonment of the outside world is real and I am now fully emerged in this new visual world. It is not mine but something intimate and amusing. My sight becomes a secondary apparatus. Now it is all inside me – jubilation mixed with a whiff of the unknown. I am being enticed into awe and a hunger for more.  

Bit by bit I am discovering new paths to wander around. I am making new connections between all the elements. Subtle strokes of light open up another door to the unexpected but so fulfilling. The path is laid out as if it was crafted just for me, strange indeed. Even an occasional cul-de-sac does not turn me away but provides a much-needed entr’acte before the next opening. The mystery is revealing itself slowly. The conversation is so rich that I don’t want to leave. I am fully immersed.

Now I can drop any pretence of being a stranger. I am no longer afraid to be here. It is my turn to read all the signposts and discover my own tenor. Now I open my eyes not to what is in front of me but what is inside. This time I can make the connections between light and line my own. I am immersed!


What do you think? Have you ever thought how you experience the work of others? What path do you take? 

Why did you write this, Olaf? Because I want us to slow down and experience each other’s work. Let’s slow down this hyperbole of consumption of each other’s images. I know we may not go through as many pictures as we used to, but at least we will start seeing, experiencing and feeling. In fact, some imagery needs time to reveal itself to us. This was the author’s intention, but we do not give them a chance. We are too busy. In this madness of scrolling, so much great work is lost. Let’s change that.  

It is your turn now. What do you see? What do you feel? What do you experience? How does it change you?

© Dr. Adel Al Hunayan
@ Susie Naye
© Maureen Bettencourt
@ Jens Krauer
@ Christian Cross

2019 © OLI Publishing Inc. All rights reserved.

2 thoughts on “What is a great image?

  1. Patricia,

    Thank you so much for your in-depth and thoughtful note. I really appreciate it. It means the world to me.


  2. Beautifully written and I found myself being pulled into the play of words as if I were experiencing a photograph as you were describing your voyage of image discovery. There needs to be a connection between one’s self and the image first and foremost. If one is aware in the moment, not only can the photograph satisfy artistically, but it can sometimes move the needle personally in self exploration. In times of stress for me, I am attracted to simplicity, graphic lines, muted tones. One of the reasons I moved back to film over digital was to quiet the internal storm made more crazy by the ability of digital to capture so many images and get lost in editing. Here is a wonderful quote: “Artists and poets are the raw nerve ends of humanity. By themselves they can do little to save humanity. Without them there would be little worth saving.” Thank you for helping distill my appreciate of a photograph.

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