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I really love photography and most of my friends say that I have a good "eye". But how can you really know if you are good in photography? Are there any sort of online tests, assignments or competition sort of things? Or any other method to know it?

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    When you stop thinking that there are better photographers than you are ;) – Itai Jun 11 '17 at 1:18
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    @Itai That might only tell you that you're an arrogant photographer. – Caleb Jun 12 '17 at 14:36
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    While this is an interesting question, it is highly subjective. I see two different ways this can be a good subjective question. It can either focus on what "good" means in a photographic context (which is what I assumed for my answer) or the desired metric for "good" could be clarified by the OP and we could give particular ways to test the more specific metric. – AJ Henderson Jun 12 '17 at 16:50
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    It appears that you are asking if the quality of your photos can be measured "objectively" (based on your query about tests, assignments, competitions, etc.). Is that what you are asking? – scottbb Jun 12 '17 at 17:29
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    See also What makes a photo a good photo?, which is of course intrinsically related. – mattdm Jun 12 '17 at 19:02

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How does one know if they are a 'good' singer? A 'good' guitar player? A 'good' accordion player? Okay, I admit, there's no such thing as that last one (not really - it was a joke).

Like any art, part of the definition of 'good' is in the eye or ear or taste buds (think culinary arts) of the beholder. But there are also accepted norms that describe why some works are more appealing to most people than other works are.

The acid test for most visual artists is the answer to the question, "Does it invoke an emotional or intellectual response in the viewer?" There are 'rules' of composition and color and exposure and... but in the end it is about what does seeing your work do to your viewer?

That's not to say one shouldn't be familiar with 'the rules.' One most definitely should. By doing so it can help one avoid some of the most common pitfalls that make an image less than what it could be. Learning 'the rules' also helps us know what questions to ask ourselves when evaluating our own work. It can give a better understanding of when to choose to break those 'rules' and why they should be broken (i.e. when the typical emotional or intellectual response of the viewer to a specific 'rule' being broken is the response the photographer wishes to invoke).

The next step is to learn to look at your work critically. For some of us this is fairly easy, but for most of us it is more difficult. We are either tempted to see every single flaw and blow each one all out of proportion or we go to the other extreme and think just because I did that it has to be great! We must try, however, to develop an ability to look at our work as it is: How does the composition and color lead the eye around the frame? What does the image say to the viewer? Is that what we intended to say when we made the photo? Are the edges clean? Are the proper parts in focus? Is the exposure correct? If not, do those variations from the norm help accomplish the purpose of the photograph, or do they hinder it?

Next, we should compare our own work to that of others. Start by comparing your own work to other photographers whose work you like and admire.

Say you are into sports. Study the work of the masters such as Walter Iooss, Jr. and Neil Leifer who were pioneers at Sports Illustrated. What sets their best images apart from the crowd? How did they do it? What kinds of planning, technical skills, knowledge of the game they were covering, etc. were required for them to get that shot? Also look at the work of the guy who covers local sports for your hometown newspaper or the guys who shoot for the wire services covering your favorite sports teams. Pay attention to the bylines under the images so that you know who shot what images.

What similarities do you see between the work of one great photographer, the other pros, and yours? What differences? As you grow in your knowledge and understanding of what separates a good from a great sports/fashion/landscape/portrait/documentary/etc. photo from an average one, you'll be surprised to find that you'll see things in images that you might have done differently than even the acknowledged greats in a particular field.

Ultimately you must also get out and practice what you've learned. But practice alone isn't enough. Repeating the wrong way to do something over and over doesn't make you any better at doing it right, it just makes you better at doing it wrong. You need to practice correctly. If you don't understand the correct way to do something, find a book or online article or teacher that can show you. Then work on being able to do it that way consistently.

Then you've got to tie it all together. Does your work have the intended impact on those who view it? Why or why not? What can you do differently that will give it that impact? Do you know the 'rules' and understand when breaking them will contribute, rather than detract, from what you want to do with the image? Are you limited by your technical skills? How do your images compare to those of others whose work is acknowledged as 'good?'

  • Music is perhaps not the best analogy because there are standardised ability tests. (With respect to being a good accordion player, an additional test would be playing for 30 seconds without getting an egg in the face...) – Peter Taylor Jun 12 '17 at 21:11
  • Any standardized music proficiency test measures proficiency to play a specific set of notes in a specific time spacing. It measures nothing of the artistry of music. Even if it could, each test would reflect the taste of the author of the test, which is still purely subjective. – Michael C Jun 12 '17 at 21:17
  • There could be, and probably are, similar such tests to measure if a photographer can properly expose a specific scene or test chart, if they can properly focus at a certain distance, if they can properly adjust color to get correct WB to match the illuminating light. That still says absolutely nothing about whether their work is any good or not. – Michael C Jun 12 '17 at 21:18
  • But wouldn't you agree that technical proficiency is (virtually) always necessary to be a good artist? I.e., you're almost certainly not a good photographer if you can't pass any test of technical mastery. (Exceptions, if any, to this "necessary-but-not-sufficient" rule would probably be exceptionally illuminating to this question.) – feetwet Oct 30 '17 at 5:53
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Online tests? One could be simply publishing your work. Instagram? Flickr? Deviantart? 500px? Facebook?

It could not be probably the best indicator (because a lot of times society simply likes dumb things) but if people like it, it is probably good.

The parameter must be set:

  • Do you like it?

  • Do you expect your friends to like it?

  • Do you expect your client, and potentially your client's clients?

One option is to look for some specialized forums, where you submit your photo and receive feedback, again, you are choosing a specific audience to see your work, so your parameter must be defined. If the forum is for photographers, you will get a more specialized critique. Focus, composition, light, expression...

But as Philip Kendal answered, if people pay you, you are probably on the right track.

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    If people are willing to pay you second time, you are on a right track. – Crowley Jun 12 '17 at 14:36
  • Yeah, the fact that Kanye's, Milo's, Justin B's, etc. records sell more than anyone else's certainly proves that the best always sell the most! <sarcasm> – Michael C Jun 12 '17 at 21:21
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You can take the photography as business test: you are a player when you are paid good money for your work (any amount of actual cash is a start).

Or you can take the photography as science test: you are a player when your work gets published in reputable journals (any print media to accept you for publication is a start).

Or you can take the Metro Golwyn Mayer test (Ars Gratia Artis): if you like it then you like it. QED.

A good test is publishing images on flickr.com - if you can consistently make it to Explore you probably have knack for catching other people's interest.

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I think any good photographer would never consider themselves as "great", "good", "amazing", "the best". There is no tool of measurement like there is in soccer. You can say "instagram views and picture purchases" is a good tool of measurement, however there are so many problems with adhering to those forms of measurements.

Never consider yourself good. I think you need to be humble in a craft that has no limits on how far you can take it.

I have seen amateur photographers better than professional photographers who do it for a living.

Degrees, accolades, certificates, views, purchases, etc mean nothing in a world where there is no such thing as perfection.

  • Greatness doesn't require large amounts of humility. There are those who are great at something few are great at and they know it. They may be insufferable because of it, but they're still great at whatever it is they are great at. – Michael C Jun 14 '17 at 16:49
  • Yes, you may statistically be great. However, there are other factors that make someone great. – schnipdip Jun 14 '17 at 18:21
  • Is the question, 'How to know whether you are a great human being?" or "How to know if you are a good photographer?" – Michael C Jun 15 '17 at 8:44
  • They both can be one in the same. They aren't mutually exclusive. – schnipdip Jun 15 '17 at 12:14
  • They're not one and the same, just as they are not mutually exclusive. One can be humble and be a lousy photography. One can be arrogant and be a good photographer. One can be both or neither. Or am I misunderstanding your answer when I read it to say that one can't be a good photographer unless one is humble? – Michael C Jun 15 '17 at 19:15
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Art is inherently subjective. You can not determine if you are "good" at art until you first establish what you consider "good" to mean. "Good" could mean that the vast majority of people find your work attractive, it could mean that you enjoy your process of capturing images and find it as an effective way to express yourself, and that's just naming a few of an infinite list of possibilities.

It is possible to devise tests for many possible goals one could have in photography, but without specifying a more solid metric or goal than "good", it isn't really possibly to meaningfully approach suggesting a test of it.

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"Slow down, you move too fast, got to make the morning last." - Paul Simon

There's only one test that matters and articulating this is the key to success on both an artistic and commercial side (and one that I don't see any other answer stating, though some came close). Does it achieve the goal you had in mind when you took the frame?

That's it. That's all there is to it. But doing that is a lot harder than it sounds.

First you have to understand the reason before you ever take the shot. You have to slow down.


Are you taking a photo to be used in an advertisement? What is the goal of the ad? How does this photo reinforce it? How does the composition help in the construction of the ad? Etc.

Are you taking a travel photo? What is the goal in this one? Are you trying to capture the setting at a particular hour or during a particular event? Are you trying to capture the culture and people? Are you trying to capture the starkness of the place or the liveliness of it?

Perhaps you're doing a series of photos on a particular species of animal. Are you trying to document its life cycle? Or maybe you're trying to document its migration patterns? Or perhaps you're trying to capture as many of the species as you can?

Is it a landscape photo? What spoke to you about the shot? Were you trying to catch an interesting form? A weather oddity? The colors of the hills? Etc.


Until you slow down and go from taking a picture of something because its front of you to taking a picture because it communicates something you'll never be taking a really terrific photo.

  • Thanks a lot for the non-biased answer and explanation. :) – Curiousity Jun 14 '17 at 18:05
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You might sign up on sites such as 365project.org or viewbug to get your work in front of other photographers' eyes. They'll give you useful, honest (if you ask for it) feedback. Having a good eye is just the beginning. Study. Shoot. Experiment. Shoot. Fail. Shoot. As Hemingway said about writers, “We are all apprentices in a craft where no one ever becomes a master.” I think this applies to photography, too. No matter how good you are, you can always improve. Take a look at lynda.com, too. Amazing tutorials for about $25 US per month. I think it's a great investment.

  • Oh thanks a lot. Also I didn't know [Lynda.com](Lynda.com) has tutorials for photography, so thanks for that as well. :) – Curiousity Jun 14 '17 at 18:03
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There are numerous competitions, some require entrance fee, other are free (e.g. Nikon photo contest). You can easily google those, but I only participated in Nikon's, so don't know details.

What you have to remember when being judged is that photography is subjective, hence one person might like your image very much, but another find it dull or plain bad. You can use photo@SE to ask something like: "I took this picture and wanted to achieve X. Did I succeed? How can I do better next time to achieve that effect?"

Posting things on Instagram/Flickr/Twitter or selling stock images includes a lot of extra work: promoting yourself, shooting "likeable" images, doing some sort of marketing, and so on, all of which are not directly about photography. having 100k instagram followers not just about being good at photography in my opinion.

Another thing people do, is entering free or paid image reviews. New York Times runs free one once a year but it is highly competitive and designed for people who want to be professional photojournalists. Others offer reviewing your images for a fee (I think up to $50 per 5-10 images).

Finally, something I have never done personally but can imagine doable: you can find a photographer you admire, or whose work you really like, and ask them to evaluate few of your images. Don't dump 1000s of unsorted pictures on them, but kindly ask about opinion, mentioning that you want to achieve something specific ("I wanted this image to reflect pointlessness of human existence" or "I want my pictures to win awards/be part of the Library of Congress"). I think it is OK to contact them on twitter or email, but don't expect high response rate, pick few people you like, not just one person.

  • Thanks a lot for your opinion and explanations and examples. :) – Curiousity Jun 14 '17 at 18:04
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You are a good photographer when people (not just family) ask you to take pictures. The next stage is when they are prepared to pay. All else is delusion.

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    So Vivian Maier wasn't any good? – Michael C Jun 14 '17 at 16:47
  • Well, you can fool the system by sitting on your work :-) – Laurence Payne Jun 14 '17 at 17:37
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Photography is art. There is no way to tell if you're "good" at art, unless you try doing it as a business. If you're trying to do it as a business, then you have some clear metrics, depending a bit on what sort of photography business you want to run:

  • Sell stock photos worth $whatever a month.
  • Make at least $whatever a year running your wedding photography business.
  • Sell photos worth at least $whatever a month shooting sports events.
  • etc
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    Yes, Market could be a specific way. But a lot of times there is a contradiction between Art<->Good, Good<->Price, Good<->Business... – Rafael Jun 10 '17 at 15:37
  • In principle I like the open market as an indicator of relative value; but in photography it seems to give value to cute furry kittens and busty young females. A good place for the Oscar Wilde quote about price of everything and value of nothing :) – Jindra Lacko Jun 12 '17 at 14:02
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    Business success might be an indication, but it's not a reliable one. Thomas Kinkade made tens of millions selling his paintings and reproductions, and there was even a housing development inspired by his art, but not everyone thinks that his art was good. Cash Coolidge's Dogs Playing Poker paintings are literally symbolic of bad painting, but some of them have sold for hundreds of thousands of dollars. So maybe it's not whether people will buy your photos, but who will buy them and what you think of their judgement. – Caleb Jun 12 '17 at 15:00
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    @Caleb that sounds along the lines of "I'd never want to be a member of a club who would have me as a member." I like it. – scottbb Jun 12 '17 at 17:06
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    @scottbb There's definitely an element of that -- some people view an artist's commercial success as proof that they've somehow sold out. But artistry and recognition (critical or commercial) are orthogonal issues; some "good" artists (by any definition you pick) are successful commercially; some successful artists really aren't all that good. – Caleb Jun 12 '17 at 17:44

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