Photography for Artists & Designers

Art & Design 265

Week: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11 | 12 | 13 | 14 | 15 | 16

Standards of Success

Criteria for Successful Images

While there are few absolute rules about the traits of a successful expressive image, there are many traits common to most successful images.  These traits can sometimes be evaded when the concept of an image clearly justifies alternative priorities, but in general these are useful guidelines and priorities to pursue when conceiving, shooting, editing and presenting images.   As such, we will use them as basic criteria for successful images – that is, for grading your photos in this course.


Traits related to the conception, composition and planning of the image.

Expresses a clear and distinctive content concept.  (Content is not overly familiar or trite.  The subject or message expresses a distinctive point of view, exposing or exploring insight into, or feeling about, the subject.)

Has a well-established content concept.  The subject, message or emotional content are well-developed and free from distractions and contradicting features.

The image has a well-established graphic concept.  Dominating graphic traits are developed and resolved – usually involving particular traits of select design elements being graphically prominent.  There is a unity among the graphic traits – similar formal features are developed throughout the composition. 

Graphic unity is established. Contrast and variety are controlled and developed for unity, variety and emphasis.  There is adequate variety among graphic traits to sustain graphic interest. 

There is a satisfying balance among within the visual field – tensions between figure and ground, central and border elements, top and bottom, left and right, near, mid- and distant fields,  etc. have been adjusted. 

Emphasis and focal area(s) has been developed.   There is a clear area of prominent graphic activity.  Relief has been established elsewhere.  Directional elements support those emphases.  Graphic hierarchy and directional cues have been developed to move the eye through the composition.

Avoid:  compositional conflict between foreground and background (pay attention to what’s happening in the background)

Photographic Traits: 

Traits related to the photo’s setup, focus, exposure, lighting.

Avoid:  Digital noise, posterization, compression artifacts, chromatic aberration, lens distortion, vignetting, burned out blacks & whites,

Focal areas are correctly focused.

Color:  control of saturation and hue balance

Value Range throughout the image (avoid areas in which value transitions are lost)

Digital File:

Traits related to the management of digital files and the methods of digital editing.

Image files are organized with keywords and date.

Original images maintained.  Raw files.  High resolution images.  Deep color.

Non-destructive post-processing techniques:  (e.g. using adjustment layers and Smart Objects to enable ongoing revisions without altering the original data.)

Camera Raw editing. In general, as much editing as possible is achieved using global, non-destructive techniques in Camera Raw, rather than in Photoshop.

Avoid:  excessive sharpening (halos & harsh edges); abrupt edges/transitions between edited and composited area; excessive use of and reliance on filters for overly familiar decorative effects.


Concerns related to the printing and presentation of the image.

Color balance
Value range
Paper/ground reflectance
Presentation context (surrounding colors, pattern, mat board, frame, etc.)
Gaps, Ink smears, ink streaks, uneven ink/color/coverage, misregistration…




Photography Course Home Page | Image Standards | Resource Links |





Greg Clayton
2D Design
Color Theory


Photography Course
Course Schedule
Course Schedule
Independent Study