I attended an image evaluation seminar last weekend. I thought I was going to learn more about how to recognize a good image, but instead I learned about the philosophy behind judging an image. To be a qualified judge, the speaker Paul Robinson believes that the judge should be a practising photographer. I would go further by saying that the judge should be an accomplished photographer as proven by acceptances into national and international salons.
As a minimum, a photograph submitted for competition should be technically sound, as far as focus, exposure, tonal range, and white balance are concerned. Over and above the technical quality, aesthetic and emotional appeal is what determines how great the image is.
Relationship. This is from an article written by Anne O'Connor in this month's Australian Photography magazine. She says that "within any image there will be a relationship between the main players portrayed.... it is what tells the story..."
The Decisive Moment. Quoting Henri Cartier-Bresson, "There is a creative fraction of a second when you are taking a picture. Your eye must see a composition or an expression that life itself offers you. That is the moment the photographer is creative. Once you miss it, it is gone forever."
Rarity. Here is where I add my own thoughts. Some images have great appeal because of rarity. The image may taken in an exotic place. An old woman in a foreign land wearing strange costume seems to make a more appealing composition than an your grandmother sitting in the kitchen; at least that is how one might think after looking at the numerous toothless old women often making successful entries in competitions.
Inclusions and Exclusions: This may not be a key point but I feel that it is important. Someone once said that the difference between a painter and a photographer is that the painter begins with a blank canvas and starts by adding things. A photographer starts with a complete picture and he looks for things to eliminate. This is quite true. A good image should strive to include only items of relevance to the story telling objective.
That is my list for now. Perhaps I will have more to add in the future as I gain more knowledge and understanding of what it takes to produce great photographs.