The Makings of a Magic Photo


I’ve been thinking about the elements that make a great photo and the rarity of getting ALL those elements in a single frame (the MAGIC shot). You can still have a great photo that is missing one or two of the elements as the stars don’t always align… and that’s ok!

I thought I’d break it down and explain why…


You might hear someone say “ummm what about it being in focus? Or well composed?”

Well that’s the basics we should expect so I’m leaving it to the side. Honestly, sometimes a well framed, technically ‘correct’ shot still sucks because it doesn’t have heart.

Now these are the things the artist it looking for…


You could tell a little (or even long) story about your photograph.


Meaning can be found in the location or the activity and usually its not obvious to the outside observer. The way we create meaning is choosing a place that holds significance, having objects or people that mean something to us, doing an action that speaks to your heart.

eg: Your photo is in front of a heritage building, in the area you both studied and met. (past significance).
Now you walk together having just got married (current event) and are checking out your wedding rings (current action & object).

challenge: To photograph the meaning in such a way that others can recognise it too. Making it speak even further.


Your photo is alive & genuine.


This is about capturing authentic emotion or action. When it’s properly caught, you will feel like you are re-living it again. Moments encapsulate meaning but not in a theoretical way, more in a ‘taking you right back there’ way. No storytelling required!

eg: You both are in the back of the wedding car, having a quiet moment before you get back to the crowd. In a split second you make a joke, wrinkle your nose and squish up. It’s just a goofy, real, you kinda thing.

challenge: Moments are common but it does take talent to get that EXACT split second that freezes the feels. A second off and it just doesn’t translate.


A meaningful moment where I only have one chin.


You might be a rare person that goes “hell yeh I own those chins or gummy grin – give me the real moment regardless” OR… not so much. You might be self conscious of your size, skin, nose, smile, teeth.. so when you see a photo where you think hmmm I look a bit alright then we have a winner.

Ideally the photo both flatters your features and lets YOU shine through.

eg: You love the angles of your face, your skin kinda glows. You feel you look like a good version of yourself. AND the photo doesn’t feel staged and frozen.

challenge: A real moment, like a really not self-conscious, all shit hanging out moment will rarely be 100% flattering. But these are the juicy photos, ones to embrace despite the imperfection. Moments won’t always angle themselves beautifully to a camera but a great photographer will be conscious of being in the best possible position for impending moments and give subtle direction when appropriate.

Part of flattering a person, is how light is used. See the next element.


There’s something magic about that light.


Your photo has “good light”. Good light is that which flatters, surprises, enhances or moods up your image. Good light is open to interpretation and some photographer’s will choose different light to suit their style.

Good light can be flattering on your skin and face or it can be intriguing and make you look cool. It can look romantic and magical, it can be doing something amazing in the background or be barely there but for the stream coming across your face. Whatever the light is doing it should at least be interesting, adding not detracting from your photo.

eg: It’s afternoon light, soft and wintery. The sun just peaks through the trees creating a sweet spark. The ground bounces more light up on to your face making it glowy and the backlight makes you feel angelic. yo!

Challenge: Sometimes you can’t get good light in the same place that an epic moment is happening, but you aren’t about to stop and move people mid-first-kiss or tell the cloud to get on over that blasted sun. Light is partly up to the universe and then it comes down to what you do with it.


There’s an emotional flavour to your entire image.

An image has mood if you feel something beyond the literal activity in the photo. Mood foremost comes through the colour tones, the choice of background, the photographer’s composition style and the tone of the edit. (Aesthetics).  It’s further enhanced by the couple’s action and expressions.


Mood can be a call to an era, a colour palette, emotion, culture, season, fashion, art… it’s the hardest category to define in words, but it’s obvious when you see an image, it will put you in a mood.

eg: It’s the end of the day with lingering light making the tones dark and soft. It feels quiet and so does your body language. The mood is timeless, tender, peaceful and nostalgic of old Australian settler paintings. It actually expresses the energy in the air when the photo was being taken.

challenge: The photographer wants to create a moody photo but can’t explain it to the couple at the time. But with trust they will go stand or sit in the suggested place and later be surprised by the vision created. Sometimes mood trumps meaning when it comes to creating a stunning image for you.


You got swagger.


So you have all these bits and your photo is epic, but the next level is bringing in style. It’s part superficial – what you are wearing, and part how you move.

eg: You have a gorgeous modern gown, a bunch of fashionable flowers and you are moving to the beat of some hip hop on the ghettoblaster.

challenge: Style is often the most recognised thing in a photo as anyone can like ‘cool’. Style alone can give you some insta-love. BUT the ideal goal of a magic photo is that you have those goods AND the rest to carry that image into the future with a lot more depth.

It’s pretty amazing when you get all these elements in one image. That would be one for the wall.

I’d say it’s more common to get 4 or 5 if you are lucky/frigging talented. And that’s the reality of photography, sometimes you really can’t focus on style when you are capturing genuine moments or can’t get the mood you want in the meaningful location. So the chances of having a flattering, meaningful, stylish moment in ultimate light that produces a mood-evoking work of art.. that’s MAGIC!

Here are some examples where I think I’m getting most of those elements in…











You know the reason I wrote this blog?

  1. When a couple recognises which elements are there (or not) then they can appreciate their photos on a deeper level and really know what they are enjoying in an image.
  2. I really want people to LOVE images of themselves that aren’t that flattering too because these images can have the most joy and authenticity.
  3. And finally I want to be able to explain that although a place might have meaning, a much cooler shot can be found … just.. over.. there.. in the good light.

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