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5 Photography Characteristics That Made These Photos Look Stunning


To the trained eye, what makes a photo stunning is the combination of different factors, such as composition, lighting, mood, visual storytelling and more. When executed correctly, these characteristics can complement and enhance the overall output of the image.

For starters, let’s take a look at these photographs from 3 different Canon users and explore how each photo’s top 5 characteristics helped make them look stunning! Here we go.

EOS 5D Mark II, EF24-70mm f/2.8L USM, f/6.3, ISO 1000, 1/30s, 32mm
Image photographed in Myanmar, Yangon by @marjilang

Top 5 characteristics:

  1. Leading Lines: A composition technique that creates an imaginary path to lead the viewer’s eye through the different elements found in the image. In this instance, the leading lines are enhanced by the colour separation between the beige and blue brick wall, while showcasing all the subjects within one viewing cycle(from the seated subject to the painting and sleeping subject) that adds context and narrative to the image.
  2. Subject alignment: The tiles on the floor, the tiles on the wall, the human subjects and the paintings are almost parallel to the leading lines created by the colour contrast, making this image extremely satisfying to look at. It’s not an easy feat to control all the elements to fall in such a linear alignment that is both aesthetically-pleasing and still portrays a narrative.
  3. Lighting: The high contrast lighting adds drama to the shot. The focal point and main subject are highlighted by the bright light, while the rest of the image and elements are dimmed by the shadows.
  4. Colour: The use of only blue and orange complementary colours adds to the overall calm mood while the contrasting orange and pink highlights the focal point of the image.
  5. Storytelling: Featuring human subjects will always bridge relatability to the viewer. Are they employees taking a break at a temple, or is this a shelter? This unanswered aspect of the image draws out curiosity.

EOS M5, EF16-35mm f/2.8L II USM, f/8.0, ISO 640, 1/800s, 26mm
Wukang Mansion photographed in Shanghai, China by @suieric429

Top 5 characteristics:

  1. Creativity: There are all sorts of photography tricks you can use to amp up creativity - like the use of a crystal ball in this image. With the light refracted through the sphere, the subject is inverted, which gives an interesting perspective.
  2. Colour: Complementary colour between the warm tones of the building and the hand against the cooler tones of the light blue sky and blue-ish ground work beautifully together. The fuchsia effect on the hand also makes it look as though light is radiating from the glass sphere.
  3. Frame within a frame: The glass sphere effect introduces the frame within a frame composition, adding more impact to the overall aesthetic.
  4. Details: Even with the refraction effect and a smaller frame, details on the Wukang Mansion are still visibly sharp. The background also has a beautiful bokeh effect, which draws the viewer’s eye towards the focal point, encouraging them to examine the subject in detail.
  5. Effect: The sphere gives the subject a unique fisheye warp effect. There are a few built-in filters in Canon cameras under ‘Creative Filter’. Find out more here!


EOS R, EF100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM, f/5.6, ISO 800, 1/1250s, 400mm
Bohemian Waxwing photographed in Hokkaido, Japan by @hironari.ota

Top 5 characteristics:

  1. Timing: If you look closely, the subject is in the midst of throwing the fruit in the air and catching it with its beak. These hidden surprises or unexpectedness are what separates an ordinary wildlife image with an exciting and engaging one. The timing must be precise, and may often need the photographer to stay still for some time. Utilising cameras that provide a high frame-per-second helps in this aspect.
  2. Subject: Wildlife photography, especially with animals rarely seen in everyday life, always has a more ‘exotic’ quality. Knowing your subject's pattern and habits will aid in capturing essential moments.
  3. Details: To spot a small and uncommon animal in nature is not easy, and even more difficult when photographing it close up. This image, with its sharp focus and crisp detail, allows the viewer to fully examine the details of the rare bird, giving the image a sense of novelty while being educational.
  4. Colours: Though slight, the subtle play of analogous colour is still present with the subject’s yellow tail, orange feathers and red fruits against the neutral-coloured branches and feathers.
  5. Leading Lines: This may not be the most obvious, but the defining outline of the bohemian waxwing leads the viewer’s eyes to start from the subject’s beak and out of the image with its tail. There are also no other disturbances in the leading line’s path, making the quality of this image very aesthetic.

Though different subjects, photoshoot ideas and the environment will affect how each characteristic plays out, it’s still important as a budding photographer to be well-aware and incorporate some of these characteristics to improve your outcome. Here’s a list of similar articles that provide more in-depth use on each characteristic: Lighting techniques in architectural photography, Colour in abstract photography, Framing for your travel photography.