At a recent conference on photojournalism, a photography student asked: “What, in your opinion, makes a good photograph?”

My answer was that my opinion didn’t count. What counts is the opinion of the reader.

It’s a matter of perspective.

As a journalist, my goal with a photograph is to tell the story — as simply and as directly as possible.  The photograph should capture the moment.

More often that not, that moment is fleeting and capturing it is more luck than skill.  Sometimes a moment comes not from an assignment but from happenstance.

The photograph above is a good example. On Sept. 15, 2001, four days after the 9/11 attacks, we were still living in Northern Virginia and I dropped Amy off at her doctor at Kaiser Permanente in Falls Church. I noticed the flag hanging from the marquee of the State Theater. So I parked our car, grabbed my Nikon D1 and headed up the street to capture the image. As I approached, I heard the unmistakable sound of Harleys coming up the street. I had just enough time to raise the camera and fire off three frames as this biker roared by with his tattered flag on the back of the bike.

From a technical point-of-view, the photo was not that good. Exposure was off and composure could have been better. The biker was caught mostly in shadow in the frame and I had to dodge (lighten) his area but the photo ran in a number of newspapers and magazines to dramatize the surge in patriotic feeling following the 9/11 attacks. It was simply a case of accidently being at the right place at the right time.

The photo also serves as a lesson for aspiring citizen journalist. It was not the result of a photographer with a press pass having access to areas denied to others. It was grabbing a moment that was available to anyone with a camera at the same time and same place.

I submitted the photo as a full-frame shot but most publications chose to crop it to look like the image below. I’m still not sure which image i prefer and students at the conference were split.