1. No motion blur (unless you're going for a blurry effect… trying to show movement). More than anything else, motion blur destroys more pictures than any other variable. Currently, there is no good method to fixing an image affected by motion blur. There is however software in development that is supposed to fix motion blur, although I think this will come at the cost of a lot of sharpness. 2. Exposure. If you're shooting RAW you can get by with up to two stops underexposed. If you expose to the right you're generally pretty safe. Only time it is acceptable to clip a lot of highlights is when you know for certain that the highlights do not matter, and it is the shadow detail / midtones that comprise a majority of the image. 2a. Focus / Aperture control. Exposure and focus are nearly on the same level of importance. Sometimes you can get away with a picture slightly OOF in the same way you can get by with a picture slightly under or overexposed. Missing either of these two elements may keep your good picture from being a great picture. Depth of Field is important too. Whatever you define as your subject matter in the picture, generally should all be in focus. (there is a lot of flexibility to this for portraitures) 3. Subject matter. Pretty simple… find something interesting to take a picture of. Generally, interesting subjects are going to be extreme versions of normal objects. For instance, a picture of "a dog standing" may not be very interesting; however, a picture of "an extremely hairy dog" or "a dog catching a Frisbee in its mouth 4 feet off the ground" might be interesting. Brick walls are not interesting; however an extremely weathered brick wall, or an exceptionally smooth and symmetrical brick wall might be. A wide angle picture of a suburban street is not interesting. A wide angle picture of a suburban street with historic Oak trees littered with Spanish moss taken at sunset might be. 4. Composition. Find the right way to take a picture of your interesting subject. Often times composition can turn less interesting subjects into more interesting ones (think macro photography). The right balance between foreground subject matter and background subject matter is important. Determine how important the setting that the object is in when trying to determine how much of the background you want to include in your picture. Event photography usually attempts to place the subject in a setting. Pure portrait photography care less about the background so long as it's pretty and nicely out of focus. Sports photography should attempt to capture a key element of that sport while at the same time representing that key component in a dramatic way. The list goes on… 5. White balance. If you're shooting raw it's easy to go back and fix white balance… and you always should. Sometimes white balance should be as close to the original colors of the scene as possible. Other times a color shift is desired to produce a certain effect. These days, white balance is becoming more of a PP task as opposed to something you think about while actually taking the picture… this does not detract from its importance however. 6. Sharpness. If you have taken a picture with no motion blur, the correct exposure, focused correctly, and used an appropriate aperture then sharpness is basically a function of how good your glass, how good your camera body is, and how much software sharpening you apply. Software sharpening can only get you so far. Some lenses are sharper in some uses than others and it's up to you to make the best use of the equipment that you can afford. 7. Color. If you have taken a correctly exposed picture with the appropriate white balance color is going to again be a function of your glass, your camera body, and your color / saturation settings in your photo editing software of choice. If you're shooting B&W then contrast and light / dark balance will be more important to you. That's all I can think of. I pulled this list out of my ass, although it's what I found myself doing when editing photos. First I check for motion blur, then exposure (though generally this is rarely off), focus (if unusable OOF it's deleted regardless). Once I get past those technical I then look at the subject matter in detail. If I do think it was interesting enough then I'll check to see if I composed it correctly, if so, the rest of the process is just fine tuning the white balance sharpness and color. I typed all this crap up just as a general guide for those just starting out who are having trouble thinking about what pictures they want to take, or having a hard time sifting through pictures they've already taken. I know for a fact that when I was just starting out I was taking way more pictures (well…. not really, literally I take more pictures these days, but they tend to be higher quality pictures) of crap and keeping more crap than I would ever have any reason to. Also, I'm drunk.