Got "ice tea?" I - C - T

Here is a simple acronym to keep in mind when you create or evaluate an image.
I – C - T   "ice tea"

IMPACT  ----------------- How do you react to the image? Does it Grab Attention & hold it? 
COMPOSITION   -------- Does the image have a sense of order or balance? Is there an 'eye path' to the subject?
TECHNIQUE ------------- A deliberate, quality focus, exposure and more?  

The subject dominates the image and forms the viewer's first impression. The viewer's eyes may move to explore other areas of the image, but the eyes are drawn inevitably back to the subject.
The viewer can immediately identify the subject.

+/-            When you look at the photo, what is the first thing you see?
+/-            What holds your eye the longest?
+/-            Do other elements compete with the subject for attention?
+/-            Is what you see first, what the photographer really had in
                 mind for the center of attention?

There should be a sense of complimentary order.
Composition rules like “Rule of Thirds”,  use of negative or empty space, leading lines, framing-w/in-the-frame, etc., are helpful starting points, but they are useful only as long as they enhance the overall image.

 --- Keep it simple ---   The fewer the elements in a photo, the stronger the statement the image makes because it helps to prevent the viewer's eye from being distracted.
 --- Fill the frame --- Filling the frame helps establish the center of interest and it helps exclude competing background details. You can fill the frame by moving closer to the subject or by using a longer focal length lens or zoom in.
 --- Control the background ---   A non-distracting background helps bring attention to the subject of the photo. You can control the background by moving your own position or moving the subject to avoid background distractions. Or use a wider aperture (smaller f-stop #) to blur the background.  When possible, eliminate or rearrange distracting background elements.
--- Organize the elements ---   If you apply the Rule of Thirds in photography you simply imagine a tick-tac-toe pattern on the viewfinder. Then, when you place the subject of the photo at one of the intersection points, the result is a pleasing sense of order. Using Negative Space by placing your main subjects with large open backgrounds, can make the subjects stand out and create a stronger sense of balance in your photos.  Leading Lines can help the viewers eyes find the main subject/message of the image as can Framing within the Frame and more....

+/-            Is there a sense of order/balance in the image that helps lead the eye through the image?
+/-            Do the elements included strongly contribute or distract from the subject/message? How so?
+/-            Do the depth of field, lens focal length, lighting  and perspective enhance the image?
+/-            Does the crop enhance the composition?

Sharp focus is one of the first things that viewers first notice about an image. The sharpest point of the picture should identify what the photographer sees as the most important aspect of the image.

Remember, so-called rules have exceptions...
The photographer may "break" rules intentionally.  Ie., a subject is intentionally unfocussed to show motion,  created soft for a portrait, or even, placed dead center for a theme, etc..

--- Exposure ---   the photographer’s choice of lens focal length, aperture, shutter speed, and ISO should also enhance the intent
of the image.

+/-            Is the sharpest focus on the center of interest of the image?
+/-            Does the depth of field enhance the subject, mood, or look of the image?  Does it distract?
+/-            Does the focal length enhance the subject and meaning of the image?
+/-            Does the color appear natural and/or does it help set the mood of the image?
+/-            Does the image have good overall contrast for the type image the photographer intended?
+/-            Does the lighting reveal what's important in the image and set the overall tone of the photo.

...a couple thoughts beyond I – C – T…  

When you hear someone say "Tell a story" with your photo what do they mean?  Here's my take; The difference between a photo that is remembered  and one that is quickly forgotten depends on whether the viewer can relate to it.  That means a "connection" is made. Perhaps it's a recognition of a similar "story" from their past ...or something their imagination...or their immediate "gut feeling". You've conveyed a story of the scene or subject the evokes an emotional response.  Good, bad, big or small, that emotional response makes the image memorable.

+/-            Does the photo elicit an emotion? 
+/-            Can you relate to the subject or the situation?
+/-            Does the photo make a statement, convey a story, that you can sum up in a few words?

The best creative images show the subject/message through the photographers' eyes.  A personal perspective.  Revealing the subject, conveying the story in an unique way.  Perhaps stirring the viewers in such a way it keeps them interested in what the image is "about".
It is done in PP (post processing) and / or while-you're-shooting those SOOC (straight out of camera) images.  Ie., converting the photo to Black & White, or sepia tone, processing with HDR, using filters, shooting for bokeh, tweaking the white balance, ISO, shutter speed, "taking a risk" and tossing aside conventional "photo rules"...

+/-            Does this creativity disclose something more about the subject?
+/-            Is this method appealing, fun, thought provoking?
+/-            Does the unique approach help make it a stronger image?