Tag Archives: Critique

How to improve your photography by talking about it

Mum - the loving supporter

♥ Mum – the loving supporter ♥
The problem is loving feedback is not honest Joe advice…

Sometimes we should ignore the love option.

The people you love are wonderfully supportive but probably won’t give the appraisal of your photography that you need. An informed, impartial and analytical opinion will help you understand what you need to improve.

It seems hard, but your family or great friends are probably going to like your work or conceal that they don’t like it. They don’t want to offend you or spoil their relationship with you. If you want to improve your photography you need an objective assessment of your work. You want someone to sensitively point out the good, the bad and the potential.

So just how do you find people who can help you. Here are some ideas…

  • Join a photography club and ask other members to look at your photos.
  • Enter competitions at a club, the judges often give a technical appraisal.
  • Find a professional/semi-pro who is prepared to do a little mentor work.
  • Find someone on a photography website or forum who is prepared to swap candid appraisals with you.
  • Find an artist who would be able to give you composition help and advice.
  • Get to know an art or photography graduate who understands the principles of photography.

What you should look for from these people is advice that…

  • is sensitive and supportive – with your best interests at heart.
  • objective, trustworthy, honest and informed.
  • will not belittle or trash your work.
  • will be positive and upbeat about the successes and good points.
  • won’t pull any punches – will tell you if there is a problem or issue.
  • will give you ideas about how to tackle your mistakes/problems.
  • is able to command your respect.

It may not be easy to find these people. So you should get to know a range of people in photography. You will find people who fit these profiles in lots of places. You just need to be determined and interested in developing your photography. They will help you because they want to, you will both be of like mind, and ultimately it is to the benefit of photography if we all share. Besides, it is fun if we help each other.

The broad approach

Your family and friends opinions are valid and useful. So are the opinions of those you work with and even people you do not know. Everyone is entitled to have likes and dislikes about photographs they see. However, these are people who may not understand photography is an art. They…

  • may not be positive about your work.
  • might say upsetting things without realising the impact they are having.
  • might not like your photograph, but may not be able to tell you why.
  • come out with erroneous reasons for their dislikes.
  • may not be supportive or may even be openly hostile.
  • might make silly or inappropriate suggestions about how to improve.

Yet, despite these shortcomings they have a valid opinion. You need to make your own judgement about how much attention to pay to them. You also need to make up your mind about how valuable it is to have uninformed opinion. In short, if you want to improve your photography you need to understand that opinion in art (photography) is a broad spectrum. And, it is your call as to how much criticism or support you will take from the different people on that spectrum.

With time…

In the long run you will make up your own mind about the opinions you hear about your work. Other peoples’ opinions help you – no matter what their background. It is also important to understand the diversity of opinion how that impacts on you, the photographer. Learning about varied opinions helps you to pick out the good advice form the less useful. Understanding the different types of people and opinion involved is not something you will understand any time soon. It is something that artists and photographers think about every time they meet someone with an opinion. How you handle those opinions is a personal approach and one you develop with experience. Actively seek opinions and you will get the experience quicker.

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By Damon Guy (author and Photokonnexion editor)

Damon Guy - Netkonnexion

Damon Guy (Netkonnexion)

Damon is a writer-photog and editor of this site. He has run some major websites, a computing department and a digital image library. He started out as a trained teacher and now runs training for digital photographers.
See also: Editors ‘Bio’.

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Doing a photo critique – Part 2: the method

The method – support and develop through your critique

In the previous article I set out an approach for doing a critique of a photograph. The photographer providing a photograph for appraisal deserves your respect. Photography is for all of us – we do no good by discouraging someone. A positive experience will enhance your own reputation and your words will be more effectively received.

I am going to going to assume that the critique is to be a written one. Verbal critique involves the same analytical skills as a written ones. However, the verbal critique requires some degree of skill in delivery and practice in thinking on your feet. I will concentrate on the essential elements in the method. Then we will see the things we need to cover unmasked by delivery issues.

The critique method

1. Initial viewing – The most important thing is to look carefully at the photograph. The amount of time you spend is unimportant. It is what you see that is critical. You should see the whole picture and its detail. You must examine the context of the subject and the framing of the overall scene. You should consider the subject and its content. You must see the composition and observance of compositional rules helping the viewer see into the shot. Consider the title if there is one. It is a part of the photographers’ communication and a vital clue about the context of the picture. This stage is your orientation with the image.

2. Your approach – The aim of this section is to set the tone of the critique and to explain your approach. In a very few words identify what you are going to do and how, as well as what you are going to include.

Next categorise the picture – natural history, portrait, abstract, landscape and so on. Stating your category helps your reader understand your approach. Some subjects sound the same but have different approaches. Natural history and wildlife for example are viewed differently. Natural history is about a record of the subject. It’s expected that very high standards of focus and lighting are displayed. The subject is then considered accessible as a scientific record. On the other hand a wildlife photo is about the subject, it’s environment, the art in the scene and photographic interpretation. A similar distinction may be drawn about portraiture and candid photography – posing as against capture of a live scene. It is important that you outline what the categorisation means. Then the reader will understand some of the later points you are to make.

3. Reviewers Interpretation – now it’s your chance to express your understanding of the image. When a photographer makes a picture they communicating with you the viewer/appraiser of the picture. You should talk about the picture. Discuss how you see it, how you feel about it and what it means to you. This is most important for the photographer. Many reviewers miss this stage or neglect it. For the photographer who has made the photo, this feedback tells them if their message got across. They will see from your interpretation how strongly the message is conveyed and if it was really what they were trying to say. If your interpretation is different to the photographer then that tells them a lot about how effectively they are communicating, or not communicating their message. It tells them what they got across and what they did not. To inform the photographer you need to use terms like “I feel that…”; “The emotions that come over are…”; I think the message is…”; the content is…” or whatever you consider important. – but in detail. The point must be explained fully. Most photos have a story in them. It is important that you say what you think it is. Also identify any hidden meanings or ideas that the picture may convey as part of the overall message. It is also important to say what you think may be missing. There are often elements in a picture that would make the image more understandable or memorable that are not included. Make it clear if you don’t understand something or don’t see the point.

4. Technique – now it is time for a technical appraisal. Is the focus good? Does the exposure seem correct for this shot or is it over-light or too dark? Is the depth of field appropriate and accurate? Is there camera shake or clarity? How is the colour accuracy and contrast depth? Is the tonal treatment accurate. How was the light treated, or how was it created? Were these elements well done or could there be improvements? Soft or hard light? Tripod use? Treatment of highlights? Take into account what level the photographer is working at if you know this or can sensitively deduce it. Try to mention as much of the technically appropriate data that you notice. This is a great learning opportunity for the photographer.

5. Artistic merit – the heart of the picture is in the composition. You should isolate compositional elements that the picture uses. Do they work, do they help the picture or hinder the viewer’s understanding? Is the composition strong, weak or in need of a different approach? Is the crop supportive of the artistic treatment or antagonistic? Does the artistic viewpoint create a pleasing outcome or are there other ways to look at the treatment? Does the composition convey the appropriate emotion? In your analysis expose compositional rules that have been employed or not. Again, this is a learning opportunity. So try to explain your analysis so the photographer has the opportunity to follow up on the points you draw out.

6. Overview – This is your chance to say what you like and what could be improved. start by tackling the things that are positive. In the spirit of sensitive encouragement you should be sure to identify everything that you think is positive and likable about the image. Evan an image you do not like must have commendable features. So bring them out. Say why you like them and what they contribute to the image. Your likes are an expression of some success and the photographer needs to understand them for future shots. Make sure you explain the reasons you like them. “That’s good”, is not good enough. You should say, “the colour of the sky is good and provides a great contrast to the strong red of the main subject – it creates a feature to draw the eye into the shot”. Explaining the positive element and the reason it works is a learning experience for the photographer.

After the positive appraisal you can identify the parts of the image that can be improved. You should concentrate on a few things. Identifying a long list of errors is not helpful. A few main points will help the photographer overcome the most important issues. Be encouraging… “I can see what you were trying to do… you can achieve that by…”. Or, “Be careful with distracting whites or strong lights”. Again, “try to find a standpoint where there is less clutter…”. You should look to help the photographer see the problem by identifying a positive solution. You should also explain why there is a problem. Errors are not obvious until you understand them. Simple explanations are most useful.

It is also helpful to explain other things to try out. “Try it as black and white, your strong contrasts may work well”; “perhaps a more abstract approach would help…” and so on. These things should be delivered sensitively and with the support of the photographer in mind.

7. The last word – You should always end on a positive note – it will help lift the mood. Something like this will help, “this is a good project, continued effort will return great results”. Maybe, “You have overcome challenging conditions to realise this work, well done”. If you think it is a great picture say so, otherwise say you think there is great potential. You are looking to encourage and to provide opportunity for the future. Try and be specific about what could be achieved next time if you can.

And for you, doing the critique…

If you gain the respect of the photographer you will be giving them a lot of hope for the future. You will also be providing them with some valuable lessons. Work with them. They deserve your experience and help. Good luck with your critique. I hope you succeed in teaching, motivating and encouraging… for that is the aim of a good critique.

By Damon Guy (author and Photokonnexion editor)

Damon Guy - Netkonnexion

Damon Guy (Netkonnexion)

Damon is a writer-photog and editor of this site. He has run some major websites, a computing department and a digital image library. He started out as a trained teacher and now runs training for digital photographers.
See also: Editors ‘Bio’.

Doing a photo critique – Part 1: respect and sensitivity

Help yourself and others to improve

Photographers often have trouble expressing feelings about photographs. It is too easy to say “Great shot!”, “Nice image” or whatever limited phrase comes to mind. A constructive appraisal of a photograph needs the right language, approach and understanding. However, it is worth learning the language. If you can express your feelings about another persons photo it helps you also see a lot more in your own. This is about how to approach constructive criticism of photographs.


Giving a critical review of a photograph requires an approach. Make sure the person concerned actually wants your critique first. You risk creating an upset if you just go ahead and do it. They must be ready for it and open to your approach. You are going to be saying things about someone’s creation. We all feel connected to our photos, so tread carefully. You may not be criticising the photographer directly, but they may see it as a personal attack if you do it wrong. So only do a full critique if you are invited to do a proper one.

Be respectful, approach it gently and suggest things in a positive and reinforcing way. A verbal attack will not put your message across. Suggestions are better. If you say, “this is good” and “that can be improved by” – you helped support them into positive thinking about their next photo. If you say “this is awful, that is dire!”, you help them stick their heels in defensively – not helpful. You should be positive and supportive for a good reason. Your approach and advice will inform their photography into the future. You are helping to mould their artistic and technical future as an image maker.

Remember, your positive influence is aimed to help them as photographers. Make sure you feel comfortable reviewing the work. What you say is just an opinion. Hopefully, the person you are working with will take it as just that too. So don’t do anything to ruin their respect of you. Give an honest, gentle, appraisal. If you cannot, or if you don’t feel qualified to comment, then say nothing. If you step outside your own expertise you will be spotted very quickly and you will be breaking the trust relationship you have with that person. It is an honor to be trusted enough to review someones work. Treat them and the work with respect and care. Ensure you deliver a fair review, even if you don’t like the work. Stand back from the ownership and your personal likes/dislikes. Be impartial and express the appraisal in straight forward, artistic and technical terms. It is OK to say how you feel as long as you justify it with accurate and meaningful learning points (sensitively delivered).

Art can be anything…

Every photograph has its own character no matter what you, the reviewer, thinks. There is always someone who will like it no matter what. I have seen some pretty challenging technical errors turn out as pleasing images. And some pretty outstanding photographers have turned out really poor quality work. In the end anything can be said, but only good sense will prevail. There is no right or wrong with an image there is only your opinion. There is no such thing as intrinsic value – beauty is something you see. Other people may or may not agree. So you will have to argue your point with good sense and good artistic and technical analysis.

Be useful; be specific!

Our aim, to be a positive, reinforcing critic, means our points must be obvious and effective. One glance at a picture with comment “Great image” does little for our hapless photog. However, this tells the them more…

“The strongest element in the picture follows a dynamic angle and has strong colour – both act to pull the eye into the scene. The fact that this element is on a ‘third‘ in the picture also keeps the eye searching for balance in the shot. You are drawn into the page to see more. These strong composition points give the picture holding power and the eye works to appreciate them”.

Our photographer has learned a lot they can follow up and shows they have quite a lot right. The bad news is not so bad then! For example…

“You have a lot of strong highlights. Patches of white attract the eye first. So working light to reduce those would help the viewer see the important elements in the picture straight away. At present they are distracted. You want your viewer to go straight to the powerful part of the picture to really capture their attention”.

This shows the error, and shows how it can be reduced, making the image more effective overall. That sells itself to the photographer!

Take everything into account

Every picture has clues about the authorship. Distracting highlights tell you about their observation of light. Poor use of space tells you they have not understood implied movement… well, there are 100 rules to be followed or broken. The elementary ones are the most obvious. On the other hand, if you spot they have broken a rule to create emphasis then – bonus points!

Your assessment of the artistic and technical elements of the photograph tells you what you are dealing with. Then you can respond appropriately. Deal directly with the level you see in the picture. You should not sound off with over-bearing or overly technical assessments.

The way a photographer presents the picture is important too. My point at the beginning about sweet wrappers in the foreground tells us that either the observational skills are not there, or the author cannot use an image editor. These elementary mistakes also suggests that the author probably has little experience with critiques. So be even more gentle and sensitive. We want to encourage, not beat and bamboozle them to submission!

The title

It is my personal opinion that a title is important. Some photographers disagree. That’s fine. Either way, the presence or absence of a title tells us something. If it is there, take advantage of what you are being told. Your appraisal is going to be more successful if you go with their direction. If it is not there, then you need to say if the picture stands up as a powerful story without it. Equally you need to say why it would help if there was one.

I hope that I have explained how the approach to critical review helps and is important. In Part 2 I will be showing you my system for doing a critique.

By Damon Guy (author and Photokonnexion editor)

Damon Guy - Netkonnexion

Damon Guy (Netkonnexion)

Damon is a writer-photog and editor of this site. He has run some major websites, a computing department and a digital image library. He started out as a trained teacher and now runs training for digital photographers.
See also: Editors ‘Bio’.