Photography : Giving a useful photo critique

I’ve talked about how to take & get criticism in photography in my last two articles so it’s inevitable that in the third part of this topic I will talk about giving a photo critique. Criticizing & giving feedback on anything is really quite easy; giving useful feedback on the other hand is quite a different thing. Giving good & useful feedback on something as subjective as a photograph is, well… something even more difficult.

I have seen my fair share of people who try to give feedback & most often we often fall into one of two categories. Those who bash in the most inappropriate or impolite way & those who are just too nice & aren’t very honest about their opinions. With the addition of the LIKE button on social websites like Facebook, it’s easier to just click LIKE & move on. Being overly nice & on the flip side, brash isn’t going to help anyone.

Remember that there is no wrong or right in photography. Extreme technical errors can be deemed as “wrong” but sometimes it all depends on the artist. If a photographer wanted the image to be ‘darker than normal’, he would then dial his exposure down to achieve this effect. The question is that did the photographer do it on purpose, or he made a mistake & didn’t know what he was doing. This is why I take some time to either name the photo appropriately or talk about the image & why I created it that way. Read my article titled,Composition… how I view things… It’s true sometimes you will never know. But a photographer who really wants to learn, will be honest about his work.

Make sure the photographer truly wants a critique. Be sure that the photographer really wants a critique & really wants to improve in photography. Even if they are asking for comments on their photos, they may not necessarily want negative comments. It helps to ask first before you plunge into talking about the photo. Sometimes a simple, “Would you like some comments on your photo?” would help pave the way to ensure that the photographer is open to idea of having his work being critiqued. If the answer is NO, then don’t.

Try to interpret the photo. When you view the photo, take a moment to look at the entire frame. What is the meaning of the image. What did the artist want you to see more of & what less of? Did the photographer include a title or short commentary of the image? What did it say? In your first few sentences, talk about the photo & how you felt when looking at it. That sometimes in a way is a critique in itself. If the photographer intended you to see something but you saw a complete opposite, that in itself is feedback to the artist that something went wrong!

Start off with what’s good then followed by what can be improved. No brainer here. It’s easier to get someone to listen when you begin a conversation on a good note. Once you have built the rapport & respect, you can move on to what are the things that need work. To make a photo critique concise, I normally find two aspects of the photo which I like & perhaps one quality of the image which I think can be improved upon. More experienced photographers can probably find a strew of things wrong with a photograph but this is not a competition. There is no prize for pointing out mistakes here. The 2:1 ratio isn’t a rule, but I say taking one step back after walking 2 steps forward is still progress in the correct direction… Don’t you think?

Be specific. This is something I almost always see photo critics fail at. Even when you give a positive feedback, you need to be specific. If so happen a good photo is a fluke, the photographer will not know how to replicate the conditions if he didn’t know what he did right in the first place.

Here are examples of comments I have seen which add no value to a critique…

“Great photo! Nice colors!”…

“Fantastic portrait, I like your model’s expression!”…

“Wow! What a moment!”…

All great compliments but nothing the photographer can use to better his or her photography. If not it helps to boost a bit of moral by ego stroking, nothing more.

Now imagine if the above 3 critiques were worded as such…

“Great photo! I like the saturation of photograph especially the contrast between the horizon & the sky. Great work in making the photo pop with the usage of colors!”…

“Fantastic portrait. I liked the way you managed to obtain that kind of expression from your model. You’ve managed to put her at ease throughout the session & your efforts have paid off. Nice work!”…

“Wow! You must have been very patient with your camera. You have ceased the moment well & you have captured a once in a lifetime photo!”…

These are just examples.

Be specific about the negatives as well. As with positive comments, you should be as specific if not more detailed about what you think can be improved. Don’t just say, it’s bad… Explain why you think it doesn’t add to the photo & how you can make it better.

This is when you need to be honest! This is quite hard for a lot of us. This is where majority of use fall into the LIKE a photo category. It’s easier to hit the like button & just move on. If you intend to tear someone’s work apart, say so. If you want to help someone improve, you should be honest about it too.

Let’s give a shot at giving a photo critique…

What do I see? When I look at this photo, I see a painting of a portrait of a man on the side of a building next to a partially opened window. The image of this person is perhaps someone of importance & he looks somewhat solemn as if sad.

How is this photo technically? This photo was probably taken on a bright sunny day. The image is somewhat overexposed because the colors seem washed out.

What I think? I like the idea which the photographer was trying to deliver. The composition was not bad with how he put the man’s face to one side & the window on the other. The crop was as tight as it can be under the circumstances. There isn’t much in the rest of the photo to make it really stand out. I think the bottom part of the middle section, probably windows to the ground floor of the building is rather annoying. The “landing pigeon” on the top left corner with its wings clipped off by the edge of the frame doesn’t help. Neither does the few leaves creeping into the left side of the frame

This next part is where you give the real critique…

What would I do? I can certainly try to shoot using a different zoom range or crop the image to exclude the things I didn’t care for. I would also increase the contrast, perhaps lower the exposure & increase saturation. I believe there are more details on the walls than this photo is really showing. Bringing out the details would enhance this photo & make the image pop more.

This is the proposed re-imagination of the photo. I’ve removed the distracting elements in the photo, brought down the exposure which increased the overall contrast & color. Pushing up the colors even more made the details appear clearer but at the end of it, it was the sharpening at the end of my workflow which brought out more of the details.

If you want to view a high resolution version of this photo click on my FLICKR link HERE.

There you go. Want to give photo critique a go? It’s your turn!

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