Giving and receiving a photographic critique

February 03, 2016  •  Leave a Comment

Hawkeye in B&WHawkeye in B&WBrownie Hawkeye in black and white. Scene lit with SB800 1/2 power with red gel and Rogue Grid on backdrop. Camera lit with SB699 with snoot 1/8th power. Circular polarizer used to reduce glare and reflections

A couple of years ago I completed the photographic analysis course through the Photographic Society of America.  The society has somewhat of a format for judging photographs submitted for sponsored contests, and such.  From that course I devised a bit of a guide using some of their points to consider.

Giving a critique

First of all I would like to say everyone is qualified to give a critique.  Remember a critique is your opinion based on your training and experience.  As you gain experience and training your opinions may change.  In addition by critiquing the work of others you will also develop a more discerning eye in critiquing your own work.

Technical Execution

Under technical execution some points to consider would be:

•Focus, sharpness, details, visible noise or grain, DOF, bokeh

•Exposure, highlight burn-out, details in dark areas, contrast, shutter/aperture choice

•Postprocessing: use of special effects, vignetting, blurring, texture, framing, good use of HDR?

•Lens distortion, tilted horizon

Technical points to consider: • Color balance, BW conversion, tonal range, saturation):


Visual Composition

Under visual composition, consider the following:

•Perspective, leading lines, flows, depth

•Use of colors, light and size of objects in the composition

•Aspect ratio,crop, natural framing

•Position of key elements: rule of thirds, golden section, diagonal, simplicity

•Geometry and symmetry          

•Anchor point(s), center of interest, flows

Composition points to consider: •Organization of elements: weight, balance, shape, orientation:


Artistic Value and Creativity

Consider the artistic value and creativity.

•Does it work?

•Suitable use of technique and composition?

•Artistic achievement / work of art?

•Uniqueness / Originality / Innovation

•Creative interpretation of classic theme?

•Different and refreshing?

•Concept and idea


Personal Impact

Does the photograph make a personal impact?  

•Lasting impact? A photo you will remember? Emotional impact? Eye catcher?

•How the image affects you

•Does it feel like you're in the picture?

•People engaged in the scene or merely posing?

•Impressive creativity, composition and/or execution?

•Like to visit the photo location?

•Initial interest, initial impact/wow factor


There are certainly other points to consider in any of the categories but each category needs consideration in any detailed critique.  Not every points needed consideration, nor should every photograph contain each point.  

When writing a critique also make it clear that the observations are your opinion.  Such as "To my eye this photograph appears in focus with sharp details" or "In my opinion, the photograph lacks balance in its composition".  

Don't just point out what you perceive to be errors or problems also discussion any good points you observe in the photo.  I know there are some photographs that may be difficult to find something positive, but give it a good look.  With each perceived error or problem offer some advice for the photographer/artist based on your experience and opinion.  

Critiques aren't not statements such as "this is great", "I love it", "I don't like this" without explaining the why you love it, why it is great or why you don't like it.  It doesn't help anyone understand your position.  Explain the why and if it is something you believe needs to be improved upon offer a suggestion for what you believe may improve the image.


Receiving a critique

This is probably the most difficult thing for a photographer or artist.  Having someone critique their work, especially if the one offering the critique is perceived to be new with little experience.  Remember critiques happen all the time, even when we don't ask for them.  People who see our work have an opinion about it.  

Some tips on reading a critique from another.

  • Don't take it personal
  • Don't defend your work, remember this is their opinion based on what you showed them and how they perceived the work.  
  • Remain open minded about what others see in your work they may have some great insight or see something you missed.
  • If you don't understand something they said, ask for clarification.

I see so many times where someone asks for a critique and spends their time defending their work, (I have done this myself).  It is often very difficult to separate ourselves from our work, especially if it is of something meaningful to us.  In my opinion it is important to separate yourself from you work a bit when reviewing it.  Consider the points others made, it may actually be something you like better.  




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