November 21, 2011

Photo Critique Guidelines

Copyright Scott Bourne 2005 - All Rights Reserved

Photo critiques are a good way of learning more about photography. Unfortunately, with the Internet turning everyone who owns a camera into an “expert” it’s hard to get a really valuable critique. I’ve created this set of guidelines for people who are sincerely interested in learning how to be critiqued or how to critique others. This is not a mandatory list. It’s not all-inclusive. If I didn’t put something on the list, it doesn’t mean I forgot it or that I don’t think it’s important. I have made editorial decisions here based on what I think will be most helpful to my audience. This is just a starting point. It’s a series of guidelines to help me/you critique photographs. It’s subjective, but it can be easily modified to your own tastes.

1. Exposure

I look for a solid exposure. I don’t want to see any significant blown highlights or blocked-up shadows.

2. Composition

I look for balance, and visual acuity. I also look for a strong subject, and prefer photos that have a beginning, a middle and end. i.e. images that have depth. There needs to be a place for the eye to enter and exit the image. There should be no merges or intrusions into the frame. I want the horizon level and the vertical lines straight.

3. Background

I look for backgrounds that are not distracting and that do not take away from the subject. I want images that avoid unfortunate juxtapositions like a tree growing out of the subject’s head.

4. Focus

The main subject, or the important part thereof, should be in sharp focus. For example on portraits of people or animals, the eyes should be in focus. I prefer shallow depth of field.

5. Story

I look for a story in the image. I want to know (just by looking) what the photograph is about. I ask – does it speak to me? Is there too much or too little information.

6. General technical quality

Does the image suffer from camera shake, color fringing, too much noise or chromatic aberration? Is the white balance correct. Is the image over-processed? Is the color, amount and quality of light right for the image? Are there any distracting dust spots or contrast shifts?

7. Impact

I look for strong, vivid, arresting images. But I also look for them to be meaningful. I value truly beautiful images rather than merely pretty or interesting images.

In the end, how a photograph makes you “feel” is as important as any technical aspect. There’s no right or wrong in photography. There are some reasonably standard best practices, and serious photographers should know these and be able to articulate with specificity why they are ignoring them if that is the case.

Evaluate your own images using this list and see if there’s any room for improvement. That is after all, the reason for doing critiques.

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