How To Deliver A Useful Photo Critique


soeypixels

Senior Member
Jun 24, 2007
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#1
by Peter West Carey
source: How To Deliver A Useful Photo Critique

Much has been written on DPS about receiving feedback and examining your own photos to help improve. Today I want to give you some pointers on providing a critique to others (when asked for) so the conversation between you and the photographer is time well spent.
At its base, a critique is an examination of a piece of work, be it writing or art or potato chips, and a reasoned response to what is examined. I’ll be talking mostly about ‘soft’ critiques in this post as they are the ones that examine content in a less mathematical way. Not that math doesn’t apply to photos, but examining a photo is more subjective than objective.

1. Make Sure The Photographer WANTS A Critique
Most importantly, ensure the person receiving the critique actually desires a critique. While your intentions may be pure and the information you have may benefit the recipient, if most people aren’t open to the idea of hearing about their work, they won’t hear a thing you say. And it may backfire. Before launching into, “There are some things about this image I want to comment on…” start out with something as simple as, “Would you like an honest critique of your image?” If the answer is, “No thanks,” then move along and don’t’ say a word. If someone is not open to receiving, they won’t. (I know it sounds obvious, but it is often overlooked.)

2. Be Honest
This is hard for many of us. Some of us are being desensitized to the “Nice work!” we see on Facebook and Google+ and think all the world need be rosy. This is not the case. But (as long as point #1 is followed) we need to make sure we are honest from the start. If you just want to tear someone’s art apart, say so (that is not at the heart of a critique, by the way). If you want to help them improve, say that too. If you just want to spout your opinion, ditto. Hearing yourself talk or trying to gain more exposure on certain sites by ‘joining in on the conversation’ has its place, but just be honest about why you are speaking.

3. Realize Your View Of The World Is Incomplete
Most people jump right over this concept. We all have egos that enjoy thinking they have the accumulated knowledge of the world, or at least some specific subset. But the truth is, no one does and we, as a society, are learning new things about the world around us all the time. So it is with art. Any art revolution was confronted with detractors; people who thought it was rubbish, based solely on person, past experiences. Knowing you don’t know everything will help lead to an open discussion rather than a one sided, “You did all this wrong,” point of view.

4. Educate Yourself
Before getting started, in hand with knowing you don’t know everything, learn a little about the subject being critiqued; both the subject of the photo and the subject of photography. There’s no need to take college level courses to learn some art history and different photographic techniques. Often this education can come from the photographer by asking simple questions about why they shot what they did and what they were attempting to portray (some will tell you to not ask these types of questions as it may alter your critique, but I find it can be helpful in guiding the conversation).

5. Examine And Highlight
Examine the body of work, set it down, walk away, and come back. I have found this process helpful personally to shake my thoughts up and then let them settle. If time is not available, by all means, jump right in. Look to what works and doesn’t work in the image. Look for technical merit (and here our very own Christina Dickson gives some examples of: Exposure, Focus and Composition in her post on portrait critiques) and look to more subjective areas such as story telling and emotional impact. Highlight what works and what doesn’t work. And most importantly; why.

The ‘Why’ is at the heart of the critique. It will help the photographer more than anything. “Her hair is all wrong,” is not a good critique, even though it might be accurate. “Her hair is bothering me. See if you you darken the tone to lessen its impact in the shot, or remove some of the stray strands to cause less distraction,” is a far better statement that gets out the bad with leading the photographer in a direction to improve. And that is at the heart of the critique, wanting to help the other improve. Anything less is simply complaining or touting one’s own mastery of the art, neither of which really help anyone (except the reviewer’s own ego).

6. Delivering The Critique
Lastly, deliver the critique when the photographer is ready and in a way that works for them. Listing a long diatribe as a comment on a Google+ picture might not always be the best forum, especially if the critique was unwanted. But emailing the person privately and first asking them if they wish for an honest critique is a good first step. Follow this up by another email with the critique if they are amiable to receiving. That way they can read it when they are ready, instead of having it crammed down their throat when they are tired and hungry and working a long day. Delivery is just as important sometimes as what is being said.

These days, across the miles, most critiques are given in email and it’s a great medium as people in France can comment on a Vietnamese artist’s work with never leaving home. it also allows a slower conversation which is often preceded with carefully thought out comments, rather than calling someone at 2am, a little drunk, to tell them why their sunrise picture, “sucked”. I’ll pretend this never happened to me. And I hope it never happens to you. Email helps bring a bit of reason into a conversation. It should not be shunned over an actual in-person meeting if location isn’t a problem, as body language can tell you a lot about what a person is thinking.

If you’re looking for specifics to include in that critique, I have enjoyed this post over at Pixiq to be helpful. It dives a bit deeper into the area of what to include and rather than recreate it here, I suggest you pop on over and take a look.

Do you have any tips on the actual delivery of a critique that you find useful?

Read more: How To Deliver A Useful Photo Critique
 

Sep 17, 2008
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#3
hmm. it might be a little premature. the problem with many critiques, is that each photographer tries to put his own perception onto another person's image.

shldn't the steps to a critique be:

what is the photographer trying to say with the photograph?

how does his technique, composition then do it?

did the method/approach work?

if the method did, congratulate. if it didn't, highlight how it can be improved, what alternatives can be considered.

many people skip the first step. if its a shot of MBS, they won't ask the TS/TS has no idea what he is trying to show. they will jump the gun and immediately think its gonna be a pretty picture. what if TS wanted to show a busy scene of MBS? then whateva comment abt looking good, nice light, will be irrelevant.

if you don't have a clear aim, clear idea of what you want to shoot, what you are shooting for, its just shooting randomly. random shooting = no point critiquing imho
 

one eye jack

Senior Member
Jun 11, 2011
816
12
18
#4
hmm. it might be a little premature. the problem with many critiques, is that each photographer tries to put his own perception onto another person's image.

shldn't the steps to a critique be:

what is the photographer trying to say with the photograph?

how does his technique, composition then do it?

did the method/approach work?

if the method did, congratulate. if it didn't, highlight how it can be improved, what alternatives can be considered.

many people skip the first step. if its a shot of MBS, they won't ask the TS/TS has no idea what he is trying to show. they will jump the gun and immediately think its gonna be a pretty picture. what if TS wanted to show a busy scene of MBS? then whateva comment abt looking good, nice light, will be irrelevant.

if you don't have a clear aim, clear idea of what you want to shoot, what you are shooting for, its just shooting randomly. random shooting = no point critiquing imho
Hi, If I may speak my mind.While the art of crique seems to be common sense if the intention is to help or improve a photographer's artistic
sensitivity and technique,it has to be remembered that the person who critiques brings his/her own understanding and perpective into the situation.
If the person who critiques is formally artistically trained in the classical sense as in an art school for instance,then his/her perspective is
"formulaeic" as to what constitutes art or beauty. I am sure someone who points a camera at a particular subject has in his/her mind an idea of
what he/she "wants" to capture photographically even if that person does not have formal art training.It is hard wired in humans to have an
appreciation of things that resonates beauty through them.As for me personally I would keep my counsel and practise the virtues of the three
wise monkeys of "See no evil,speak no evil and hear no evil".Classical art and modern art has it's supporters and detractors,what's more
important is that the photograher enjoy what he/she is doing and that makes photographic companies/retailers happy,not to mention forums like
clubsnap reason for existence in the first place.Humans need fellowship as all is one.A little zen for thought.
 

Sep 17, 2008
3,656
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#5
my point being, if i'm gonna critique about how tasty and what can the chicken rice be improved, but the chef intended it to be fried rice, then my critique is misdirectional.

going on and on about how to make a good chicken rice, when chef really wants to know what is wrong with his fried rice... is kind of pointless.
 

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one eye jack

Senior Member
Jun 11, 2011
816
12
18
#6
my point being, if i'm gonna critique about how tasty and what can the chicken rice be improved, but the chef intended it to be fried rice, then my critique is misdirectional.

going on and on about how to make a good chicken rice, when chef really wants to know what is wrong with his fried rice... is kind of pointless.
Yes,you are right ,only offer advice when asked. :)
 

foxtwo

Senior Member
Mar 11, 2004
2,522
0
0
singapore
#7
allenleonhart said:
my point being, if i'm gonna critique about how tasty and what can the chicken rice be improved, but the chef intended it to be fried rice, then my critique is misdirectional.

going on and on about how to make a good chicken rice, when chef really wants to know what is wrong with his fried rice... is kind of pointless.
That's why critique should be to-and-fro questions and answers. Whenever the writeup is incomplete, I will always ask the photographer further questions to clarify before I make my assessment. If I need to wait for his/her reply then I will, I'm not in any hurry.

I wish photographers seeking critique will be more communicative. It's not really "let my pictures do the talking" in such instances.
 

ricohflex

Senior Member
Feb 24, 2005
3,353
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sing
#8
What makes us think we are qualified to "critique" other people's photos?
 

Sep 17, 2008
3,656
0
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#9
What makes us think we are qualified to "critique" other people's photos?
if u are coming from the "i have to be a good photographer, then i can comment" pov,
u don't need to know how to cook chicken rice to know what works and doesn't for chicken rice:)

too salty, too sweet, too spicy. general kind of comments themselves can help a lot more than "pls turn the focus by 0.5m more" and "oh u need to watch the dynamic range and etc", which u might need a technical background.
 

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foxtwo

Senior Member
Mar 11, 2004
2,522
0
0
singapore
#10
ricohflex said:
What makes us think we are qualified to "critique" other people's photos?
Who then do you reckon are qualified to critic?

(Neutral question, not trying to be funny)
 

edutilos-

Senior Member
Dec 28, 2010
6,042
17
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The Universe
www.facebook.com
#11
What makes us think we are qualified to "critique" other people's photos?
I am not a taxi driver, who am I to comment on a taxi driver's driving methods/ethics?
I have never been a CEO, who am I to pass judgement a CEO's apparent handling of a company and its employees?
By birth I am not a foreigner in this country, who am I to say what they should do, or should not do?
I have never worked as a customer service officer for Singtel, who am I to say that they have provided bad service?
I have never been a waiter, who am I to say that the waitering skills is not up to par?

But we all judge, like it or not. Be it sports, or service standards in day to day life, or whether you like an art piece or not... Freedom of speech is all about exchange of ideas in a mature way. In a perfect world, people could be as harsh as they want, speak their mind, meet logic with logic instead of emotional arguments.

What makes us think we are qualified? Nothing. The other person can always choose to accept your comments or not. Cheers.
 

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