Image Critiquing: A How-To

This is a repost. It’s long, but if you read it & take it to heart I guarantee you will be a better photographer – or you get your money back ;)


Summary – There are lots of ways to critique. Regardless of how you do it – learn to critique. If you don’t know what is & isn’t a good image, how can you hope to ever make one?

I Critique using the “4-C’s”


Do you know how to critique an image? No, not –

WOW! I like that!“.

That’s not a critique. That’s a Flickr comment.

Supportive but not useful if better photography is the ultimate goal.

Even the most well-intentioned critiques can be hard to take – ego’s need to be put aside.

One of the most common reasons given by newbies for not entering club competitions is fear/embarrassment because of criticisms.

A typical image has both good and bad points. Both should be recognized – the good acknowledged and constructive criticism offered for the bad. To be useful, the praise and criticism must be specific, not general – even more specific than

“There’s a problem with the focus”

What & where specifically and why do you think this happened so the maker can avoid the problem in the future

“The background is more in focus than the subject’s eyes. Your focal point was wrong for the shallow depth of field you used.”

Knowing how to critique images is a key step toward becoming a better photographer.

If you don’t know what makes an image good – and bad – how can you hope to make good images?

If you can’t recognize problems when viewing a displayed image, how do expect to see them when looking through your viewfinder?

The most important critique is self-critique of your own images


I use a structured method for critiquing images built around what I call the 4-C’s.

Take a look at this blog’s subtitle at the top of the page

The subtitle is there because I firmly believe that

Mastery of these four elements is key to Photography Improvement.


The 4-C’s

  1. CRAFTSMANSHIP – Using your camera to control exposure, focus and color for a technically perfect image or for the creative image that you want. Key message – putting you in control of the camera & not vice-verse.
  2. COMPOSITION – Making aesthetically pleasing two-dimensional images
  3. CREATIVITY – Making your images YOUR images (and not like everyone else’s) by building on craftsmanship and composition skills
  4. COMMUNICATION – Inserting emotion and feeling into your images. Great artists believed that art sprang from emotion. (A work of art which did not begin in emotion is not art. Paul Cezanne)

The list above is in the order that the C’s should be applied in an a critique.

The list begins with the most basic skills and progresses to the most difficult to master

Good craftsmanship should be a given even for a relative beginner – especially with today’s cameras

Communication on the other hand is very difficult – especially since it’s so viewer dependent

In another sense the list progresses from “objective” criteria through to “subjective”

Craftsmanship elements, color for example, are very objective. Unless the maker is making some artistic statement (see creativity & communication) we all know what color the bride’s skin and gown should be – it’s not a subjective thing.

Communication, on the other hand, is nearly 100% subjective. What “sings” to me may be “nails on a blackboard” to you.


To round out the story, the list is exactly in the opposite order I use when making an image rather than critiquing one.

Making an image begins with Cezanne’s quote – A work of art which did not begin in emotion is not art. If I can see the potential for an image that sings to me, I’m 90% of the way home toward making a good image.

We can’t begin with an everyday scene, craft & compose it in a creative way – and then “glue emotion” to it at the last-minute. It doesn’t happen that way.

Note – “good image” here means one that is good for me. I really don’t care about what others think. Depending on where you are in your photography development journey, you may (or should) care.

Now that I’ve found my singing image, the rest is straight forward. Starting with creativity I try not to make the presentation of my “song” routine & predictable – I want to be creative. My ingredients for creativity are the first 2-C’s (and treating them as the “RULES” of composition and craftsmanship probably won’t get the creative job done – but you do have to know them before you can break them).

The final two steps are relatively easy.

Usually the most difficult composition task is simplifying the image.

Craftsmanship is easy (or it damn well should be else it’s back to the drawing board for you). You HAVE TO reach the point where craftsmanship (using your tools – camera/lens) is instinctive and your camera is an extension of YOU.

If you have to think about it, even for 5 seconds, you’re not ready to be the best photographer you can be. This where practice, practice, practice comes in….

Craftsmanship errors are inexcusable

This is one reason that Craftsmanship comes first in a critique (especially in judging where 75% of all entries must be eliminated; if you can’t do the basics, there’s little reason to go further)

Craftsmanship is essential in terms of making your camera do what your vision requires for this singing image, including bending & breaking rules in the name of creativity


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Winter Photography Tips

This has been posted each winter

since this blog began

Some things are worth repeating

________________________________________________________

Little Bull Run

5 minute walk from home


The start of winter brings to mind a few tips for shooting in snow, cold and inclement weather in general. Let me first say though, don’t obsess and worry about your camera in wet conditions and allow it to ruin your enjoyment.

Reasonable care is adequate (usually)

My biggest problem & concern is personal comfort and keeping the lens face clear of water drops and condensation.

Consider insurance on your gear; when you need warranty coverage most it may not apply

________________________________________________________

Winter specific tips

  • Snow scenes require a positive exposure compensation to avoid gray snow – usually an EV of +1 (more or less depending on the percentage of the scene that includes snow). Go out with your camera today and give it a try – with aperture priority, matrix metering, & zero EV your histogram will be too far to the left. Start increasing EV until the histogram is pushed pretty far toward the right. How much EV did it take? Probably about 1-full stop.
  • If the above sounds like Greek, this post should help.
  • Cold weather eats batteries. Carry at least 2 (3-4 is best if it’s well below freezing). Keep the spares near to your body – your body heat will rejuvenate a “cold battery” and so you can swap back & forth from camera to body.
  • Chemical hand-warmers are great. Besides keeping your hands warm, taping one to your camera near the battery compartment will mitigate the previous problem.
  • Wrap tripod legs if metal and not already wrapped. I have mine wrapped with foam pipe insulation – cheap at Lowe’s. It’s a big problem when your  hands touch cold metal.
    • Bought a carbon-fiber since the original post ;-)
  • It’s hard to change camera settings with gloves. Consider the type made for trout fishermen that allow you to uncover fingers when needed.
  • Gortex from head to toe >> hat, jacket, pants, boots and in cold weather – layers
  • _____________________________
  • One last cold weather tip – if the temperature is near or below freezing take care when bringing your camera back into warm temps (house or car) as moisture will condense on AND IN the camera/lens and may cause problems (if not immediately, then later).
    • A simple trick is to wrap a plastic bag or two (like a grocery bag) around the camera and tie it tightly so that air doesn’t get in.
    • Leave your camera/lens in the bag until it has time to warm up to ambient temperatures.
    • I often wrap my bagged camera in my jacket for good measure.
    • Condensation can cause water damage & it’s unlikely your warranty will cover the repair.

Precipitation (rain, snow, sleet….) tips

Your camera needs protection from precipitation, too. The amount depends on whether you use a “pro” body or a “consumer” body (the latter for most of us, I suspect). Consider the following –

    • Using a lens hood in rain/snow helps greatly (keeps the lens face back from the elements and keeps your images from being ruined by drops on the lens face)
    • If you’re not going to shoot for several minutes replace the lens cap.
      • Finished shooting for now?
      • Yes, then > check lens for water – replace lens cap – move on to next shot. Repeat.
    • Use a “rain coat” for your camera. Here’s one that’s cheap (2 for $5), effective, and works with a tripod. No camera is water proof and even if the lens is dry the water may eventually cause problems – and that’s why a camera rain cover.
    • Check which direction the wind (rain/snow) is blowing and try to avoid shooting INTO the wind. If you do shoot into the wind, and often it’s unavoidable, dry the lens face immediately after the shot else you’ll forget.
    • Check your lens face before getting ready to shoot – each & every shot, not just the first.
    • My experience with the D800E, a step up from the D300 and D70 bodies I used previously, has changed my mind about better bodies needing less protection.
      • Given their higher cost (purchase & repair) they may need more protection

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Depth of Field for “Arty” Images

My favorite style|technique relies on

Selective focus which in turn relies on

Depth of Field

D300_130624_094850__DSC7008 lr5 cep

Not Your Typical Botany Text Daisy

Shot edge-on; focus on tip of nearest petal; wide open aperture

105mm macro lens + 1.4X teleconverter; tripod; natural light

Like most images that "break rules"

Don't just bend the rules a little; break them in half

You want the viewer to know it's on purpose, not operator error
______________________________

A lot of viewers (& many judges) don't care for this

And that's all right

Shoot for yourself and don't worry about it

Floral images were my 1st photographic love

It’s now twelve years later and they still are

The variety is endless

I could spend hours with a single flower

And still not exhaust the possibilities


With selective focus, you have lots of options –

1. Depth of field length which depends on

  • Aperture
  • Focal Length
  • Distance from subject

2. Focal point about which DOF is centered

Here are a few examples; focal point circled in red

Click for full screen

6-24-2013 12-16-06 PM


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Echoes

High Key + Selective Focus = Soft “Echoes”

I don’t yearn to visit photo icons

Half Dome at Yosemite for example

Apart from checking the “been there, done that” box

There’s nothing new; all done millions of times

Fortunately, my tastes run to the simple side

Give me some flowers + my camera & I’m happy

.


I’ve seen far fewer images like this next one than

Half Dome, Grand Tetons, NY Skyline,….

or – Yet another snow-capped mountain

reflected in a lake (they all look the same to me)

Of course, floral images aren’t everyone’s cup of tea ;-)

D300_130618_093221__DSC6928 nx wbdl cepseplum25-2

LOOK at ME!! and me, and me

To attract a viewer’s attention

If one abstract flower isn’t enough

How about an echo?

If one echo’s not enough, how about another?

I started without the lower lily

________________________________________________________

Making this image –

Exposure – increased exposure compensation

Until the white background was blown out

Then a bit more until “blinkies” appeared on the flowers

Then – backed off 1/3 stop

Result was + 1.7 EV

Focus – Shot with a macro lens & 1.4X teleconverter

This combo gave a paper-thin depth of field

Distance from nearest flower (with water drop) to the

Farthest (upper left) was several inches

Wide open aperture made the upper just a colored blob

I shot this at f/11, 22, 32 & 45

Wanted to see the effect first hand

The above is the f/45 version

Composition – the key to the result IMO; I wanted

To fill the frame (no cropping, thanks)

More or less even spacing between the

Closest parts of each flower to the next

No overlap or touching

More or less equal distance from the frame and

Water drop from side & bottom

Upper flower from top

This took a lot of “fiddling” & reshooting

 Post-processing – almost none

A very little color contrast adjustment

Using Color Efex Pro’s Contrast Color Range filter

________________________________________________________

Shot indoors

Natural light, tripod, circular polarizer, white background

————

A preference ?

First one or this one?

I like the eye movement better on the 1st one

This one is how it was shot

D300_130618_093221__DSC6928 nx wbdl cepseplum25-1

________________________________________________________

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Image Critiquing: A How-To

Summary – There are lots of ways to critique. Regardless of how you do it – learn to critique. If you don’t know what is & isn’t a good image, how can you hope to ever make one?

I Critique using the “4-C’s”


Do you know how to critique an image? No, not –

WOW! I like that!“.

That’s not a critique. That’s a Flickr comment.

Supportive but not useful if better photography is the ultimate goal.

Even the most well-intentioned critiques can be hard to take – ego’s need to be put aside.

One of the most common reasons given by newbies for not entering club competitions is fear/embarrassment because of criticisms.

A typical image has both good and bad points. Both should be recognized – the good acknowledged and constructive criticism offered for the bad. To be useful, the praise and criticism must be specific, not general – even more specific than

“There’s a problem with the focus”

What & where specifically and why do you think this happened so the maker can avoid the problem in the future

“The background is more in focus than the subject’s eyes. Your focal point was wrong for the shallow depth of field you used.”

Knowing how to critique images is a key step toward becoming a better photographer.

If you don’t know what makes an image good – and bad – how can you hope to make good images?

If you can’t recognize problems when viewing a displayed image, how do expect to see them when looking through your viewfinder?

The most important critique is self-critique of your own images


I use a structured method for critiquing images built around what I call the 4-C’s.

Take a look at this blog’s subtitle at the top of the page

The subtitle is there because I firmly believe that

Mastery of these four elements is key to Photography Improvement.


The 4-C’s

  1. CRAFTSMANSHIP – Using your camera to control exposure, focus and color for a technically perfect image or for the creative image that you want. Key message – putting you in control of the camera & not vice-verse.
  2. COMPOSITION – Making aesthetically pleasing two-dimensional images
  3. CREATIVITY – Making your images YOUR images (and not like everyone else’s) by building on craftsmanship and composition skills
  4. COMMUNICATION – Inserting emotion and feeling into your images. Great artists believed that art sprang from emotion. (A work of art which did not begin in emotion is not art. Paul Cezanne)

The list above is in the order that the C’s should be applied in an a critique.

The list begins with the most basic skills and progresses to the most difficult to master

Good craftsmanship should be a given even for a relative beginner – especially with today’s cameras

Communication on the other hand is very difficult – especially since it’s so viewer dependent

In another sense the list progresses from “objective” criteria through to “subjective”

Craftsmanship elements, color for example, are very objective. Unless the maker is making some artistic statement (see creativity & communication) we all know what color the bride’s skin and gown should be – it’s not a subjective thing.

Communication, on the other hand, is nearly 100% subjective. What “sings” to me may be “nails on a blackboard” to you.


To round out the story, the list is exactly in the opposite order I use when making an image rather than critiquing one.

Making an image begins with Cezanne’s quote – A work of art which did not begin in emotion is not art. If I can see the potential for an image that sings to me, I’m 90% of the way home toward making a good image.

We can’t begin with an everyday scene, craft & compose it in a creative way – and then “glue emotion” to it at the last-minute. It doesn’t happen that way.

Note – “good image” here means one that is good for me. I really don’t care about what others think. Depending on where you are in your photography development journey, you may (or should) care.

Now that I’ve found my singing image, the rest is straight forward. Starting with creativity I try not to make the presentation of my “song” routine & predictable – I want to be creative. My ingredients for creativity are the first 2-C’s (and treating them as the “RULES” of composition and craftsmanship probably won’t get the creative job done – but you do have to know them before you can break them).

The final two steps are relatively easy.

Usually the most difficult composition task is simplifying the image.

Craftsmanship is easy (or it damn well should be else it’s back to the drawing board for you). You HAVE TO reach the point where craftsmanship (using your tools – camera/lens) is instinctive and your camera is an extension of YOU.

If you have to think about it, even for 5 seconds, you’re not ready to be the best photographer you can be. This where practice, practice, practice comes in….

Craftsmanship errors are inexcusable

This is one reason that Craftsmanship comes first in a critique (especially in judging where 75% of all entries must be eliminated; if you can’t do the basics, there’s little reason to go further)

Craftsmanship is essential in terms of making your camera do what your vision requires for this singing image, including bending & breaking rules in the name of creativity


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  • No sidebar? Click here or the blog title at the top of this page.

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OnOne Software’s $99.95 Perfect Effects – FREE

Summary – For a limited time you can download OnOne Software’s $99.95 Perfect Effects 8 for FREE

 

test rename

Nature Trail Walk – open spaces & bright sun

Big mistake – I’m susceptible to sun-poisoning

Today I feel like a truck hit me

Aches & all – like a bad case of flu

No way to feel while on vacation

________________________________________________________

Perfect Effects is one piece (of 8) of OnOne’s Perfect Photo Suite

Recommended

.

Read all about this free download here

[11AM EST 5/7/14] Be patient trying the link

For some reason (site busy?) it doesn’t always work

Not only this free download, but the entire site


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HDR – How it Works & How to Use it Properly

Summary – The clearest explanation of how HDR works I’ve seen. Also uses that explanation to demonstrate why many HDR images look so, well HDR-ish (as opposed to natural).

Another great post

by Ming Thein – a good photographer who is

An even better writer

To be expected if you attended Oxford at 16 ;)


I won’t dwell on my feelings about HDR (not all positive)

Ming pretty much says it all

(BUT – if you really want more – here are my 60 HDR posts)

.

Read his excellent article by clicking on this image

(and learn about dynamic range & zone system at the same time

2014-04-14_9-18-19© Ming Thein

 

 


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  • No sidebar? Click the blog title at the top of this page.

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