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 Walk – A Gallery

Re-post: Scenes from a walk in a light snow. Some images were processed in an experiment to create a high-key, extreme-contrast effect – an etching-like look.

.

001D300-_131210_102309__DSC9174_1blog

A bit of High Key


In chronological order

A variety of post-processing experiments

Some are “extreme B&W” (think “Etching“)

Click on any image for a slide show


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The Digital Zone System – An “e-Book”

Photography Improvement

The Zone System is a framework

That allows us to convert captured luminance values

To the values as we want them to be

Values that match our visualization of the subject

________________________________________________________

The above is a paraphrase of this quote by Ansel Adams.

As long as we must be able to work from a range of subject luminances that are to be represented as we want them to be by a range of gray values (or color values) in a print, the Zone System seems certain to provide an extremely useful framework.

As you read these posts, recognize that Ansel Adams’ images –

Reflected what he felt and

Not a literal reflection of reality

Even though he is often thought of as the paragon of

Realistic, straight photography

Nothing is further from the truth

as he himself stated repeatedly

Reality vs. his images, in his words –

….creativity in photography…

View original post 244 more words

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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Nature Photos – The Appeal of Water

Summary – A quick glance at the early nature exhibit entries reveals a strong attraction for water based subject matter – more than 2 out of every 3 entries at this time with over half of those being water falls.



COME ONE, COME ALL

Enter the Nature ExhibitDetails here

Check out the Nature Exhibit entries to date.



Vernal Falls

Now You See Me (and then you don’t)

An “occasional” falls – mainly spring

Spring in the Great Smoky Mountains NP

Compare with #10 below for the same location

My photo is above; #10 is not mine


Click on image for full size gallery

2014-05-02_7-10-16

Water

A favorite entry subject thus far (70%)

AND – Over 1/2 of those are water falls (nearly 40% of the total)

[Update – total entries are now 15; #14 is water, #15 not]


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Virginia Bluebells – What Could be More Beautiful

Summary – A gallery of pretty pictures of one of my favorite spring flowers. © Moi

 


COME ONE, COME ALL

Enter the Nature ExhibitDetails here

Check out the Nature Exhibit entries to date

 


.

Stone Bridge

Manassas National Battlefield  Park

The flowers are less than 12″ above the ground

Imagine where I was with camera & tripod to make these

Click on any image for a full screen slide show

 

 

.


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Focus Stacking – Illustration of Results

Summary – A few days ago I wrote about the Depth of Field  and Diffraction tradeoff. I mentioned focus stacking as an alternative. Here are illustrative examples.

 


COME ONE, COME ALL

Enter the Nature ExhibitDetails here

Check out the Nature Exhibit entries to date

 


Roll mouse to see aperture extremes
f/45 and f/3.8

002D300-_140424_150318__DSC1247_orig-Editblog001D300-_140424_150257__DSC1246_orig-Editblog

Each image is a single exposure (not stacked)
Illustrates maximum depth of field for this setup
Nikon D300, Nikkor 105mm 1:1 macro, tripod, remote release


About this post

You want everything from near to far in focus, but

You don’t want to sacrifice sharpness for depth of field

To accomplish this –

You need focus stacking software

(But mostly for macros or extreme closeups, less so landscapes)

.

This is a follow-up to this post

.


For detailed info

Search for focus stacking as a general topic, or

Search for Helicon Focus or Zerene Stacker

Two popular programs I used for this post

My purpose is not to provide a focus stacking tutorial

The two program sites listed above do that

Nor is it to review focus stacking programs

Web reviews cite the two above as among the best

Free 30-day trials are available

Be your own judge

I think they’re a bit pricey

Unless you really need them

There also is a free program that I didn’t try


In contrast to the above rollover

Here is the result of a four-exposure stack

Click for full screen

You need it to actually see differences

Left to right

Single exposure; stack using Helicon; stack using Zerene

The red X’s show where I focused

Left image @ f/36 – max. DOF, max. Diffraction

Each stack @f/8 – min. diffraction (DOF through stack software)

2014-04-24_14-38-35

Figure Zero

Slight differences can be seen between

The single exposure and the stacks &

Between the two different stack programs themselves

I used default settings throughout

Might be able to better with fussing, but

I’d rather not have to spend the time (nor the $100 or more)


OK – Here’s an example that

Shows the utility of focus stacking software

.

Click image for full screen – not very useful without doing so

Left is single exposure followed by Helicon & Zerene

For the single exposure – f/36, focused on the 6 in the 16

Stacks – 19 exposures each at f/8

Focus – roughly equal steps along the ruler from front to back

2014-04-24_14-36-03

Fig 1.

Something to note – image gets cropped during stacking

(Why? Web search reveals all 😉 )

It’s clear that stacking greatly enhances DOF over the 1-exposure

——————————-

The next three images are 1:1 blow-ups of Fig 1.

Fig. 2 is centered near the single exposure’s focus point

Difference between single & stacks minimal (as expected)

2014-04-24_14-33-59

Fig. 2

——————————-

Fig. 3 (close end of ruler) shows

1 – Improved focus due to stacking

2 – Loss of detail in center image along right side

As compared to the right-hand image

(it’s easy to see if you click for full size)

This is an observation occasionally seen in reviews

2014-04-24_14-29-03

Fig.3

——————————-

Fig. 4 (off in the distance) shows

1 – Dramatic focus improvement using stacking

2 – Here, the center version appears sharper

(reversing the perceived quality at the near end in Fig.3)

2014-04-24_14-31-15

Fig.4

 


So there you have it –

The previous post explaining

You can’t have sharp focus from zero to infinity

With a single exposure

While simultaneously maintaining perfect sharpness

Today’s post provides an alternative

Which, while valuable for some macro work

Adds marginal value to non-macro work

 As shown in Figure Zero

Landscapes using a telephoto lens and

With important foreground & background matter

May be an exception to macro-only

More to follow in a few days

IF anyone is interested ??

 


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