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.

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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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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
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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

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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

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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

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Shot indoors

Natural light, tripod, circular polarizer, white background

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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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PIB general topics

Summary – Weekly post categories; do each category once a week

  • Image capture
  • Abstracts
  • Visual design
  • Color management & workflow
  • Post processing including: How-did-you-make that images, & Nik filters
  • B&W
  • Misc

“People react primarily to direct experience and not to abstractions; it is very rare to find anyone who can become emotionally involved with an abstraction.” Stanley Kubrick


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Is this is the beginning of the end?

Summary – After nearly 1,000 days without missing a post, I’m running out of steam – and topics. Considering shifting to a more relaxed posting schedule.


For Joe

I’m sending you a big bouquet of roses

Last week was anniversary #53, wife’s birthday #39 😉 and Mother’s Day

For that threesome, my wife got two-dozen roses from our son


 I don’t know if it’s worth continuing with the every day routine

Readership is pretty constant, just passed 500,00 views, but

Is anyone, including me, getting anything from

Not missing the occasional day or two once in a while

There are other things that I could be doing

Although I’ve been retired for 20 years

It’s almost like working on a real job

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Do NOT Photograph with A Black Background

Summary – Why not? Because I’m following in Amazon’s footsteps. If they got a patent for photographs made with a white background, I’m getting one for black – see it here. 😉


Rollover the image to see my patented version

Take that, Amazon

D300_140517_093235__DSC1552 cep1D300_140517_093336__DSC1555 cep1

 By any other name background, still a rose

Two separate captures (really)

One with white & the other a black background

🙂

2014-05-17_16-16-371:1 macro lens, as captured without cropping

Above shooting data is for the black background

White: 1 sec with EV = 0

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Do you have a preference?

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