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 –Β or you get your money back πŸ˜‰


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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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

β€œPeople 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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Another option – Click on the β€œFollow” button at the bottom right of the screen.

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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.

Another option – Click on the β€œFollow” button at the bottom right of the screen.

  • Or –Β β€œFollow” in your admin bar, displayed at the top of the screen, for logged-in WordPress.com users.

Make your computer better than new

Summary – As photographers, we rely heavily on our computers. Here’s a tip to speed up your system ten-fold. My four-year old laptop is now faster than the day I got it. πŸ˜‰

Roll mouse to see the original capture

D800E_140511_111227__DSC2781 sep_aepD800E_140511_111227__DSC2781

Where Old Signs Go to Die

A possible case where analog film effects work

Converted to B&W in Silver Efex Pro

Created the plate camera look with Analog Efex Pro


There’s the old adage –

A chain is only as strong as its weakest link

To that I’d add –

Your computer is only as fast as its slowest component

In most computers that component is

The primary hard disk drive

If you use Windows, check your Windows Experience Index

Adding a solid state drive (SSD) improved my

Disk data transfer rate from 5.2 to 7.8 (scale of 1 to 7.9)

2014-05-13_7-44-18

On a more practical note, tasks that took minutes, e.g.

Booting, load a large data base, file transfers, etc.

Are now easily 10X or more faster

Start-up is now ~20 seconds, not 3+ minutes πŸ™‚

Of particular note is caching of images for post-processing

A large SSD cache isΒ  almost as good

As having the image in RAM memory

My SSD is 1 TB; dwarfs the PC’s 8GB of RAM

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Try it – You’ll like it

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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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Artistic Intent & Depth of Field

Summary – Depth of field is a powerful technique when it comes to artistic intent. No, everything does not have to be in sharp focus – unless you’re a competition judge πŸ˜‰


001D300-_140421_093321__DSC1021_cep brdrblog

Spring Has Sprung (neighbor’s dogwood 4/21/14)

To each his own, but for me shallow depth of field isΒ artsy

Without it, backgrounds are distracting & the rest is too busy

I want to show you the subject – with no doubt what & where it is

And reduce the rest to soft pleasing context


Scroll over the following images to see aperture setting
Click on image for slide show

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Changing Aperture; Fixed Focus Point

Changing Aperture; Fixed Focus Point

Β Changing Aperture; Fixed Focus Point

Fixed Aperture; Changed Focus Point

Easter Lily in my sun room 4/21/14


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