Learning to critique photographs effectively is critically important to becoming a better photographer. It might not be so easy to critique your own work… but it’s a valuable skill. I am my own worst critic. I’ve learned to look objectively at my own photographs and think about how I could make it better. But it goes way beyond that! Once you are good at critique, you’ll find yourself critiquing your own work before you even release the shutter! When I’m out in the field with my camera, I look through my viewfinder and critique my work right there! I’m always looking for ways to make the photo better.
Of course, hearing someone else say something negative about your work can be painful… but if you can look past that and really consider what other’s have to say, you can learn so much! If someone says they don’t like your work, ask them if they can identify the flaws they see. When someone offers advice, you don’t have to follow it… but make sure you are listening. There might be some value in what they say. The trick is in knowing when to toss the advice, and when to take it.
When you are asked to critique someone else’s work, keep a few basic guidelines in mind. First, don’t offer a critique unless the photographer asks for it. It’s not usually appropriate to offer unsolicited advice to another artist. Second, make sure you keep your critique constructive. Telling someone you don’t like their photo is not very helpful at all. Instead, be specific about the flaws you see and what they might be able to do to make the photo better. And finally, it really helps to include some positive comments along with your suggestions for improvement. A simple rule of thumb: Start and finish positive… and include constructive suggestions for improvement in the middle.
Here’s are a couple of examples of critiques for an imaginary photo:
Bad Critique: “This is a really ugly photo. I’ve been there – and your photo doesn’t do the location justice at all.”
Good Critique: “The details in this shot are really nice. I’d consider straightening the horizon, since the photo is tilted a little bit. I also find the rock on the right a little distracting. Cropping it out would make for a simpler composition. Nice job with exposure and processing! Your colors look great!”
If you are struggling with what to say, do what I do when I judge images for competitions. I try to comment on these three things: Technical Merit, Creativity, and Impact.
Now – it’s time to go get some practice! I’ve posed this photo for critique in the community forums. Go join in the discussion!
And remember… Keep your critiques constructive.