How to Critique a Photograph

In order to improve your photography, you need to become your own worst critic. The easiest way to become a great photographer is to only share your best work. But how do you identify your best work? There are websites such as r/photocritique that you can upload your images to. If you want me to review your image, drop me a message here. On with the journey…

Why critique a photograph?

Developing this skill is essential. Over the years I have developed a workflow to help me identify areas of an image to assess. This helps identify if the image is one “worth” sharing. Read through the following questions and look through your favourite images. See where they succeed, and where they fail. Use each failure as an opportunity for improvement.

Does the Image tell a Story?

What does the photo say to you? For example, you may have a photograph of a great subject. But does this subject tell the complete story? Is there a way you can photograph the subject in another way to add more context? Does your photography invoke any emotions in you? If you are trying to tell a story with a single image then this is very important.

Photography is all about Light!

The word Photography is derived from Greek words phos and graphé which mean light and drawing respectively. Keep that in mind when you are out shooting.

In photography, light is everything. You should always be looking at the light sources in your environment. Try to determine how they will affect your images. The best way to fast track this is by shooting film (or replicating shooting film with your DSLR). With film, you are forced to plan for the light. A fixed (low) ISO and limited editing possibilities ensure you think about how the subject is lit.

Always consider the colour of light, the harshness of light, the direction of light. Analyse how it falls across the frame. Did you capture it from the right angle or perhaps another angle would have made a better image? Was there a dull light or a lack of light? What would you do if you got to shoot the image again?

How to get perfect Exposures

There is no excuse for messing up the exposure these days. So many of the decisions can be left to the processor in the camera. A quick review of the LCD (and Histogram) will tell you where your exposure is. Compared to the film days this is a walk in the park!

Ensure that you push the exposure as far towards the highlights as possible without causing areas of overexposure. You can find these by turning on highlight warnings in the camera’s settings. I have written an article on exposures here if you need a more in-depth explanation.

Is the image sharp?

The sharpness of an image is the result of a combination of the lens quality, and focus accuracy. The focus is the most important technical ability that you can master. If using autofocus you need to become one with the abilities of the focus system. For example, I know on my Canon that autofocus will bite Faster if I aim at a point where dark and light contrast. Like the edge of a subjects eye or the outline of the subject against the background.

Sharpness can be added after the fact in your photo editor. But, post-processed sharpness cannot fix the actual focus of an image. It will just improve the contrast between dark and light images. The blur will remain.

Improve Perspective in Photography

Is your image from an interesting perspective? Have you taken the photo at eye height (a view that we are accustomed to) or is it from an obscure perspective. This can be achieved by using a wide angle or telephoto lenses, by getting low or up high.

Does the perspective work for the subject that you are photographing? Does it provide the best point of view? Does the perspective change the story or does it distort the truth?

Check the Composition/Framing

Look at your photograph and take a mental note of how your eye is drawn into/across the image. This is highly important. Does your eye become drawn to the subject or does it wander around the image and float off the edge. Consider cropping the image to simplify and constrain your eye movement.

Assess how your images comply or break the rule of thirds and other standard photographic rules. If you break them you had better have a good reason!

Break down the Foreground and Background

Have you considered the foreground and background when taking the image? Is there a clear separation between the foreground and the background or do they bleed into one another? Have you thrown the background out of focus by using a wider aperture removing it completely? If this is the case is the subject tack sharp or did you miss focus.

Make sure to clearly identify the foreground, middle ground and background. Assess them separately for items that you may want to remove in post-processing. Always run your eye around the frame to identify parts of the image that pull the eye out. We want eyes on the subject as much as possible!

Is there any Contrast?

There are two types of contrast that your image can have. Tonal contrast (black and white) and colour contrast (opposite end of a colour wheel). Tonal contrast is the contrast between dark and light parts of an image. Shooting Black and white is a great way to progress at this.

An example of this would be a person dressed in white standing against a dark background. A great example of colour contrast could be a red sailboat on a blue ocean. Did you consider any form of contrast in your image or is there a distinct lack of contrast?

What made you take the image?

Look at the image and think what is good about your image, what is bad and ask how you could improve it? Why did you take the image in the first place? What drew your eye? Did you capture what you intended to capture or was the end result some sort of happy accident?

Conclusion

After looking at an image and considering all of the above, you will realise that the majority of your images have flaws. There are very few perfect images out there (if any). We can transition closer to a perfect image through editing, but it all starts with the initial capture.

As you begin to critique your images more and more you will begin to pull the critique process further and further forward in your workflow. The goal is for you to begin critiquing your images before you put the camera up to your eye.

I want you to be able to look past the technical parts of your camera. You should be able to look at a scene with an image in mind and just put your camera to your eye, adjust anything that needs adjusting to achieve your creative thinking (Aperture, ISO and/or Shutter Speed) then take the image. But creative thinking should happen before you fiddle with your camera. You should know what you want, then take it.

Free Lightroom Presets so you can take control now.

Homework

Post a link below to a social media post where you critique one of your images. Perhaps on a Twitter post or on Instagram. I will take some time to comment and help critique your images too in the comments below your image. We can start to build a photographer help photographer network in the comments below.

If you would like my help just let me know I am happy to help you out. You can send me an email via the contact page. Or you can get in touch with me via any of the social pipes below. You can check out my VLOGS to see what I am up to at the moment. I try to upload as often as possible.

Thanks for reading! Stay safe 🙂