How to Critique a Photograph
Note: This document (not in it’s entirety) was reformatted from the October 2014 "In Focus" newsletter of the Morgan Hill Photography Club. See http://morganhillphotographyclub.org/.
Do not point out flaws in someone’s work without the expressed permission of the
Many people think that to "critique" means to point out what is wrong with a photo. That would be plain "criticism." Critiquing means to analyze and evaluate a work by pointing out both its merits and flaws. Although a critique is an opinion, it is somewhat objective in that it is based on a core of common standards.
The key is to provide specific feedback. Compliments are always nice to receive, but they do little more than boost the ego. If you like a photo, comment on exactly why it pleases you. If you perceive a flaw in a photograph, point it out and suggest how it might be improved. Specific feedback helps the photographer become a better photographer.
Here is a outline that will help you focus a critical eye on a photograph (your own or another’s). You don’t have to use the entire outline on one photo. Choose the items that are most pertinent.
1. Technical Quality
• Exposure: Are any areas over or under exposed? How might the photographer prevent or fix this in the future?
• Focus: Is the main subject in sharp focus? If not, does this detract from the photo?
• Depth of Field: Note whether the DOF is shallow or deep. Does it work for this shot?
• Color: Is the white balance set correctly, or is there an odd color cast to the photo? Are the colors over (or under) saturated? If it’s a B&W photo, is there true black and true white, with a full tonal range in between, or is the photo mostly gray
• Main subject: Where is the main subject in the frame? Would it be stronger in a different spot?
• Foreground: Is there a foreground object to add interest and a sense of depth (landscapes)?
• Horizon: Is the horizon straight?
• Clutter: Is there clutter in the frame, especially around the border, that detracts from the main subject? Could it be removed by shooting from a different perspective, or by cloning?
• Bright areas: Are there bright areas that pull the eye away from the subject or out of the frame?
• Space: Does each significant object in the frame have its own space or do they overlap?
• Frames: Is every object in the frame complete, or are any partially cut off?
• Visual interest: Did the photographer add visual interest with diagonal lines, implied shapes, or curves? Are there leading lines that pull the viewer into the photograph?
• Balance: Is the composition balanced (light vs. dark, big vs. little, foreground vs. middle & back grounds, etc.)?
3. Emotional Appeal
• Feeling: How does the photograph make you feel?
• Story: Does the photograph tell an effective story? If not, why not?
• Message: Do you feel like the photographer communicated his/her intended message? How?
Critiquing provides benefit for both the reviewer and the photographer. As you learn to give effective feedback to others’ photographs, you will naturally start to analyze your own photographs with the same analytical eye. Remember that a critique is no more a learning tool. As a photographer you can evaluate the feedback and accept it or reject it. You’ll get as much out of the process as you allow.