Photo Notes A place to talk about making images.

January 10, 2014


Filed under: Looking at Photographs,Photographic Education — John Siskin @ 3:55 pm

To start I just want to quickly remind you about the classes: An Introduction to Photographic Lighting, Portrait Lighting on Location and in the Studio and Getting Started in Commercial Photography and the books:

I went to the blog archive to find an entry about doing critiques, and I realized I hadn’t posted anything about this topic. Considering how may critiques I’ve written for my BetterPhoto classes, it surprised me that I haven’t done a blog entry about this topic. I’m continuing to build a portfolio class here in Indianapolis, and so this is an important topic. The pictures this week are from a shoot I did for the Indianapolis Hilton. I love shooting hotels!

A critique is different from a review. A review is done for an audience that hasn’t experienced the subject of the review. So it can be useful to give a negative review, perhaps even something scathing, because it will keep the reader from experiencing something bad. A critique is designed to give the creator of the work, a photographer in this case, information about how you respond to the image and helpful information about the image. So a review might say these are wonderful luminous images, a critique would say more. Perhaps: “I respond to the feeling of light in this image. I think you choose your subject matter well. I like the choice of paper, and the muted color palette of the image. You might have cropped tighter.” Well you get the idea.

I think the first thing you say about an image should be positive, but, frankly, that isn’t always the first part of a critique I write. One of the advantages of writing critiques is that you can organize your thoughts while you construct the critique. When you are doing a spoken critique, or participating in a class critique, you want to organize your thoughts before you begin. Certainly you don’t want to discourage anybody when you mean to help her/him. I try to start by talking about my emotional response to the image, if I have one. I want to say that I have a good feeling about the image, or a strong feeling, and to say why. So I might say that a shot of a frozen lake gives me a strong feeling of cold and distance, which might not sound good on its own, but matches the goal the photographer had for the image. One thing to keep in mind is that the emotion impact of a photograph is a big part of what a photographer wants to create in an image. Also you can create a bleak image, or a positive image, from pleasant elements by manipulating light and exposure. One of the important things is to discuss the impact of an image: are the feelings from an image mild or wild?

The next thing to discuss is what you might be able to do to strengthen the image. I like to start by discussing things that can be done with the existing image, that is things you can change in post-processing. The first, and most important, thing is cropping. I have seen so many images that are weakened simply because the photographer hasn’t cropped the image. I try to shoot with a little extra room around my image, so I expect to crop every shot that I work with. I am surprised that so many people show images that they haven’t cropped. When I do a critique on-line I’ll also be talking about the color, contrast and sharpening as well as anything else you can do in post. If I am doing an in-person critique I will talk about presentation as well. If you show me a 4X6” print of a shot I won’t thing you are as committed to your work as when you show me an 11X14 with a mat. If you aren’t committed to your work why would you expect people to take it seriously? Some images have to be big in order to work well. I have friend in Los Angeles who makes very complex images that are really quite wonderful. His prints are 20X30”, and work quite well because you can examine all the details in the big print. However if you look at these images on his website the images suffer a lot because of the small size. In addition to size I will discuss the matting and framing, as well as other presentation details.

The last section of my critiques is devoted to items that can only apply to making new shots. So I might say if you work with a back lit subject outdoors you might want to use flash fill. I may even suggest that flash fill is usually a good idea outdoors. I also find myself discussing the way you load the frame. Perhaps I’ll say something about keeping empty space on the right side of the frame or keeping the subject’s hands in a shot. This is a good time to add information about any technique.

If you’d like me to critique your shot then you might want to come to my portfolio class on Monday January 13. Or if you can’t get to Indianapolis you can take one of my BetterPhoto classes:
An Introduction to Photographic Lighting
Portrait Lighting on Location and in the Studio
Getting Started in Commercial Photography.


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