How to Critique Photos Effectively

Member and master photographer Mark Laurie from Calgary, AB shares some advice today on submitting your work for critique. Mark is a portrait photographer specializing in nudes, boudoir and interpretive female portraiture and he has 28 accreditations plus numerous print competition awards under his belt. He plays an active role in the PPOC by serving as a mentor for Alberta members that are submitting an accreditation portfolio. Mark reviews accreditation portfolios with members and gives them suggestions for improvements on cropping, retouching, colour balance etc. A photographer's work is their art so it is a scary process to put yourself out there for critique, but Mark has some great advice for every photographer! "Nicolas Marino created this insightful “How to Critique Photos Effectively” for a forum thread. With new members joining and eager to get accreditations, they are turning to the experienced members for advice and critiquing. I have found many of those members nervous on how to do it. The first step a new member takes (or an older member wanting to step up) is a very fragile one. Nicolas offers a delightful path to giving a warm, effective critique that won't sabotage this first critical step. Thank you Nicolas for your generous insight. “There are several tips I can give you. I will start with the most important one which is spending the right time observing and evaluating and image. The more you concentrate on an image, even on those which in the beginning you might think you have nothing to say about, the more you will start finding things you could say about it. Bear in mind that nobody demands you to be a professional giving critique. Start from where you are and base yourself on the things you think you are confident enough to say. Also, you don't need to pinpoint everything, just simply point out the things that you think are the important things to say about the image. For example, maybe you see a photo with focus and coloring problems, and in your opinion you might think you can provide better judgment about either of those, then just focus your critique on those. Now, with all this in mind, then the rest is easy. I will give you a basic and common structure for a good critique. (this is how it was for me in architecture school where each of us had to do this exercise three times a week ,criticizing our classmates' projects) First you start pointing out the good things you see about a photo, you tell the things you think that are working fine, and also it is important that you express what is it about those things that make you like that image, the things that attract and appeal to you. Starting with the pluses is a very important thing to do, it creates good predisposition in the author you are critiquing so he can bear the minuses part better. There might be cases where you think everything is wrong about a photo and you don't like absolutely anything, in that case you could express why you feel that (in a polite and gentle way) Second, you begin with the flaws. These can be compositional, technical, problems with the message, the story, the post processing and things that are making the photograph or the photographer's intention to fail. Here it is crucial that you explain why you think this or that is not working. So once again, for every thing you find, for every WHAT, you have to follow it with a WHY. Pointing out flaws has to be done careful though. You have to be delicate and subtle in the way you say the negative things. Any critique on any artistic manifestation hurts deep inside the artist's soul, very easily. Not that artists are fragile creatures but they are usually more sensible. Third, the last part involves your active part, you are not the observer any more, now you are helping this photographer become better so you come up with your ideas for improvement. For all of the things you pointed until this stage, you can start providing suggestions to make them better, to fix them. From a photoshop tip, to a placement of a focus point, to the POV, etc. Tell the photographer how he can make those flaws that you found, better. One critical thing to consider when doing this, and this is not easy, is to put your mind in the photographer's mind-frame, because you need to help him develop and improve his own idea, not yours. Don't tell him blue is better if he is aiming to convey warmth because that will deflect him from his concept and will confuse him. This takes practice and experience but keep it in mind when providing critique. This is like teaching somebody how to fly on his own, they have to do it their way with your help, but you cannot do it for them, your way. And last but not least, I will tell you the most underestimated feature of critique. Most people are under the impression that receiving critique is the only way that will help them improve their photography that's why we very often see people rushing through, making short and pretty useless comments on other's photos. Well, WRONG! nothing could be further away from reality. The constant exercise of reviewing images with close attention sharpens your ability to see and understand photography better (ideally you are coupling this with reading books on photography and composition on the side), it helps you improve your own skills. Through critiquing others you will then be able to appreciate your own work in a different way, thus you'll be able to be self-critical about yourself which is one of the most important things as well, and something you should strive for to eventually develop your own vision. Apart from giving, there is also reading. Read other people's critiques. You have the luck to be able to read and see what many other pairs of eyes see and think about the same image, it will not only help you learn critique better but you will also see things that you hadn't been able to see yourself, this will broaden your horizons. To sum it up...for critique you always need to point at WHAT first, explain WHY after and tell HOW in the end. Bear in mind, it is not about quantity but quality. It doesn't matter how long you write, what matters is that you comply with those three basic questions and answers. The critique exercise of READING, GIVING and ultimately RECEIVING are all equally important in the process of becoming a better photographer/artist." Now that you are armed with insights that provide a path to an effective but gentle critique, go out and help some one with your guidance. Remember, the process of helping out, actually sharpens your own work. To view more of Mark's work, please visit: Inner Spirit Photography


Nice post. It's good to see a structure to critques from the professional organization I respect the most. It's great to be a member of the PPOC and continue to benefit from the ongoing learning. Brian Merry