Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Photo Criticism 101

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I spend a lot of time on the internet. Probably too much time but that's another story. A significant amount of my web time is spent on photography forums, photography Facebook group pages, those sorts of places. I love talking about photography! I love sharing my photography! I even love getting constructive criticisms of my photography!

New-ish and less-skilled photographers often go out of their way to ask me to critique their photos. I take that as a compliment because it means a couple of complimentary things: First, that they value my judgment, my skills, and my eye.  Second, they trust I'll offer more than criticisms, I'll offer constructive criticisms.

Unfortunately, I often see criticisms by photographers who are nearly skill-less in giving constructive criticisms. They "get" the criticism part, it's the constructive part they seem not to have a clue about.  Some of them  provide criticisms that are so totally void of the first "C" in the initials, "CC,"  it makes me wince. (The first "C" being the "Constructive" part of Constructive Criticism... but you already knew that. At least, I hope you did.)  At the risk of sounding like a skill-less critic, ignoring the first "C" in "CC" sucks.

Just because you think a photo sucks, it's not constructive criticism to simply comment that the photo sucks or to comment in other ways that basically say the same thing, albeit in different words. Often enough, those different words don't do much to soften the criticisms to anything much less harsh than, "your photo sucks," whether the less-skilled critic realizes it or not.

You might be thinking, "Hey Jimmy! WTF do you know about giving critiques? You're a shooter, not a photography critic."

You're right.


Years ago, in what seems like another lifetime, I worked for a Fortune 500 aerospace corporation. I was their in-house photographer and videographer. It wasn't a full-time job, even though I was employed full-time. You see, there wasn't quite enough photography and video work to keep me constantly busy five days a week, eight hours a day. So, the corporate brain trust (AKA senior management) decided to find some other work for me to do in my spare time, i.e., in addition to my photo/video work.

Some senior management guys apparently noticed or thought that I was pretty good in front of groups; speaking in front of groups, that is. So, they decided I'd make a decent trainer: a supervisory skills trainer. Go figure, right? They decided they wanted me to train others in what are called supervisory soft skills. Skills that aren't of a technical nature.  For managers and supervisors, i.e., those people who directly manage and supervise other workers, the soft skills come under the umbrella heading of people skills. And one of the most important soft/people skills for supervisors and managers to learn is how to give -- you guessed it --  constructive criticism.

So, the corporate brain trust sent me to a management school to learn to school managers and supervisors in skills that would help them become better managers and supervisors. As a result, in addition to my work with cameras in my hands, they also put my mouth to work in front of groups of managers and supervisors.

I'm not going to go through all the components of giving constructive criticism to others. Instead, I'll simply give you a few highlights. You can even customize these highlights for your soft skill techniques when directing models. 

When offering constructive photo criticisms, it's important to not only identify what might be wrong with an image or what could be improved, but also to offer up what's right with the image or what's good about it. For those of you who prefer to learn  things in a more straight-forward, by-the-numbers, kind of way, here's Constructive Criticism 101 broken down into three, simple, components:

1. First, tell the person whose photo your constructively criticizing what you like about the photo or what's positive about it.

2. Next, tell them what you believe needs improvement or what appears to be wrong with the image, leastwise in your opinion. (All critiques are more subjective than objective, after all.)

3. Finally, tell the person you're offering a photo critique something else you like about the photo or something else they did that's positive.

Pardon my French but how fucking hard is that???

The pretty girl at the top is a Brazilian model I shot a while back. I'll play the geezer card and admit I can't remember her name. I'll also play the lazy card cuz I'm too lazy to go through a bunch of stuff to figure out her name.


Grind said...

Umm i fell touched in an inter galactic way

Anonymous said...

A couple of years ago you cc a model photo I took. You noted the horizon wasn't horizontal. Ever since then I've always checked my horizon! Usually I correct it in post processing, but it was a great observation that improved my photography. Thanks!

Jlrimages said...

Wise comments Jimmy. I'd add that it helps to make the criticism as specific as you can, and possibly offer a solution to fix the problem you've pointed out.