I’ve said elsewhere on this site that I photograph for myself. My motive for pressing the shutter is to satisfy my own desires. Selfish? Of course, but I think this attitude is shared by many amateurs. We are our own clients, and one should always strive to satisfy the client.
That doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate thoughtful consideration by others, particularly photographers whom I respect. I seek their evaluations and opinions because I believe it will improve my work. Again, I think this attitude is common among enthusiasts.
For a short time I was involved with an informal group of photographers who critiqued each other’s work. Tragically this was cut short by the very untimely death of the organizer, and I miss those sessions more than I can say.
Because I’m easily distracted, I prepared for myself a critique checklist–more of a reminder–so I would stay on topic. And here it is.
(Talking to myself about critiquing photographs.)
- Every time a photographer shares his work, he’s exposing a bit of his soul. It takes a lot of courage to do that. Respect that courage.
- Compliment if appropriate; critique only if asked.
- There’s always something good in every photograph. Find it and acknowledge it first.
- Do no harm. As another critique guide, written in 1962, said, “Remember the boy scouts. A boy scout always intended to get the old lady safely across the street.”
- Try to express, in clear language, what a photograph is saying to you: what emotions or impressions you have when viewing it. A perfectly acceptable answer is, “I don’t get it,“ but the photographer was driven to press the shutter. He deserves your attention.
- Once you have figured out what you think the photograph is saying, try to figure out what enhances or detracts from that impression. Then say it.
- Try to figure out what the photographer was trying to communicate. This may or may not be the same as what you are reading from the shot.
- Try to set aside your judgments about the subject. Even if you think that grand landscapes, wildlife shots, and—God help us—flower photos are boring as hell, others may not. Just because you think Rhein II is a piece of crap, remember that it sold for over $3 million. Obviously your opinion may not be the consensus.
- This is not the time to say how you would have shot the photo, because you didn’t.
- Craft is important, but it is not the most important factor. Remember that Migrant Mother is out of focus, and you just wish you had something that good.
- Okay, we get it: you’re a guy, and guys fix things. Unless specifically asked, don’t try to fix it. It may not be broken.
- If you ever start a sentence with “If I had shot it…” or the passive-aggressive equivalent, “Did you try…” slap yourself silly. You weren’t there. You don’t know the circumstances that the photographer faced. Both are arrogant ways of saying that you think there’s something wrong and you wouldn’t have made that mistake. It’s not your photograph so don’t tell the photographer how to shoot.
- Many times “fixes” disguise what you should be saying. “You might try cropping” is a stand-in for “I think your composition is unbalanced” or “that disembodied hand sticking in the frame really bugs me.” “Did you try it in black and white” often means either “You’ve got a strong composition, but the color is distracting” (good) or “the color is overwhelming everything else in the photograph, but the composition isn’t very good” (bad). Either way, say what you mean.
- Submit gracefully when others critique your work. Don’t try to explain or make excuses. And remember that above all, you ain’t gonna please everyone.