Learn to Critique Photos {Beginner Photography Class}

Learn to Critique Photos

Here in the beginning of this series there’s going to be a pile of super informative posts.  It’s a necessary evil.  Without knowing about your camera and why it does what it does, you’re not able to utilize it to the fullest.  But I don’t want you to just be sitting here absorbing all this information and not practicing and growing.  So while I’m preparing a post on how cameras work and the types of cameras out there, we’re going to learn to critique photos.  Starting with self-critique.

Critique sort of gives me the heebie jeebies.  You know the kind of feeling where even the most powerful antiperspirant in the universe will not be any aid to you whatsoever. Oh, wait… maybe I’m the only one who sweats like a marathon runner in these situations.  I digress. Ahem.

No matter how much we fear critique, we must understand that constructive criticism is the quickest road to growth. I know that when my loving friends point out sin in my life, not only do I recognize my error faster, but I’m able to identify both the cause and the solution relatively quickly with their help.  This same process occurs in photography critique.

When you can clearly state what you like about a photograph, clearly state what could be improved in a photograph, and give clear suggestions for improvement (whether on your own photo or on someone else’s photo), you’re able to improve each shot you take.  Additionally, recognizing what you love about each photograph will help you develop a consistent style.

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Assignment #1

So here’s your mission possible.  Over the next three weeks, I want you to pull out your camera and use it for 5-10 minutes each day.  Take photos of whatever your heart desires.  Flowers, trees, tickle fights with your kiddos, sleeping babies, your sink full of dirty dishes, your sister’s jewelry collection.  The sky is the limit!  (really… some images of the sky might be rocking awesome and very challenging to capture).  Record whatever it is you love to photograph most.

On the last few days in this three week period, I want you to pick 5-10 images that are your very favorite. You can edit if you’re familiar with editing or just leave them straight out of the camera (SOOC).  Pick the images that make your soul sing and slap them into a blog post (or Flikr album for those of you who may not blog). Get them in chronological order of the date/time they were taken. You might find that all your images were shot on the same day and are part of a story. You may find that your images are vastly different, some dark and moody with others whimsical and ethereal.  That’s totally okay.  Just pick your favorites.

Under each picture write a sentence or two about what you love most about that image.  Was it the way the sun light just seems so warm and inviting?  Was it the emotion captured?  Was it an emotion that your image evoked in you? Was it the way your eye feels drawn to some part of the image that you might not have even noticed when you clicked the shutter?

Now take a deep breath, put on a good coat of your favorite antiperspirant, and look at those photos with a critical eye.  Is your focus sharp?  Do the colors seem funky and maybe too orange or too blue? Is there something distracting in the background?  Do you wish your subjects were in a different part of the frame?  Is the image darker than your eye saw it?  Is the image too light?  Is your subject squinting?  Does it look like a tree branch is growing out of your subjects head?  Did you over edit a certain area (if you are able to ice skate on your subjects sparkling eyes… you might have over sharpened)?

The Oreo Cookie when you Learn to Critique Photos

I’m a firm believer that when you critique anyone on anything you need to make an Oreo cookie. Good, not so good, and good.  Hearing just the bad doesn’t always motivate me to change. Hearing only the bad might make me angry or resentful.  I might feel hurt or hopeless that I could ever change.  But hearing good, not so good, and good again, lets me know that the person giving the critique cares for me, sees an area of needing growth, and also recognizes my efforts.  I feel both humbled and encouraged.

After you’ve told us why the photo is your favorite and recognized areas that might need growth, I want you to go back and look for the good.  Compare the photo to ones you took earlier in the three weeks.  Did your skills grow? How?  Did you manage to freeze the action of that tickle fight where you hadn’t managed to before?  Did you blur out what might have been a distracting background?  Did you apply something you had just learned while completing the mini homework from the two Friday articles? What else makes this photograph good?

Turning in your Assignment

On Tuesday January 29th, 2013, I want you to be super brave and click publish on this blog post or Flikr album.  I’m going to host a link up here so we can all view each other’s work. You’ll be instructed to visit the sites of the two people before you and pick one of their images to practice giving constructive criticism to another person.  Don’t skip this step!  First, commenting on someone’s post is going to help build this community.  Second, practicing critique is going to help you look at a photo beyond the initial emotional impact.  Third, openly receiving someone’s critique is the quickest way to grow.

Now here’s the last thing I want you to hear: There are certain areas of art that are always pure opinion or a matter of personal style.  I don’t want you to be shattered if someone thinks your image is too dark, but you like dark images.  I like my images bright and sun-drenched, but that doesn’t mean that I can’t adore The Sleeping Willow’s darker, moodier, and whimsical images of her children; we simply have a difference in style.

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Learn to Critique Photos

All of these images are Hannah’s from The Sleeping Willow. They’re so different from my style exhibited above and I adore each of them!

Don’t be shattered when someone comments on something you think is integral to your style. That said, please be humble enough to listen and look for the hint of truth in what they said.

Most of all, I want you to spend these three weeks exploring and having fun.  I can’t wait to see what you love to photograph!