The Art of Photographic Critique (a.k.a. constructive criticism)

Discussion in 'Photographic Discussions' started by Peeb, Aug 5, 2017.

  1. Peeb

    Peeb Semi-automatic Mediocrity Generator Supporting Member

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    Here is an interest and (to me) helpful discussion of constructive criticism with some specific examples of photo criticism:
    A Crash Course in The Art of Constructive Critique


    Would you tend to agree or disagree?

    I was taught that criticism should be structured like an oreo cookie:

    • First something good to say
    • Next, point out the flaws
    • End with a positive aspect
    Always made sense to me, anyhow.


     
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  2. zombiesniper

    zombiesniper The camera takes the Pic. I just point the way. Supporting Member

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    The part I always struggle with is "CC welcome".

    If the photographer is that lazy with the question and background info, I'll tend to be just as lazy with the advice. This leads me to not bother.

    A good critique to me starts with some knowledge about the shoot and the intended outcome, as well as where the OP thinks they may want assistance. I may see 20 things wrong or in need of help but if the OP is working on light placement then that is what I should focus on.

    So to start a good CC comes from an effort put in by the OP to frame what should be the focus of the critique.

    Example:

    Looking for some CC on my photo.
    This was taken in my living room using two 160 Wattsecond monolights.
    Each light was placed at 6' and 45deg from the subject at half power.
    Camera 5D MK4
    Canon 70-200 F2.8 @ 85mm F8
    Subject was 2' in front of the backdrop.

    The purpose of this shoot was to get a business headshot.
    The issue I am having is that the lighting looks flat. I am looking for suggestions to help with this.

    PHOTO.

    With the above you have nearly everything you need for an accurate assessment of where the OP can improve. Yes you may add one or more other suggestions but at least you know exactly where to start.

    As for the assessment.
    I do agree with some of the article but some of these things are just common sense. "That sucks!" Is only a way to get into a fight. Nobody listens to someone that tells them they/thier work sucks. Pointing out an issue or problem without knowing how to solve it is just hot air and provides nothing.

    My simple method for giving an assessment is.
    Describe the issue giving the possible reason/reasons it could have happened as well as providing at least one possible solutions. If the OP has provided guidance on an aspect of the photo I will try and concentrate my efforts there.

    Example:

    OP, based on the info you have provided the flat lighting is likely due to the fact that the light is perfectly even in power and placement which will in turn make your image look flat. Try starting with just your Main/Key light. Get this set up to the required placement and exposure.
    Once this has been done bring in the Fill light at half the power of the key light and see if this is the look you are going for. Keep adjusting the fill light until you are satisfied.
    Another thing I would likely advise is to practice with a single light until every aspect of single studio light is understood. Then bring in a second/third etc. I may also suggest a book.
    At this point I may suggest any other issue I may have noticed.
    Lastly I would encourage the OP to try to shoot it again and come back with an update.
     
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  3. Peeb

    Peeb Semi-automatic Mediocrity Generator Supporting Member

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    The only CC I've ever gotten on TPF that gave me any heartburn was criticism that cut to the error like a lazer- without any indication that the image had merit otherwise.

    I'll agree with @zombiesniper that vague requests for CC are difficult to know what to do with- but often a noob doesn't even know what is wrong- just 'something'.

    I'll disagree with my friend, however, in dismissing the advice that seemed like simple 'common sense'. I've seen a fair share of criticism lacking in this 'common sense' from time to time and (IMO) NOT as a result of malice- just a lack of awareness. I'm quite certain I've done it myself.

    I'm not advocating a 'participation trophy' for every post seeking CC, but finding at least SOMETHING of merit to mention even in passing goes a long way to soften the blow.
     
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  4. Bill The Lurker

    Bill The Lurker TPF Noob!

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    the author's heart is in the right place but in the end she's just advocating for making the same pointless circle**** of technical CC more polite. her earlier piece on how CC is inpractice mainly about clique-forming seems to be on point.

    still she plants the axiom that technical CC has a point which frequently it doesnt. blown highlights mianly matter to people who have been taught that blown hghlights matter. they only matter when they matter which is rarely. agree wth zombiesniper that CC can be useful if you ask specific questions but nobody does beyond the usual how can I replicate this other togs look.

    mostly people just want to know if their pic is any darn good and mostly what they get back is a bunch of technical blah blah blah that they don't care about, and then they get chased away leaving the forum safe for the old guard.
     
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  5. Peeb

    Peeb Semi-automatic Mediocrity Generator Supporting Member

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    Wow! That seems quite insightful from a perspective unconsidered by me. When I showed up 2 yrs ago I was 30 years removed from active photography so I expected that my submissions would be pretty harshly judged and I was not disappointed.

    I didn't perceive their criticism as an express or unconscious attempt to run me off- but some of it was pretty blunt. Anything I didn't understand I just assumed (pretty rightly!) that they knew more than I did and I vowed to figure out what they were talking about! I'm still not a great photographer but my technical knowledge growing every day thanks to these guys.

    Might some folks be dishing out unduly harsh cc as a weapon to stake their turf? Gosh I hope not but if they do, I bet they don't know that they are so maybe your post will help raise awareness!
     
  6. smoke665

    smoke665 TPF Supporters Supporting Member

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    There are those sites out there where criticism is meant to mean patting someone on the back and critical observations are frowned on. So it was refreshing for me to see honest responses being put forth when I joined.

    That said we are all still people and the images we post are pieces of us, so insensitive comments can hurt. I think the anonymity of any online site sometimes leads people to say things in a manner that they wouldn't in a face to face discussion.

    Fortunately there are many really good photographers on TPF who have the patience and skill to help others. Sadly there are also a few that seem to relish being an ass.
     
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  7. pixmedic

    pixmedic The Mustached Moderator Staff Member Supporting Member

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    people post for different reasons and just because someone doesnt post precicely what sort of critique they are looking for doesnt mean they didnt genuinely want help with the photo. likewise, someone not knowing all the technical jargon associated with more experienced photographers does not negate their critique of a photo, or the potential usefullness of their opinion.
    there are precise ways to ask for critique and precise ways to give critique, but in the end its up to each person to decide what photos they want to comment on and how.
    we all want to hear something good about our photos, and sometimes hearing whats not-so-good is tough, especially photos we have real vested interest in...
    But I hope that as we give critique to others, we do so in the spirit of helping our fellow photographers improve, and when we ask for critique we do so respecting that the forum is a diverse place full of varrying opinions and tastes.
     
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  8. Peeb

    Peeb Semi-automatic Mediocrity Generator Supporting Member

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    I think the real trick is finding a way encourage, even when commenting on a clear clunker.

    I'll admit that there have been a couple of occasions where someone had requested critique and I've really had no clue where they were going with that image- so I've just come out and asked- which was not intended to offend but was a sincere question.

    OTOH, I've seen longtime members complain that CC was actually TOO encouraging on this board and that mediocre images shouldn't be praised. Perhaps I'm too unsophisticated but I just can't subscribe to the thought that exceptional work is worthy of praise and everything else is rubbish.
     
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  9. Overread

    Overread has a hat around here somewhere Staff Member Supporting Member

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    Critique isn't just about technical, its also about artistic. However on a site where many new members come to join early in their photography the technical often comes out more common. It's easier to give and also generally what people need the most of. There's no point going into long artistic discussions if the person can't get a solid exposure or get the camera to do what they want.

    Just like someone learning to sketch has to learn how to draw before its worth teaching them extensive composition methods; a photographer has to learn their camera and lighting in order to unlock their artistic potential.


    And yeah how you talk to someone is important. I get a lot of people say that people are so sensitive today; that they can't take critique. Equally I find that many people can't take any alternative viewpoint on their critique either. That those who give cannot also take any pushback. It's a shame because when someone disagrees with critique it should be a natural point to expand upon the original point made; to expand upon the viewpoint expressed and go into more detail and to then either discuss matters at length or agree to disagree. Sadly many get hostile (on BOTH sides) and as soon as insults are thrown around things go down hill fast.



    The worst thing is that this happens RARELY. It really doesn't happen often. More often you'll get a thanks post or a eh ok or something like that. However this tiny handful of rare moments sticks in people like a septic thorn. Bubbling and boiling away until they get jaded and bitter at the whole process - by which point they either leave or lash out randomly.
     
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  10. smoke665

    smoke665 TPF Supporters Supporting Member

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    @Overread sort of touched on this in that good critique should be experience appropriate for the person you are critiquing. Obviously as he said offering advanced techniques to someone who has just started out isn't appropriate. Offering basic technical critique like WB or exposure to an advanced level photographer who made a design decision is not just unnecessary but borders on disrespectful. By the same token advanced level photographers shouldn't be given a free ride, but honest opinions on their work as presented.
     
  11. Overread

    Overread has a hat around here somewhere Staff Member Supporting Member

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    One problem is that people think that honest must be critical and that critical must be negative. The other problem is that most people have a very underdeveloped sense of artistic expression. Ergo many of us actually lack experience and vocabulary to articulate and order our thoughts beyond "nice shot".

    Many do learn, steadily, a larger repertoire but its focused on the critical side and thus critical negative elements get overly highlighted over positive ones. People are more likely to launch into a 5 page thread of negative aspects but very rarely will go beyond a few light comments in positive angles.

    It's a weakness in school that carries through to adulthood for many and its something that we honestly don't work toward enough in our learning. We've got to understand the good as much as the bad.
     
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  12. smoke665

    smoke665 TPF Supporters Supporting Member

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    Profound observation!
     

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