Critique - how do you give yours?


hmm I recognise this place! And some of you!
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May 1, 2008
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So we normally end up chatting about how people can post to help critiquers critique and how to receive and respond to such critique. However we don't really have many chats on the other side of the coin, on the various different methods or concepts that we work by.

So I thought it would be a good topic to approach; to get an idea of the methods that we each use to provide our own input on others photos. Sure many say "Oh I give it all honest" and suchlike, but that isn't really saying much about the 'how' its given or delivered, or even how you approach the photo itself, what you look for first etc....

So no real overarching requirement here - post tips, concepts, your overall method etc.... Just generally take part in exchanging the other side of the coin. Who knows, we might pick up some tips on critiquing ourselves, plus it might also help newer members get a bit of insight into the different members and their methods.

Myself, well just one tip thus far that's coming to the forefront of my mind and is a method I sometimes use.

Don't "grade" the overall photo in the opening lines. Saying "its good" or "its bad" or any rough description which approaches either of those two polar statements can greatly affect how a person then reads the rest of the commentary. If they read "its good" in the opening lines chances are any critical points against the quality that are mentioned will be overlooked, or assigned less attention. Similarly saying "its bad" (or the dreaded - its a snapshot) in the opening part can make what follows feel a lot more personal to them. You've already said you don't like it so any critical points are rubbing salt into that wound (and like it or not when we create something we can get very protective of it).

So what I try to do is not grade the overall photo, instead I pick it into parts. I break up the critique into rough segments, parts about exposure, composition, content, subject, angles, equipment used etc.... I then tend to rattle through these points, giving my opinion on how each of those points has come across/been used in the photo itself. I might even "grade" these - saying 'this part here is good etc....'.
With this method I'll oft end up putting the positive points first and then the negative, but the freedom of this approach is that I can chop and change, mix the good in with the bad, or put the detracting points first. Like this the reader still hasn't got a clue how I feel about the photo as a whole and instead is picking up bits here and there, dividing the photo up themselves (one hopes) as they read so that they can take each part in its own.

Then, at the end, I summarise my feelings of the photo (this is still important - one must always be able to step back and view things as a whole); by this point they've already read my viewpoints and advice on the components, so now its time to see what the view is on all those parts added together. Hopefully, if one has explained well before, the viewpoint you give will be one that the reader has already started to identify with and also started to identify with the reasoning behind it, before applying any overall bias to their reading.

Further, whilst not essential to this approach of critique, a general view I try to take is to always contain some element of positive feedback. This might be something as simple as commenting that the experience during the taking of the shot must have been special, even if the photo itself is terrible; or might well refer only that I like the concept of the photo even if its execution has failed.
Others might disagree on this methodology of approach - in the end I consider most differing approaches valid within context, though, personally, I've always felt that an overly negative feedback works only in an enforced interaction environment; or one where the learner has a specific drive to learn from the reviewer - otherwise the net provides an environment where they can, with a few clicks, dismiss an overly negative viewpoint.
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I would love more critiques like that! I'm still new to a lot, especially critiquing, but I agree about not grading and keeping it positive. People learn so much better that way, and we don't scare so many people off!
Overread, that's a great point about not starting off with an overriding "it's good" or "it's bad" statement. While I try to never start with "I don't like it," I probably do sometimes start with "I like it" or some version of that. That's largely because of how I tend to respond in the same manner as how I take the photo in, but I think I'll try to start changing that.
The first thing I do with a photo (whether it's mine or someone else's) is just an overall, emotional response. Do I "like" it? Does it speak to me on some level? Evoke some emotion or memory?
Then I start looking at it more critically, especially if I *don't* like it. WHY don't I like it? Is it the composition (I nearly always start with composition)? The lighting? The subject? The focus? all of that? something else? Of course, I'm not the expert many of you are, and so my critique is probably not nearly as thorough or learned.

I have become much more critical of my, and other's, photos since joining TPF--and I mean that in a good way. Not critical like disapproving, but rather just go beyond that initial emotional response of whether I like it or not and asking MYSELF *why* I like it or don't like it. I find myself giving my just-taken photos much better C&C than I used to!

EDIT: Oh...and I also tend to employ as much humor as possible, and as much sarcasm as I think I can get away with. Because I was born with ESS (Excessive Sarcasm Syndrome) and if I don't use a certain amount of sarcasm every day, I develop these debilitating tics... :lol:
I usually try to get right to whatever bothers me or whatever I think really works about the image. This is what someone looking for help or suggestions really wants, if that's in fact the type of person we're dealing with - if not, well ...

I agree one's reaction is all about whether the image evokes emotion. I always felt, with my images and those of others, if it doesn't, why bother? Then the interesting part is figuring out why it does or doesn't do that. Sometimes basic technical mistakes get in the way, other times it is something more subtle, and there are definitely those times where I can't think of any changes to the way something was edited or shot that would make it meaningful (at least to me), in which case I just scratch my head and move on, having nothing useful to say.
Some of how I critique depends on the skill of the shooter. Much of it depends on if I know they are working on something in particular or have a flaw that they are asking how to fix.

Presently I am TRYING to make myself remember what is correct in the image, although being the teacher that graded the papers doesn't serve me very well in that area and I know that I forget.

I look for the impact of the image first. It may not be what I comment on but it's my first impression. Usually somewhere in there I include the feeling the image gives off and if it's totally opinion I try to say so. Otherwise I try to explain what about the image is giving that feeling-it usually ties into the technical side of things somehow.
Seeing how photography has so very many interpretations I look for the blatant errors and things that are off in exposure, focus & DOF, composition, white balance. Along with what's wrong there I include ways to do it differently next time or what would have been needed to correct that flaw.

Lately I try to avoid a lot of CC unless I recognize the screen name because CC is something newbies don't quite understand yet and I can sound like there is nothing right in an image when there is-I have either forgotten to blatantly say so or there are so many things that I see as easy to fix that I get caught up in them.

I don't give a pat on the back and tell anyone they are the shiz-nit. Everyone (me included-especially me) can learn and grow from every image. I tend to say it like it is but I try to make it constructive? And maybe I even succeed once in a while!
I agree with, and tend to provide my critique along much the same sort of guidelines as Overread, BUT I do use overall qualifiers. I use them as part of a supervisory process known as the "Sandwhich technique" whereby I start with a positive note, very often a qualified positive note, such as, "That's a nice image, but...." I then try and objectively list the issues (both positives and negatives) as I see them, and wherever possible suggest alternate methods, or ways whereby I think the image might have been improved. I then wrap up with an overall summary, and what I feel is the most important line, "Just my $00.02 worth - your mileage may vary" to reinforce the fact that regardless of my age, experience, time on this board, etc, whatever I've written is purely my opinion, and nothing more!
When I look at an image, I try to get a sense of the impact - what's the thing that grabs my attention? Where do my eyes go after that? Is there an emotion that I feel? Do I see a story? Do I want to ask a question? Once I get a sense of my reaction to the image, I look for what contributes or detracts. It could be technical or compositional - to me the elements are less important than the overall effect and result.

My critiquing comments usually follow this approach and go with an overall impression and then the things that either reinforce it, or diminish the impact. I don't have a checklist of compositional elements or technical points, since every rule and every guideline can be broken in achieving a good image (ok, maybe not all of them at once, but there's nothing particularly sacred about our photographic "rules").

If an image does not invoke any emotion or interest or curiosity, then it's not a very effective image. In our club critiquing sessions, we sometimes come across an image that is just "blah". I would then ask the photographer what he/she saw and what they were trying to convey. It is not uncommon to hear the explanation, and then one can see within the image the elements that got the photographer interested in making the image, but we also then see that the photographer did not highlight the interesting elements so that they would stand aside from the visual clutter that surrounds them. And that would then go in the direction of which techniques could have been used to bring out or highlight the point(s) interest. It also happens often that the photographer struggles to describe what they found interesting, and that struggle shows up in the image in that there is no clear focal point to the image.

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