View Full Version : The Art of Critique II: What to look for.

Fabs Forns
04-27-2009, 05:13 PM
Some of the beginners have a hard time offering critique or evaluating an image.
Let's do a general guideline on the aspects of a photograph that we look at when we are viewing as critics:

1- Exposure
2- Composition
3- Sharpness and detail
4- Subject

Now, elaborating on each of them:

1- Exposure-
Formal definition: exposure is the total amount of light allowed to fall on the photographic medium
(film or image sensor) during the process of taking a photograph.
What do we look for? Highlights and shadows in check, meaning you will see detail in both light and dark areas.
Whites should not look solid white (referred to as burned or clipped) and blacks should not look solid black
(we called them blocked)
Whites should not look muddy (underexposed), darks should not look washed out (overexposed).
If the whole image looks too light or too dark, it may not be correctly exposed.

2- Composition-
Formal definition: composition is the placement or arrangement of visual elements or ingredients in a work of art.
This may be more complicated than exposure and very elusive to some.
Do not frame too tight (subject bigger than 75% of the total frame), especially for printing. Web
presentation can be tighter.
Rule of thirds: Divide your frame into thirds, both vertically and horizontally, and try to place your main subject
on or close to the intersections. Horizons or frame divisions work well in thirds. Centered placing works
better in symmetrical compositions and in vertical format.
Leave room in front of subject rather than behind. If the body is facing one way and the head the other way, try
and leave room in front of the face.
Avoid distracting elements, especially big blobs of white or black, they take attention away from your subject.
Consider perspective when choosing your angle of view. Eye level is more intimate and appealing.
Branches or lines shooting out of the corners emphasize the rectangular or square shape of the frame and are to
be avoided.
Some strong compositional elements are diagonals, patterns and textures.
If you want to practice composition, visit us in Out of the Box and join the fun:


3- Sharpness and detail-
Formal definition of sharpness: Having clear form and detail.
It is just as easy to over sharpen when you are preparing an image for the web, as it is to go the opposite
way, referred to as soft. Soft images do not appear crisp. Over sharpened images have lines that are too crisp
and look frozen.

4- Subject-
Formal definition: The dominant element of a composition.
It is important to have a clear subject. In avian, wildlife or macro, this is easier that it may be in landscapes. We
need a main element that holds the viewer attention. If you have two subjects, it is best if they interact.
subject placement and space was discussed in composition. Subject cropping should be done carefully, and it is
preferable to cut half a wing or leg, rather that just clip. You cut as composition. You clip as mistake.
In the case of live subjects, a nice specimen will always be better than a less fortunate one, unless you are
trying to illustrate a point. Ex: Butterfly with broken wings, flower with decaying petals.
Eye contact and catch light are positive elements. Eye contact meaning looking at you or if two subjects, looking
at each other. A catch light implies life and vibrancy.
Head angle is important for two reasons: It looks more intimate when the subject is looking at you, rather than
away from you. And, when the subject (bird or mammal) is giving you a profile, the eye and tip of bill or nose
are on a different plane in regard to the sensor, depending on the size of the subject, this may mean not enough
depth of field to get both eye and tip in focus. A slight turn towards you will improve the situation.

There may be a lot more things not coming to my mind now, but this are the basics. There is also the very powerful element of emotion and how an image makes you feel. Visual impact may be more important than the other elements and tends to attract the viewer more than technicalities. When a photograph makes you gasp and holds your attention for a while, techs are not that important, in my opinion.

Please fell free to add anything I may have left out. This is for all of us, so please share!!!

Gus Cobos
04-27-2009, 05:27 PM
Well said Miss Fabs...All of the important points have been well addressed...:D:cool:

Ákos Lumnitzer
04-27-2009, 06:06 PM
Good points Fabs. Great to have split and explained each in more detail it will definitely help some of the folks less likely to comment. :)

Jim Poor
04-27-2009, 06:49 PM
Great starter guide. I'd like to make a pitch for mood / feeling as well. Sometimes the emotional content of an image is much greater than the technicals.

Fabs Forns
04-27-2009, 07:02 PM
Great starter guide. I'd like to make a pitch for mood / feeling as well. Sometimes the emotional content of an image is much greater than the technicals.

See last paragraph :)

Jim Poor
04-27-2009, 07:09 PM
LoL, I'm a speed reading drop out! :D

Lana Hays
04-27-2009, 07:31 PM
An excellent guide for anyone wanting to critique. I just may print out a copy to keep handy......and keep me focused.

Jay Gould
04-27-2009, 07:43 PM
Fabs, this is more than a composition critique; it is what to look for in your own images. Thanks for making it a sticky for everyone to easily find, especially for newbies like me.

Thank you for the insights.

Cheers, Jay

Ian McHenry
04-27-2009, 11:09 PM
Thanks Fabs
Great guide to critiquing.
Possibly one for consideration is "Check for natural colour rendition"
Sometimes I need auto colour correction to make colours look natural.
Other times colours are totally off beam with colour correction.
I find tree bark,grass and sky good pointers to natural colour.
Cheers: Ian Mc

Jay Gould
04-28-2009, 01:06 AM
Hi, I have shared this thread with my bro; he provides the following:

1. Impact<o:p></o:p>
2. Creativity<o:p></o:p>
3. Style<o:p></o:p>
4. Composition<o:p></o:p>
5. Presentation<o:p></o:p>
6. Color Harmony<o:p></o:p>
7. Center of Interest<o:p></o:p>
8. Lighting<o:p></o:p>
9. Subject Matter<o:p></o:p>
10. Technique<o:p></o:p>
11. Story Telling<o:p></o:p>
12. Technical Excellence/Print Quality<o:p></o:p>
<o:p> </o:p>
Impact trumps all. Story telling is way down there.[/quote]

Fabs Forns
04-28-2009, 09:34 AM
Thanks Ian and Jay,
Good suggestions, yet a little more difficult to grasp for beginners.

Good list, btw.

Daniel Cadieux
04-28-2009, 09:08 PM
Nice write up Fabs. Alot of thought and preparation went into this.

Along Ian's line of thought, checking for obvious color casts and other color related issues such as over-saturation are things to look out for when critiquing. They can be easy to spot, but often overlooked by the image owners as it is easy to get carried away with those, especially with the bumping of saturation.

WIlliam Maroldo
04-28-2009, 10:14 PM
Excellent Fabs! You covered the basics extremely well. One thing I might add, and what I consider at the top of my list is uniqueness, and I wouldn't go for it until I had the basics down pat. Of course it is hard to determine if what you have in mind is actually unique, and unless you've managed to see many other images it could be hard to tell. Unusual perspective, atmosphere, well thought out composition, unusual subject matter or interaction of image elements are a few things that could be tried, and keeping such things in mind when deciding what (and when) to photograph is quite important IMO. regards~Bill

Kerry Perkins
04-29-2009, 04:25 PM
Great post Fabs. I would also mention that color saturation is often overlooked when finalizing an image and should be part of the evaluation. It seems that some people only look at the luminance histogram and don't realize that color saturation can be clipped while the luminance levels are not. This is most often seen in images with a lot of red or yellow.

Thanks for posting this guide. Excellent!

David Ornstein
05-07-2009, 08:01 AM
Thank you, Fabs, for posting an excellent guide. As a serious amateur with limited experience, I can usually recognize the flaws in the areas you discuss (in my work and others' work) but I'm often at a loss on how to do better. (It's not rare to get a suggestion of what to do in Photoshop to fix, or at least reduce, the problem. What could have done better with the camera constitutes a more useful bit of constructive criticism. Of course it is difficult to compose such a comment, as it's hard to know what was done, let alone what was done well.)

Ray Rozema
05-08-2009, 03:29 PM
Thanks Fab Very well written and very helpful

amal sircar
05-31-2009, 10:25 AM
I am in learning mode. Thus these guidelines will be very helpful to me.Thanking you very much for sharing the information. Best regards.

Fred Bourque
06-02-2009, 02:28 PM
I am guilty of this as I felt I wasnt qualified, Thanks for posting some guide lines to help. Ill do more in the future.

Hazel Grant
10-30-2009, 03:52 PM
thanks. I'm printing this out for reference before posting.

Jim Buescher
11-01-2009, 09:24 AM
I would perhaps add light quality and direction to the list. Often, an image will meet all the criteria above but still be faulted for poor light - too harsh or too flat (contrast), or the direction of the light is less than ideal (usually a strong sidelight).

Jared Gricoskie
11-05-2009, 02:31 PM
One thing I would add to the critique aspect is that they come in two forms. The picture we see, how it was exposed, PP'ed, and presented on the site. From that Jpeg we can encourage the editing and details here, which I think BPN is a great resource for.

Then of course there is the realm of critique I refer to my clients as "In a perfect world."

I find many critiques on the composition side reflect that perfect world mentality, wishing for something was here or there, or wanting to move elements that just can't be moved. Unless you know the exact spot someone took the shot, there are possibly hundreds of reasons the photog composed the shot presented because they were limited to aspects or elements out of view. (How many of us have said, "Stupid pole/wire/fence/branch" etc, and had to compromise the shot to work around them.)

I think from an educational stand point its very important to seperate the two kinds of critique, so that the environment is as positive and constructive as possible. I know the first few times I posted images on various sites I was crushed, not by what was said, but by the tone of the critiques often asking for things that really couldn't have been changed. Prefixing your critiques on composition to that perfect world aspect puts both the presenter and the critiquer on the same level.

Being critiqued often puts someone on the defensive of their ideas and logic, so using those defusing words often puts people at ease to really take in the suggestion instead of the more natural rebuttal of "but..but!"