Spending time critiquing other photographer’s work is the best way to fast track your photography when you’re not taking photos.

Being able to recognise a good photo does not necessarily mean that you will be able to take a good photograph, but if you can’t recognise a good photograph, you have no chance.

1) Find a good place to give and receive critique.
In general, posting your pics on Flickr is not asking fora good critique, people tend to be polite and positive in the general arena. There are groups on flickr which encourage honest critique. There was a photo site called PhotoSig which in essence was driven by critique. The more critique you gave, the more images could be uploaded. It was a great concept but had 2 major flaws. When people are forced to give critique, the critique became forced, and ultimately unconstructive. Secondly, the site became better known for the bossy moderator who drove away many peaceful photographers. Ephotozine was a beautiful UK website where I learned a hell of a lot of photography. Good critique was frequent and the forum was a fantastic source of information. It is worth searching around for sites like this, but as in Ephotozine’s case, it is better to catch them when they are small and passionate about photography.

2) Learn to receive a critique
This is such a tough one when you are starting out. An image you have worked hard on gets ripped apart on a public gallery. What is important is not to get emotional, but to take a step back. Just take a break for 5 minutes, then come back an re-read the critisisms. Firstly, if there is any rudeness in the comment, you can pretty much discount it. For example “You don’t have a clue how to focus”, this person’s comments can basically be disregarded. Judge if their comments are about your skills as a photographer. Learn to give a critique (as described below) then you will be able to receive critique’s better.

3) Learning critique basics
Remember that you are there to give your opinion, whether you are a skilled professional or a complete beginner, your opinion counts.

Levels of critique:
“Nice shot!”
So many people complain about this level of critique, but I don’t see the harm. You are saying you like it and you have taken the time to write something. Although this is not a very useful critique, I don’t think it is a complete waste of time. It can be a useful way to get started, but note that this says nothing about a photographer’s skills.

“Beautiful light and fantastic composition”
This takes a minute to post. Although brief it much more advanced because “Fantastic composition” is judging their photography skills. “Beautiful light” suggests they have good timing.

“Beautiful light, superb timing and great exposure have really captured the colours. Fantastic composition with great lead in and lines.”
This level of critique is judging the photographer’s skills but goes further to explain why the light or composition is good.

Aspects to judge
It can be a useful starting point to know some basic areas to give a critique.

The main ones
Composition – so much to say about composition, but try to explain why you like it.
Exposure – too bright, too dark? what about the balance between sky and land?
Focus – choice of aperture, DOF
Processing – for many photographers, this is an important part of there work.

Peripheral
Location – well done for going there!
Light – good timing (and exposure)

4) Learn to give a sandwich critique
The sandwich technique is a method of cushioning a negative critique between 2 positive critiques. This is a sensitive approach which will teach you to speak your mind about images, but wont loose too many friends in the process.

Lets have a look at a critique of one of my photos on NatureScapes.Net by Chris Kayler.
Jokulsarlon Iceland

Hi there Tony! A nice scene here, for sure. My biggest gripe initially is that it seems way oversaturated for my tastes. The blues are so intense, in both the ice and the sky, as are the reds in the clouds in particular. The magic cloth looks quite natural, though perhaps the distant ridges could be brightened up just a tad. Compositionally, I like how the downward sweet of the whispy clouds in the right side of the sky mirrors the downward sweep of the lower clouds in the left of the frame. The shape of the reflection also kind of mirror the clouds. Bring down the saturation, and I think this one will be a bit more satisfying

– See more at: www.naturescapes.net/

The critique starts with 2 positive statements, friendly and informal. Then the critique about the saturation. Not only does he state that the saturation is too much, but he explains which colours and where. This is so useful because this makes me look at the image in a different way, imagining those colours to be weaker. After this, he adds some praise for my exposure technique and then the composition.

Now the saturation was added for my tastes, I love colours and I love trying to enhance them, it is part of my art. But I can also agree that it might be too much for other people’s tastes. Accepting and understanding the preferences of others might help me to moderate my own saturation preferences.

5) Unlearn everything
Photography is a life long learning process. This should require a reset every now and then. It is healthy to consider other photographer’s opinions and have you own opinions challenged. Your tastes will change over time, just as your photography skills and your ability to state your regarded opinion about a photograph.

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