10 Tips on How to Constructively Critique a Photograph

By Geoff Harris

We have just written “a guide to evaluating photographs” for our tutors to aid them in constructively commenting on students work and thought it might be of interest to others

We have also included a couple of photos which where taken from the MyPhotoSchool Facebook Page where students regularly post photos to get our feed back on them.

1. Always be positive and try to "encourage and motivate". The student is there to be motivated, not be punished ! This is not like being back at school, we're all there to enjoy ourselves. Also there may be newcomers or people with less confidence than others,

12-01-2012 16-25-37a

Excellent eye contact and nice even lighting! Next time you might want to avoid showing so much of his hand and a little more of his face.

People often don't appreciate how big peoples hands are and how much of the face they can cover.

When I was in college we were always told be be very careful about hands (especially the backs of hands) near peoples faces as they can be distracting and dominate a picture.

2. When commenting, don’t just describe the picture. The class can see it. Try to bring their attention to your interpretation and what you feel the photographer was trying to portray to the viewer. This makes for much more interesting commentary.

3. Don't try to guess how a picture was taken, or where it was taken. You’ll get caught out and look silly. You're not expected to be fully conversant in all subjects and places anyway.

4. Remember to entertain! It's easy to forget this when you have 30 or so slides to get through, but it can be light relief if you stop to tell a relevant tale or battle story, for even just one minute.

5. Avoid the use of "I", like - "I think this is a fine landscape" which is personal and try to use impersonal terms like "Isn't this a fine landscape". This way you join with the audience instead of sounding a bit aloof ! Same for marking - "I will give this 17" sounds superior, whereas simply pausing and then saying "17" is quite enough.

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 You might consider cropping this shot to make it more of a panorama
This might give it more energy and a stronger sense of movement across the photo from corner to corner.

6. When describing the bad points of a picture try to avoid the negative approach as in "its badly under exposed" and say instead, "it would have been better with a couple more stops".

7. In conjunction with the above point, where there are bad points, try to follow them with a little education, or hint and tips. They expect you to be a more experienced photographer and to learn as opposed to just being told the faults. In the above example of an underexposed picture, it might be good to explain how the camera's meter can be wrong when there are a lot of white or bright colours. But be sure of your facts.

12-01-2012 17-59-38

Very good that you have taken the photo at the same level as your subject!

Often photographers take every shot from the standing position and the rule of thumb is to ‘take you photo at the same level as your subject’

There are lots of photo possibilities with a subject like this and our advice would be to "work the subject"

i.e take lots of different shots of the same scene. Get some close-ups of the people and some detailed shots of hands, instruments, jewellery etc..

8. Use terms like "look at the colours" or "don't you think the tones are soft and effective". This draws the audience's attention to the picture and makes them see more and feel part of the event instead of just listening to a critique. This is also a good educational approach.

9. Avoid being too analytical and technical. This is boring, and not really broad enough.

10. Some people object to "Author" Use "Photographer", no one objects to that.

Geoff Harris

I am a journalist and photographer and currently work as the Deputy Editor of Amateur Photographer (AP) the oldest weekly photographic magazine in the world. Before that I served as the editor of Digital Camera, Britain's best-selling photography magazine, for five years. During my time as editor it became the UK's top selling photo monthly and won Print Publication of the Year at the 2013 British Media Awards. As well as being lucky enough to get paid to write about photography, I've been fortunate to interview some of the greatest photographers in the world, including Elliott Erwitt, Don McCullin, Martin Parr, Terry O'Neill and Steve McCurry. This has been a wonderful learning experience and very influential on my photography. Beyond writing, I am a professional portrait, travel and documentary photographer, and reached the finals of the 2016 Pink Lady Food Photographer of the Year competition. I am a Licentiate of the Royal Photographic Society and hope to take my Associateship whenever I can find the time. In addition I write about well being/personal development and antiques collecting for a range of other titles, including BlueWings, the in-flight magazine of Finn Air.

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