Before I Critique, by the Critiquing Curmudgeon
Everyone has a distinctive personal taste, so that’s one’s bias. Everybody is biased and when it comes to photographs, there’s nothing wrong with that. So all critiquing is subjective.
I’m only looking through my eyes. I also tend to point out more negatives than other people might. But then, I’m a curmudgeon. I recently took a trip to Wales designed for photographers and our workshop leader was such a good teacher that she rarely said anything negative about a picture. She just went on to the next one. That’s a very positive style, but when I’m asked to critique, I assume you want to know how to improve your photographs.
Usually, everything I say about photos is a general rule. And we all know that rules can be successfully broken.
This may be a little corny, but I like to differentiate among terms image, photo, and picture.
An image is the recorded file. (jpg, raw, etc.) It’s what you captured.
A photograph is the rendition of it as a print, projected image, etc. It may be technically correct, but could be uninspired.
A picture tells a story, evokes multilayers of meaning. This is the level one should experience when seeing your photo. [I developed this progression from the saying, “a picture is worth a thousand words.” There are other critics who use the opposite terminology.]
However, like a lot of people, I use these terms both separately and interchangeably. For example, you can’t produce a good picture if you haven’t shot a good image. These categories are not really meant to be definitions, but ways of recognizing that images have different quality levels.
To me, a fourth category is “illustration” which combines photos with other art (such as painting filters in Photoshop). This changes the medium or modifies the picture to be something other than a well executed photograph. Critiquing these pictures is tricky, but the first thing I look for is whether the basic photograph is a good picture before the effects were added.
Critiquing is beyond judging for competition. One critiques differently for judging, publishing, exhibitions (even this depends on the location of the exhibit), story-telling (editorializing), enjoyment, the web, family albums, and so forth.
If you’re shooting for competition in our photo club, all you have to do is satisfy three people (unfortunately you don’t get to choose the people). However, remember those three people have their own biases.
Some other items that affect critiquing or judging: viewing distance, size of print, lighting conditions. Fortunately, in club competitions these items are kept somewhat constant.
These are just some of the things I take into consideration before I make the first comment about a picture.
Here are samples of pictures I critiqued and adjusted as a demonstration at a recent photo club meeting. I thought actually making the changes was more effective than my usual technique of just explaining what I might suggest be tried on someone’s photograph.