the best of intentions

by julie posted October 2, 2007

Can other photographers critique images better than an average viewer?

The main difference in showing a photograph to a fellow enthusiast, as opposed to a normal human being, might be a little bit like this:

Photographer’s response –

“I think your highlights may be a little blown there”
“My eye is being led out of the edge of the frame”
“There’s a distracting bright patch at the bottom”
“The depth of field is rather shallow, I’d like to see more of the background in focus”

Friend/spouse/mother/dog’s response –

“It looks like a painting”
“Are those colours real?”
“Why did you take a picture of some grass?”

(Sorry, couldn’t resist.)

Thinking about it, though, I wonder what’s more helpful – a technical response, or an emotional one. I suppose it relates to what you”’re actually shooting, but for the sake of my ramblings I’m assuming a certain level of artistic intention rather than the faithful reproduction of a scene. That being the case, are we more interested in having another photographer instruct us in how they might approach a similar task – or would we rather find out what kind of connection a viewer makes with the image? Can another photographer step back and see a photograph as an entity, rather than a collection of techniques, like depth of field, exposure length, contrast, colour, and composition? Would it be a beneficial skill to have, if we could?

I’m just wondering about the usefulness of these kinds of critique, and trying to identify what might be missing, how we could respond to an image in a way that’s most helpful to the photographer. I think something that gets overlooked quite often is the intention – and I’ve said it before – you can’t judge the success of a photograph in meeting its objective, if you don’t know what the objective is! Both the submittors and the commenters seem to be guilty of overlooking this detail, as far as I can see. The photographer either knows what they were getting at and it seems so obvious to them that they neglect to emphasise it when posting their work for review, or they don’t even think about what they are trying to do/say/evoke with the image and the people who comment on it don’t stop to think about it either.

I can’t help but think it might just be the one single thing that someone could do, in a slightly more abstract sense, to improve their photography in general – to be more certain in their own mind what they are trying to achieve either on a single image, project/series-wide sense or in general with their photography. Taking that into consideration would also improve the usefulness of any critique/suggestions that the viewer could make, rather than taking a random stab at something technical that may have been a rule purposely broken, or considering simply their own visual taste rather than the intention of the photographer, and everyone’s time and effort has been pretty much wasted.

I suppose what I’m thinking about is trying to strike a balance between finding out how close we’ve come to reaching our objectives with an image/series of images, and then considering just how that might be improved: what contributed to it, what let it down. A two-pronged approach. It’s something to consider when putting your stuff out there for review – but also when considering others’ work.

4 Responses to the best of intentions

  1. you could try painters/designers for non-photographic, yet meaningful, ‘art’ critiques of your photos.

  2. I think it’s better if, when you are putting forward a photograph for criticism, you should have some idea of what you are looking for. Usually, when I submit something to various fora, I identify a key issue that I want input on.

    but that’s just me.

  3. I guess that I say what good is a critique. It is an opinion: “This is how I would change it to fit my style or what I like”. In essence, it really has nothing to do with your style, etc. Perhaps, when starting out, giving guidelines and ‘rules’ is applicable, but after you’ve reached a certain level, then it’s really up to you (it always is up to you, actually).
    If I say that I didn’t like the picture, so what! I prefer high contrast black and white with some areas of solid black, small subjects, and huge amounts of negative space. Someone might come along and say that I should have a large subject, detail in my blacks, and less contrast. Their opinion.

    Take your own opinion as the most valuable. Do you like what you have done? If so, then it is what you set out to do. If the answer is no, try to figure out how you’d change it to make it ‘work’ for you. It’s not up to me; it’s up to you. :-)

    I can only tell you how to change it to make it work for me.

  4. What do I do when I look at your pictures?
    I look at them as looking at any other pictures. I am always trying to imagine them alone, printed and hanging in space. I am looking for emotions brought by the picture. And after all that, knowing that there is something interesting, I can have another and different look at them.
    It is hard to explain what’s going on in my head, why I like some picture more than other.
    And it is so easy to point something too obvious (for me), that makes the main, or the second impression on me.
    I don’t know anything about photography, I am just pushing the trigger. I just like pictures, that’s all. And I like lots of your pictures!

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