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Guide to Critiquing Photography

written by: Ryan C.•edited by: Rhonda Callow•updated: 6/18/2010

Learn to speak your mind and give your educated thoughts on a photograph honestly and constructively.

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    Introduction

    In this world of online social media and consecutiveness, it is now easier than ever for amateur and professional photographers to share their work online and open it up for public criticism, good and bad. Networking with friends and other photographers around the world to study photography together is simply a click away! With large communities like Flickr, Photobucket, internet forums, and Facebook, photos are everywhere and awaiting your critique!

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    What To Pay Attention To?

    In any given photo, there are at least half a dozen things to analyze right off the bat. These are the basics to every picture. Each of these elements below are explained to show how they come together to make a photograph. Have any other pointers you’d like to share? Let us know in the comments below!

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    Composition

    This is a biggy. Composition is much like location and how location is everything. Is the subject clearly identifiable? Is it well framed? Ansel Adams once said “a good photograph is knowing where to stand," meaning that anyone could take a great picture if only they knew where to stand. Knowing where to stand also entails knowing how to stand (sit, crouch, lie, etc). The way in which you frame your subject(s) is crucial and is what catches and leads the viewer’s eye. For more on composition and good framing, read our in-depth guide to composition.

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    Lighting

    Lighting is another hugely important component to your photos. Is the lighting hard or soft? Does it work in the image? Lighting can make or break a picture. You have probably heard that the best times to photograph are the golden hours before and after sunrise and sunset. This is because when the sun is near the horizon, it projects warm golden, soft light, which gives a very pleasing light to your subjects. This is especially true when it comes to portraiture and landscape photography. Lighting can also be from artificial, flash lighting and how it is modified.

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    Exposure

    Is the picture too dark or too bright? Is there adequate detail in the highlights and shadows? Proper exposure is important to convey the overall mood of an image. It is made up of three things, shutter speed, aperture, and ISO. Does the shutter speed (fast or slow) work for the image? Is there adequate depth of field (DOF) with the given aperture?

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    Subjects

    Is the subject well defined? Every good photo has a clear subject. This is what separates the everyday snapshots from photographs. Do you like the subject choice? Could there have been a better choice? Let the photographer know!

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    Color

    Is the photo in color or black and white? How do the given colors relate to the subject and scene? Color is another important tool to help set the mood and convey liveliness.

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    Technical Aspects

    There are tons of things to look at in a technical perspective. Things like lens focus, level horizons, distortion, blurry images, or shaky images are all things that can severely hurt or help an image by giving it a unique perspective. Some of these things can be helped by better camera equipment, but others just require giving attention to the little details, like a level horizon.

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    Learning From Your Experience

    Remember that both you and the photographer are mutually learning from their experience and work. Take note of what you like about their photo and what you would have done differently. Incorporate what you like into your own work and avoid making the same mistakes. Lastly, share your own work and have fun with it. Experiment with new techniques and see what you and others think!