How To

Critiquing someone's image

At EAF judges’ courses they give the following advice – find something you like about the picture (usually easy to do) and explain why. Give criticism of any bad points (again, since it’s pretty well impossible to please everyone with every part of a picture, you can generally find something to nit-pick about), then give a summing up, ending on a good note. Don’t forget to say you like the picture but never use the words “like” or “nice”.

Things that you might want to comment on:-

1. Light
Flat lighting does not show shape or texture well. You need shadows to give an impression of depth, whether it be a vase, a face, or almost any 3 dimensional object. Black shadows may not suit some subjects (children, ladies) but may be entirely appropriate for a gritty image of, say, a coal-miner.

2. Contrast
Contrast gets the attention of the viewer. In general, monochrome images need some solid blacks and light tones, but large areas of pure white or solid black can be too much. This can be very subjective, depending on the viewer. In colour it is generally better to have pastel shades than totally vibrant shades, but there are exceptions which you may want to talk about.

3. Composition
We have all heard of the rule of thirds and the golden mean. Having a dynamic to the picture by placing the main subject off-centre is good, but sometimes we want to balance the composition by having a counter-point to the main subject. Use of lead-in lines (from the edges into the picture towards the main subject) is a good theme and you might want to pick up on that during your criticism. See if the author has used diagonals in his/her composition. However, sometimes the centre is just right for the subject.

If you haven’t heard of Rule of Thirds etc click here

4. Action shots
For action shots timing can be everything. A tennis ball may travel at 70 mph, but if it’s not very close to the racket the picture won’t be eye-catching.

5. After-treatment (or post processing) of an image
Consider whether this has added anything. Often it doesn’t and may very well detract. One example is HDR, where it is all too easy to oversaturate the colours. Other examples are producing halos by overdoing sharpening tools and selective colouring, which can be effective but usually is badly done. Yet another is skin-smoothing producing a Barbie doll effect. Eye and teeth whitening are often overdone too. In general, if it’s so obvious that you have done it, that this is the first thing the viewer sees, it has been over-done.

You might also like to voice an opinion as to how it could have been improved. Be careful not to suggest they step off the edge of a cliff or take a completely different picture. e.g. One judge looked at a picture which I had taken to show sunlight coming through the leaves of an autumn tree and suggested I should have taken it from a higher viewpoint!

Hugh Spence, May 2012.