Asking for a critique on your photos- some helpful tips

You take a picture you like “somewhat”, but you are not sure if it is a “good picture”. Maybe you’re a newbie trying to improve your skills, or a more seasoned photographer trying to ascertain the impact your image would have in your industry. Looking for answers, you post your photograph in a photography-related group and write “C&C welcome”. C&C stands for critique and/or comments.

Many people don’t realize this, but just writing “C&C are welcome” is not helpful, because there is no direction on what to critique. When people start commenting, their feedback will be mostly related to their personal preferences, their vision for the image, and their professional biases.

How can you help others better help you with a critique?

1. State your PURPOSE

Before asking for critique, ask yourself, what was the purpose of taking the photo? Were you trying to document something, sell an idea or a product, enter a photo contest, practice a technique, produce a piece of wall wart, etc?

Why is purpose important? Well, because your photo will be judged according to the requirements attached to a specific “industry.”

Here are some examples of purpose statements: “During the pandemics, I endeavored to document people’s expressions when they had a face mask on”; “I want to build a portfolio in food photography to break into the industry”; “I am trying to learn how to do panning”; “ I created a composition for a Halloween contest ” etc…

2. State your INTENTION

Why is intention important? Well, if people don’t know what you were trying to achieve, how can they help you find out if you have achieved it? Here are some examples of intention statements: “I wanted to get beyond the masks and see how people really felt about wearing them”; “in this photo I wanted to make people’s mouth water and feel like they want to eat this steak”; “I want to get into sports photography and proper panning is very important for me to learn”; “I want people to feel sad when they look at this picture” etc.

3. INTRODUCE YOURSELF briefly

The tone of the critique and how thorough it will be delivered will depend a lot on how you introduce yourself. “I am a beginner trying to learn how to do panning” might get a helpful, but softer feedback than “I am a professional sports photographer trying to build a portfolio to recruit clients.”

FINAL CONSIDERATIONS

Before posting a photo and asking for critique, ask yourself what do you want to accomplish? Are you looking for validation, trying to improve your skills, or trying to find a way to beat yourself up? If you know what you want, you will be in a better position to know when you get it.

Beginners be aware of predatory behavior. There was a photographer in a critique group I used to participate in, who would identify certain beginners as potential customers and systematically wear their confidence down with critique. He would intermingle his long considerations with soothing statements like “but you have a good eye for photography/ much potential ” etc. Coincidentally, he taught these super expensive in-person workshops, and also coincidentally, several of those targets would volunteer to attend. Although teaching workshops is not a crime, purposely undermining someone’s self confidence to make him or her a customer is plain dishonest.

Lastly, but not last, take the critique with a grain of salt and try to use the information to your benefit. Keep in mind that some people don’t have time to embellish their critique, or simply, they don’t know how to. Sometimes, someone is having a bad day and that person will take it out on you. Don’t let that discourage you. Conversely, don’t be disappointed if all you get are compliments: maybe your photo is just plain awesome.

An EXAMPLE

Let’s pretend I am posting the featured photo for critique in a photography group.

Option one: I post the photo and say “C&C welcome”.

Option two: “I was a newbie when I photographed the Sunset Beach in Point Reyes. Although I managed to capture some of that magical evening with my camera, only recently have I been able to realize my vision for the final image. I replaced the blurred birds passing by with vector birds and tweaked the sunset colors to render them more intense and achieve a dreamy, more abstract feel. In your opinion, does this image convey the idea of a surreal, magical sunset at the beach? Do the vector birds look fake to you and if so, does it bother you and distract you from the mood of the image? Thanks for any input you may be willing to share.

Which option do you think will help me better understand if I have reached my goals with the featured photo?

Bonus points: Feel free to critique the featured photo!

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Published by Alessandra Chaves

Photographer with a preference for nature photography in black and white and other abstractions.

19 thoughts on “Asking for a critique on your photos- some helpful tips

  1. Your recommendation that photographers who want critique or comments state their intentions and goals serves a purpose beyond letting the audience know how to proceed. To state intentions and goals, photographers will first have to clarify those things in their own mind, things they might not previously have articulated. It’s also possible that what you thought you were after at the time you took a given picture might now be different.
    As for your photograph, your placement of the five birds seems judicious. Because the birds are in silhouette, I couldn’t tell that you replaced their photographic images with vector versions of birds.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Looking at the featured photo, I’ve tried to decide what it is about the birds that didn’t seem quite right. I don’t have a good answer, but, for me, the image would have been stronger without them; they seem somehow intrusive. If the birds were added individually, I would have moved the one from the far left to the front of the group. I think the two almost identical birds on the left and the three that are so similar on the right add to the feeling of unreality.
    Of course, that may be precisely what you were hoping for, if surreality was your goal!

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    1. Thanks for your detailed input. I thought this was a good I
      Image to post because it appeals to the public but in the same time has many problems. In color, it’s often difficult to achieve a feeling of unreality that feels right.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I think option one would be my path. But if you really want a critique of the final processing work you did then the second would be the way to go disclosing all that you did. Just don’t misrepresent it. The reason I would pick number one is basically because of Linda’s reaction. She could sense that something about the image was not natural. If I were to pursue this as you did I’d rather have someone question what was done so I could tell whether I had done a competent job. If no one asks there is your answer. For my tastes I actually prefer the sunrise shot without the birds but many would probably enjoy them.

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  4. Speaking just for myself here – I’m not really interested in what people think about my photo in a technical sense. I’ve already done what I’m going to do in terms of processing, I’m satisfied, I like the photo or I wouldn’t be showing it to anyone. I wish I could just get people’s unfiltered, immediate reactions, good or bad. It doesn’t matter, I’m not going to feel hurt; I just want to learn more about what people respond to in a photo. I fully realize they may not see what I’m seeing. So while positive comments are great, so are reactions like “sorry, it’s boring”, “seems too dark”, or even “I don’t get it”.

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  5. Useful tips, Alessandra. I’d say that clarifying intention and purpose is important across the board, whether you want to ask for advice or not.
    As regards your beautiful photo, I would reduce a bit the color saturation and maybe I would try to do a double exposure, one at high shutter speed for the birds and a much slower exposure for the water. But these are personal preferences rather than technical advice.

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    1. Thanks for your input. The birds are long gone as it is the sunset, but reducing saturation is easily accomplished.And these are, in fact, technical advice 😉. I used to admin a critique fb group and I had the feeling at the time that people got more out of it when they were clear about what they wanted to accomplish.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. What I meant is that this is not intended as technical advice. Lowering the saturation of sunset photos is my personal preference. Also, my comment was intended to go back to the moment of taking the photo and reimagining what could have been done. It was a hypothetical.

        Liked by 1 person

  6. A very thoughtful piece! And I agree with the earlier comment that these are really good questions for a photographer (or painter) to ask themselves before they start a piece of work. I’ve never really asked for critique’s so I must admit I am a bit of a beginner in the nuances of reading into other people’s comments, but I do take any comments that are made on my own work seriously. I think my wife always says – was it really that colorful…

    On the first image, my initial reaction before reading the article was that the sea was very dark and with the sun in that position I would have expected more reflections in the tops of waves. I saw the birds but didn’t see them if you see what I mean. Now I look again, I think they look strange. One would have been nice, but there are too many and their shapes don’t seem to be real to me.

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