Developing Critique

The following ideas and suggestions for improving our approach to Critique come from a small group of EPMG members who met online on Tuesday 19 May, 2020.

A printable pdf version of the relevant parts of this document is available using the link below. We recommend that you print this and use it as an aide-memoire in any critique session.

Critique Print Version

Also recommended is this article by Nick Prior: Critiquing improves your photographs.

The Purposes of Critique

The over-arching purpose of developing skills in critique is to improve the photography of both the critiquers and the critiquees.

Other purposes include:

  • To find out what people think is good and not so good about our images
  • To make us think about images
  • To give confidence
  • To see other people’s images

The Nature of Critique

  • It should be positive, supportive and designed to build confidence.
  • It should be a two-way process – not a handing down of a judgement but a discussion between the critiquee and the critiquers. 
  • It should be honest. We shouldn’t avoid constructive criticism.

The Format of Critique

Current Arrangements:

  • Everyone views prints (or onscreen images at the present time)
  • Individual photographers say something about their own image
  • Anyone can then contribute
We recommend that in future face-to-face critique sessions, we can choose to submit prints or Projected Digital Images (PDIs).

Recommendations for the Critiquee

Choose a picture where:

  • You set out to achieve something specific
  • You’re not sure whether you nailed it
  • You’re certain it’s not your very best shot

Say something about:

  • The context and intention
  • The content
  • Did it work?
  • What would I do differently?
  • Ask a question(s) about what you want to learn

Recommendations for the Critiquer

  • Understanding the photographer’s intention
  • Assessing the content, composition, aesthetic and technical aspects of an image (in relation to the the intention)

Criteria for Critique

We felt it was useful to suggest a structure which could guide our critique sessions. This structure is based around 4 headings:  Content, Composition, Aesthetic and Technical.

Next we discussed more detailed criteria for each of these 4 headings. These are listed below in the left column of each table below. Some explanatory comments are given in the right-hand column. Please note that not all of these criteria will apply to any single image. They are intended to inform the critique process rather than dictate it. You may find it helpful to consider some of the criteria in your comments.

The CONTENT section refers to the subject matter of the image.

CriteriaComments
The image has impact.This is your initial, instinctive reaction to the image. It may refer to the visual impact of the image or the nature of the subject matter.
The image tells a story.This is relatively self-explanatory but it should take account of whether the story is told well or whether it's a story that is worth telling.
The image shows originality.The photographer has photographed the subject in a way which sets the image apart and which shows a different way of seeing.
The image has interesting content.This is very subjective but the image should contain content which many will find interesting.
The image captures action or captures the 'moment'.Action can be defined as movement of any kind within the image. The 'moment' is the critical point of any action. It can refer to actions as diverse as the way a person's expression changes when they react to something or a racing motorbike on the apex of a corner.
The COMPOSITION section refers to the way the photographer has chosen to arrange and present the subject matter of the image.

CriteriaComments
The image has visual balance or intentional imbalance.Harmony and discord can both be used effectively in photography. One is pleasing on the eye while the other creates tension and drama. Both are equally valid. The main consideration is whether the nature of the balance suits the image.
The image exhibits strong compositional elements eg leading lines, natural framing, thirds.Is there evidence of such elements being used effectively.
The image has been taken using an interesting angle/point of view.In itself, an intersting angle of view isn't necessarily beneficial. It should add some value to the subject of the photo.
Picture elements are well organised and emphasise the main point(s) of the image.Good composition will force the viewer to look where the photographer wants them to look. There should be no distracting picture elements.
The AESTHETIC section refers to the way the photographer has interpreted the subject through his/her use of aspects such as light and shadow, colour and sharpness/softness.

CriteriaComments
The image triggers an emotional response.Self-explanatory
The image evokes atmosphere.The image gives you a sense of what it was like to be there.
The image shows good use of light.Self-explanatory
The image shows good use of colour/monochrome.Self-explanatory
The TECHNICAL section refers to the techniques employed by the photographer when taking and then post-processing the photograph.

CriteriaComments
The image is needle sharp where it needs to be.This refers to the accuracy of the focus point and whether there is any evidence of camera shake. Bear in mind that a lack of sharpness may well be deliberate and part of the photographer's intention.
Colour balance and quality are appropriate.Are the colours natural and/or do they work with the subject. Are there unwanted colour casts or unintentional muddy colours.
All tones are rendered appropriately with no unwanted clipping of highlights or shadows.This refers to the exposure chosen by the photographer and the subsequent post-processing.
The chosen Depth of Field is appropriate and enhances the image.The amount of an image which is in sharp focus is largely within the control of the photographer. The key point here is whether the combination of sharp/unsharp areas of the image make it better.
Shutter speed has been used to good effect.This will apply where there is movement in the subject of the photo or where long exposure techniques have been used..
Post Processing has been applied appropriately.Post-processing is essential for RAW files and, when used well, can significantly improve the original image. Equally it can spoil many photos. Examples of poor processing include seeing the 'joins', over-saturated or bizarre colours, extreme contrast, overuse of 'special effects' etc.
The image is clean and well-presented with no noise, fringing or dust spots.Self-explanatory

Some Background

The list of criteria above was originally developed by Nick Prior and Norman Dodds as part of their involvement with Kelso Camera Club. It was originally intended as a tool for self-critique or one-to-one critique. It has now been reworked for group critique.

The original version included a scoring system where a single number value could be given to any or all criteria. Two version of this are available to download. Feel free to have a go!

Download Critique Tool for Microsoft Excel (This version has some extra functionality but will only work with Excel.)

Download Critique Tool for Google Sheets (This is free online software but you’ll need a Google account.)