Critiquing Your Own Photos

Critiques from peers, teachers, or mentors is ideal, but the ability to critique your own work is also important. We’ve devised some helpful steps to follow to critique your photos properly.

First, mentally prepare yourself for the critique. Shake off all your personal biases and put yourself in a mindset of objectivity (as best you can). Be nice to yourself if you keep noticing mistakes. Be a problem solver. Think, “here's what’s wrong, here’s how I can make it better.”

Start your critique with a technical checklist. Remember, a good photographer fixes these things right in the camera during the shoot, so practice being proactive about the technical stuff. 

Composition: Where is the visual weight of your photo? Where is the first place your eyes go when you look at the image? Where do they go next and is that where you want them to go?  Does the placement of the subject (off-center, center, etc.) enhance the overall meaning of the photo?

Color: Is there any tungsten lighting or white balance issues you didn’t account for? Do the colors flow properly? Is the color necessary, or would it say just as much without it?

Lines: Do your lines lead the eye to the subject? Do you have any lines leading off the image? Are the vertical and horizontal elements of the photo aligned properly to balance the photo?

Focus: Could you have used a better focal length (wider angle to get more of the scene, or zoomed in to isolate the subject)? Is the subject sharp? Are unnecessary things in focus, distracting from the subject and meaning?

Exposure: Is the photo too dark or too light? Are any highlights or shadows too bright or too dark?

Lighting: Does the lighting help convey the overall meaning? Did you do your best in the environment you were given?

Composition:  Eye goes directly to the face, the right side is heavy with the wall, but balanced by the flowers of the left side.  The eye travels from the face, down to the clutter, over to the flowers, and back.  Color:  The colors were unnecessary in this photo, and did nothing to help communicate the over meaning, so they were not included. Lines: There are 3 very strong lines which frame the subject - the wall on the right, the flowers/mirror edge on the left, and the top of the mirror.  All lines help to isolate the subject in a specific space. Focus: The subject is sharp, the other objects in the frame that could distract from her are slightly blurry, helping force focus on the subject. Exposure: The exposure is perfect.  The subject is bright and visible while the rest of the scene's details are preserved.  Lighting: The lighting does well for the exposure.  It is not especially flattering, but does well to communicate what we are looking at.

Composition:  Eye goes directly to the face, the right side is heavy with the wall, but balanced by the flowers of the left side.  The eye travels from the face, down to the clutter, over to the flowers, and back. 

Color:  The colors were unnecessary in this photo, and did nothing to help communicate the over meaning, so they were not included.

Lines: There are 3 very strong lines which frame the subject - the wall on the right, the flowers/mirror edge on the left, and the top of the mirror.  All lines help to isolate the subject in a specific space.

Focus: The subject is sharp, the other objects in the frame that could distract from her are slightly blurry, helping force focus on the subject.

Exposure: The exposure is perfect.  The subject is bright and visible while the rest of the scene's details are preserved. 

Lighting: The lighting does well for the exposure.  It is not especially flattering, but does well to communicate what we are looking at.

Once you’ve checked all those things, start focusing on the conceptual meaning of your photo.

Meaning: What does your photo say? Does it clearly communicate what you intended to show?

Interpretation: Are there any other possible interpretations? Is it a good thing if people see it differently? If not, could you refine the photo through editing to reduce the chance to misinterpretation?

Distractions: Is there anything distracting from the meaning of the photo?  In most cases, if something is not adding to the conceptual and artistic value of the photo, it’s a distraction.

Meaning: She's getting ready for something.  She wants to look nice because she's spending time to do her hair.  The clutter says this is her personal space, she's comfortable.  Interpretations: Yes this can be interpreted differently, and that's part of what's interesting.  The biggest question left unanswered is "Are we supposed to be watching?".  The nature of the wall cutting off her face from view communicates that us watching is secretive and somewhat voyeuristic.  Is that ok? Distractions: There is nothing in the frame that takes away from the overall meaning.  The wall forces the viewer to question the the question above, the clutter makes a statement about where she is, the negative space and blowouts at the top show that this is not a fancy place with unflattering light.  One could argue the blow out from the lights are distracting, but it seems to work to show the casual nature of the environment all the more.

Meaning: She's getting ready for something.  She wants to look nice because she's spending time to do her hair.  The clutter says this is her personal space, she's comfortable. 

Interpretations: Yes this can be interpreted differently, and that's part of what's interesting.  The biggest question left unanswered is "Are we supposed to be watching?".  The nature of the wall cutting off her face from view communicates that us watching is secretive and somewhat voyeuristic.  Is that ok?

Distractions: There is nothing in the frame that takes away from the overall meaning.  The wall forces the viewer to question the the question above, the clutter makes a statement about where she is, the negative space and blowouts at the top show that this is not a fancy place with unflattering light.  One could argue the blow out from the lights are distracting, but it seems to work to show the casual nature of the environment all the more.

There are lots of questions you could ask about the conceptual side.  But overall you should be asking yourself, "Does it say what I want it to say?"

If you've got any photos you'd like us to take a look at, we've got some helpful critique services where you can receive a professional critique from the experts. And with a membership you get a free digital critique each month!