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Thread: Criticizing a photograph

  1. #1
    WTF?! 400d's Avatar
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    Question Criticizing a photograph


    4x5 Crown Graphic 135mm

    Since I started shooting 35mm film in 2002 Nov, I have upgraded from manual SLR to autofocus SLR, and lately DSLR. And last year March I bought the Crown Graphics, since I realize landscape is my main focus. And after shooting thousands of pictures for my college on 35mm film or digitally, I sometime feel that I lost the ability and eyes to judge my work. Honestly I haven't taken any photography course, I learnt it all by trial and error, spending excessive time in the library reading those 70s/80s photography book and of coz on internet (instead of studying for my engineering courses and calculus :P). I am worrying that, geesh after all, do I really suck being a photographer?

    Below is a comment from a college student who is currently studying photography, criticizing the photograph above:
    I don't like the exposure on that one, but you're right, I do find that a crappy composition. Looks like a calculated long exposure and everything, and at the same time, it has a very snapshot aesthetic to it. Can't feel it. I know there's a good equilibrium to be met between a calculated shot and the snapshot aesthetic- like some of the Holga stuff. But this one doesn't really work. I'd say the angle is all fucked up.
    Oh, and this is an image from the college student above, he developed and printed it himself, I guess he posted it publicly which means he's proud of it and likes the composition and exposure.


    The comment is a little discouraging for sure. What do you guys think? What criteria do you guys hold while looking at a photograph?

  2. #2
    4x5 - no beard Patrik Roseen's Avatar
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    Re: Criticizing a photograph

    Personally I really like your photograph (but it's always a pity to find things on the ground when looking at the picture that one did not see when caught up in taking it...I mean the popsicle stick)

    No surprise...criticism is usually very subjective...but I have found that people who do LF themselves might appreciate a photograph like this in another way than people who do not. Some people seem to get confused when a picture includes a plane of focus which is not the one they are used to seeing and they get distracted by this and immediately think it's crap. I have experienced bad criticism on a photograph which at the same time has been praised by LFP's saying that this is a superb example of when LF is at its best.
    If one wants to be praised by non-LFs it seems one should use the LF-capabilities in a delicate manner and not overdo it (not saying you did this in this photo)

    As for the students picture it includes a subject which his generation likes in a rebellic way...and it includes a human being...When showing my photos to friends they all ask " and where are the people...".

    I have put some photos on Photo.net for criticism. The scoring range from 3 to 7 on the same photo...I'm happy if I like the photo myself and even happier if atleast one person finds it to be a 6-7 score.
    Last edited by Patrik Roseen; 14-Jun-2006 at 03:37.

  3. #3
    Abuser of God's Sunlight
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    Re: Criticizing a photograph

    Most college students studying photography are going to be going through one phase after another, and are going to be under the influence of one teacher after another, whether they fully understand what's being taught or not. In a year they probbly won't agree with any of the criticism they gave you today.

    This isn't a dig ... it's all part of the learning process. It's a reminder to allways bear in mind the disposition of the critic when trying to understand the criticism.

    As far as how to critique a photograph ... there are as many ways as there are to critique a novel, a film, or a symphony. There are dozens of schools of criticism, some as old as civilization, some born yesterday. They are all basically tools--you can think of them as lamps that illuminate a work from different angles, allowing you to see different aspects more clearly.

    Personally, I respond to form and metaphor first. I can appreciate work in many different ways, but most are secondary to those two. I have friends who respond to everything as narrative, or as romantic symbolism. I know people who are only interested in concepts. Some care mostly about social criticism. There are people on this list who respond to work primarily as craft objects.

    You're going to get different feedback from all these groups. The feedback will be most useful if you understand where it's coming from.

  4. #4

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    Thumbs up Re: Criticizing a photograph

    It doesn't matter what the college kid thinks about your work.

    If you like your image, that's all that matters.

    I enjoy your photograph and the critic's, and that ain't no bull. Grin.

    Both have values that touch my heart.

    What's sad is that the college kid can't write his way out of a paper bag.

    Ask him what he scored on his verbal SAT? I'd like to know his definition of "all fucked up." You should make him define his terms, be articulate, think in grammatically acceptable sentences.

    If anything, it is his photograph that is more Holga like, with a snapshot aesthetic with the softness in the subject's face from movement or back focus.His exposure looks off too, as if it was over exposed from the strong backlight, and thus had to be burned down extremely.

    For me your angle of view is perfect. The bulls leading lines flow with the paving stones into the street lights. Good job.

  5. #5

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    Re: Criticizing a photograph

    we all have our own preconceptions of what is good and bad. It's a fact of life. Ask a hundred people for opinions on your image and you will get 100 different ones.
    People will either like it or not and you must be prepared to accept that even if they are someone whose opinions you hold in high regard. The fact they "don't like it" is irrelevant. Criticism is worthless if it's not constructive. Any fool can tell you what something "is not". It requires a lot more to tell you what "something is".

    Have you read "Perception and Imaging" by Richard D. Zakia. There is a section in there on "Critiquing Photographs". The whole book is well worth reading. Then decide how constructive or not your friends critique really was.

  6. #6

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    Re: Criticizing a photograph

    If you worry about what others may think, then you'll always be average. Do you really want to give critics a veto over your creativity and expression? Even if it was a "bad" photo - embrace it as YOURS! No one is passing out medals in life.

    Frankly, for what it counts, I like the photo of the bull. I am pretty familiar with it, and have photographed it often. I've also seen lots of people photograph it. This is the first time I've seen anyone compose the shot that way, which is quite creative. The haze is an added plus.

  7. #7

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    Re: Criticizing a photograph

    Dear 400 D ( I'dlike to know your real name), especially in the beginning, pick your judges about your work.
    My first judge was a photojournalist of my local paper who knew the mother of a friend of mine.
    He wrote me a very encouranging letter pointing at the positive things he saw in my early images and the things that needed polishing.
    I treasured that letter in my mind for a long time, because it was honest and it encouraged and pushed me forward in my craft.
    Discard destructive criticism( it looks like crap), demand a knowledgeable critic.
    In the beginning we need support and criticism at the same time.
    Also, in the beginning we all go through the gear phase; cameras and lenses are just tools, what's important is your vision, focus more on that rather than jumping from a camera to another.
    Find the tool that more complement your vision and stick with it for a while.
    Good luck, you have a road in front of you rich of frustrations, and satisfaction.

  8. #8

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    Re: Criticizing a photograph

    IMHO there's no worse form of criticism than the kind that begins with "I like . . . " or "I don't like . . . " My mental response when someone starts critiquing a photograph by telling me they didn't like it runs along the lines of "that's not surprising, I didn't make the photograph for you." If you want some ideas about ways to properly criticize someone else's work or your own, I'd suggest reading the book "Criticizing Photographs" by Terry Barrett. It's a small book, you can read it in a night or two, and I found it very useful both in critiquing my students' work back when I had to do that a hundred times a month and in evaluating my own work. Another way of getting good feedback is to attend a workshop that includes a portfolio review. Obviously that depends a lot on the instructor's ability to critique but some I've attended have been very good in that respect. John Sexton, for example, gives great critiques.
    Brian Ellis
    Before you criticize someone, walk a mile in their shoes. That way when you do criticize them you'll be
    a mile away and you'll have their shoes.

  9. #9

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    Re: Criticizing a photograph

    Sorry, I shouldn't have said "no worse form of criticism," I should have said "no more useless form of criticism."
    Brian Ellis
    Before you criticize someone, walk a mile in their shoes. That way when you do criticize them you'll be
    a mile away and you'll have their shoes.

  10. #10
    Abuser of God's Sunlight
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    Re: Criticizing a photograph

    Brian's got it right. Thumbs up/thumbs down is not criticism. Good criticism illuminates. At the very least it will illuminate the effect your work has on that one person. At best it will help you see something vital that you didn't see before. In this sense, all good criticism is positive, in that it helps you move forward. "I like it" or "I don't like it" is indeed useless.

    It's not true that listening to criticism will make you mediocre. But it's up to you to figure out what criticism to listen to, and how to learn from it.

    I wouldn't be so hard on the college kid for giving useless criticism. It's a skill that he doesn't have yet. A lot of people who have been photographing and mouthing off about photographs their whole lives don't have it yet. Being a good critic comes naturally to a few people, but for most it takes study and work. Teachers are in the best position to learn--they can see long term what kinds of critiques help the students' work and what kinds don't.

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