Yep - that's right - the best way to learn is through.....critique! Whether you critique your own photo, or ask someone else to do it, critiquing a photograph is one of the best ways to get better. Now, you have to put on your big-girl panties (or big boy tighty-whities) and not get too sensitive about critiques, that's for sure. However, usually your worst, harshest critic is yourself, so, if you can deal with yourself, you'll be okay!
We include critique sessions in all our workshops. NOT to make you feel bad (or good, either), but to make you aware of things you should consider to make your photograph better. ALL of us benefit from critiques - you NEVER know it all! However, neither do the critics. For example - when they say you should get closer to your subject - well, sometimes, you CAN'T get closer - either your lens capabilities are maxed out, or you can't launch yourself into the tops of the trees or into the sky. You do your best with what you have. So take some suggestions with a grain of salt when you know there was nothing more you could do. The other option is to know your gear limitations, and shoot within them.
|This bird, if magnified 1:1, is slightly out of focus in the eye area. NOT acceptable! Also, I whacked the tail off - not unusual with bird photography, because they don't want to stay where you want them to stay. However, I like the soft, uncluttered background (hard to get with bird photography sometimes) and I like the diagonal line of the branch that the bird is sitting on. The general composition is pleasing and the exposure is spot on. However, this, for me, is a File 13 (trash can) shot due to the blurriness in the eye area and the tail "chop".|
However, when it comes to other things to consider when you are evaluating a photograph - most times, there ARE things you can do to improve. Take, for instance, composition. Did you "work" your subject? That means, did you try to photograph your subject from lots of different angles? Did you put the subject in different places in the frame and see which one you liked the best? Speaking of subject - does the photograph HAVE a subject? Or, does it have lots of different things, and if pressed, as an outsider, you wouldn't know WHAT the photographer was trying to showcase? Do you have leading lines that draw your viewer into your subject? Though leading lines aren't always available, it's always a good thing to look for them to make your photograph more compelling. How is your exposure? Too light? Too dark? Exposure is critical. Back in the slide film days, what you shot was what you got. Nowadays, lots of people shoot willy-nilly, figuring they can fix their exposure in Photoshop or Lightroom. While you often need to tweak a photograph in one of those programs, you want to shoot your original photograph properly IN CAMERA so you have as little processing to do as possible.
What does your background look like? Does it compliment your subject? Is your depth of field (what is in focus from front to back) in your photograph right for the subject? Blur in the background is great, but it's not so great when your subject is unintentionally blurry. Take animals, for instance - if the eyes of the animal you are shooting are not in focus, that picture needs to go in File 13. Eyes on animals HAVE to be in focus. That is one rule not to be broken! Look at the edges of your photograph. If you aren't shooting with a full frame camera (and it's just fine not to!), or even if you HAVE a full-frame camera, be careful of what might creep into your photograph. Weird stuff can creep in and be a distraction. Often, they can be cropped out, but again, the goal is to get it right IN CAMERA!
There are many more things to look at when you critique your photo - these are just a few. Over-processing is another matter, which we will get into at another time!
All things considered, there are rules in photography. Rules are good to follow most of the time, but sometimes, breaking them can make your photograph stand out. Just be prepared when someone doesn't understand your version of creativity! Knowing the rules first, and then, on occasion, CHOOSING to break them is the way to go.
Melissa and I critique each other's photographs all the time. Sometimes, we are rather honest (aka brutal). Other times, we're a bit more tactful (but not often!). However, we are best friends. It's what we do. When we critique in class, we are honest, but NOT brutal, AND, we are always tactful! Anytime you'd like to send us a photo to critique, we will be happy to do so. Just realize that most times, we, the critics, were not there when you took the photograph, and can only make suggestions as to how to make your photograph better. We will put our photographs up on our Facebook page occasionally, and critique them for you. It will help you see how we cull our photographs after a shoot.
A good way to have some feel-good moments is to take some of your early photographs (that you thought were great, way back when) and critique them now - it will show you have far you have come in your photography. The learning curve is infinite. You will NEVER know it all, and you will ALWAYS have something to learn. That's what makes photography so much fun. The more you learn, the easier (and faster) it will be to take all these things into consideration when you shoot a photograph. When you are able to do that, you will become much more satisfied with your skill as a photographer!