Over the last almost 30 years of doing critiques at my workshops I have come to realize that I say the same few things over and over again. It is not because I am unimaginative or at a loss for better words. And it is not because I don’t see some really great images every workshops (I do!) Its more that all photographers (including me sometimes) make the same mistakes no matter how long they have photographed or how many workshops they have attended. Here are my most common critique comments followed by a short explanation.
1. “Tell me what you were thinking”
Thinking is a really good habit to get into when you are photographing. You are not just out there pointing your camera at things and hoping for the best. You are being deliberate and composing with consideration and forethought. It doesn’t make any difference how many pictures you take on an outing. It only matters how many good pictures you take. So stop and think and consider what you are doing. In other words, slow down. If you aren’t sure what it is you are doing or what it is you like I promise when I see them I won’t either and that is not a good thing! Take your time, think about what you are doing and then take a picture.
2. “Tell me what you liked about this scene”
A good composition is a clear representation of your creative vision so a viewer should have a clear idea what it you liked about a particular situation. Usually what happens is that I have an idea of why the person initially liked but because he or she has added so much other stuff to the composition- the sky, framing branches, more to the left or right, top or bottom- the initial creative idea is lost, drowned in a sea of other mediocre stuff. Be confident in what you liked and just photograph that. Don’t add stuff- it only diminishes the final image.
3. “Did you mean to include this?”
People seldom look at the edges of their compositions. I mean really, why would they? The subject is somewhere in the center of the picture, who cares about the edges? I care and you should to. Edges can be very distracting and will pull the attention of your viewer away from your intended subject. Bright spots, anomalous colors, weird parts of animals or things, bad blurs are all bad compositionally. Before you push your shutter scan you eye around the edge of your viewfinder and look for odd bits of stuff. If you have a less than 100% viewfinder (and chances are you do) zoom back a wee bit to see all that is going to appear in your image.
4. “You have over sharpened/over saturated this image”
Here is my rule: Move the slider or the dial or whatever it is you move to adjust your picture in your processing program to where you like it and then back off. Here is another way of saying this- make an adjustment until you go ooh and then back off. Ooh is always too much. I know in this supersized world of excess we all live in saying this is practically anti-American but in photography excess is bad. Think of the Puritans. Would they ever go ‘ooh!’ to anything? NO! Process like a Puritan. If you have to, supersize your drink and but not your processing.
5. “You’ve cut off the feet (ears, hands, top of the head, etc)”
We all spend so much time concentrating on the head and trying to get the focusing point squarely there that we tend to forget that animals (people!) have feet and ears and tips to tails. Eventually you will learn to attend to all of the animal when you are photographing but at first it is a really hard thing to do. So let your eye look away from the head and notice the extremities before you push the shutter.
6. ” Nice composition but bad light”
I have saying this on every workshop I have ever taught and at every critique I have ever done- “dull light = dull photo.” There are no exceptions, no excuses, no way to get out of it. So if dull light is always bad why photograph? Either wait for different light or change the light with a flash or reflector or your shadow. Do something just don’t be satisfied with dull/bad light.
7. “That bright spot is very distracting”
Your eye will go to the brightest part of your composition. If it is not part of your subject your picture is going to suffer. Now sometimes a blown out highlight can’t be avoided, I understand that but it can’t be on an important part of your subject. It’s best that there aren’t any blown out highlights, mind you. So wait for better light and pay attention to those blown out whites. This is what your histogram is for!
8. “You just missed the focus”
Proper focus is not relative. It is either in focus or out of focus- there is no sort of in focus. Focus is like pregnancy and hemorrhoids- a straight yes or no- you can’t be sort of pregnant or sort of have a sore ass. Same with focus. For wildlife/people the eyes have to be in focus. For everything else where you want us to look has to be in focus. Besides, things that are slightly out of focus are really, really distracting. Better to be way out of focus (the mind doesn’t try to resolve it) than just off.
9. ” Just because you see the moon you don’t have to include it”
This happens all the time- I see a nice picture but there is something wrong- it is oddly stretched. Then I notice that the moon has been included. Okay, the moon was there when you were taking your photo, I get that. But was it what attracted you to the shot or did you just add it at the end. Chances are you added it at the end- bad move, never works. If the moon is near (and I mean right on) the horizon, okay. Otherwise, don’t compromise your composition just to add the moon.
10. “Photograph animals at their eye level”
Memorize this: The most compelling wildlife photographs are those in which you enter the world of the animal. You do this by photographing wildlife at their eye level. This also applies to your little wildlife- children, pets, friends, family. This will likely mean bending your knees but that’s okay, they unbend.
11. “Thank you for contributing this magnificent image to my files!
How do you think I get all those great pictures? Sometimes the files are a bit small but that’s fine. Keep those photos coming! ;-)))