Note, this is part four of four of the 10 Steps to Critique Your Photos. Rolando now offers photo critiques, portfolio reviews, and phone consultation. For more information please see Photo Critiques, Portfolio Reviews, Professional Photography Consultation. It’s all about taking your photography to the next level!

10 Steps to Critique Your Photos—Part Four …continued from part three

9. “Lighting is to an image what blood is to your body and without it there is no life,” my favorite words when talking about lighting to other photographers. We stress those words in that manner because it truly decides immediately if a photo is good or bad when you critique your photos—nothing else matters if the light isn’t there. A good photo editor will toss an image out of consideration for publication if the photo is over or underexposed or demonstrates poor lighting.

Photo Critiques, Lighting

I positioned Brittany next to a white wall to utilize the flattering effect of reflected sunlight.

Lighting is the main ingredient to any photo, in fact, it’s so important that the word photography comes from two Greek words, phōs meaning light, and graphé meaning drawing, thus the word photography is translated as “drawing with light.” What we capture with our cameras is in fact “reflected light,” whether it’s the light reflecting off our clothes, a wall, a face, water, etc., we are basically recording light onto a medium.

While there are sometimes trends, like “over-lit” backgrounds that cause editors to make temporary exceptions, when you critique your photos, as a minimum the first thing to look for is basic exposure of the image. As someone critiquing a photo, you should look for the intended result the photographer is trying to convey, as sometimes photographers are after specific types of lighting such as low-key or high-key lighting. Then there are times a photographer is trying to achieve a specific lighting style, like Rembrandt or Paramount type lighting.

Once you take into account if the photo has correct or basic exposure, then one would look for supplemental lighting that can make an image stand out over others, such as hair lighting, edge lighting, rim lighting or some type of accent lighting that brings attention to the intended subject. Though keep in mind, since photography is subjecttve, sometimes additional accent lighting can be overkill to some photo editors, especially those that prefer a more minimalist approach with natural, ambient, or existing lighting as your main source of illumination.

Sometimes lighting can signify a photographer’s style, or be their signature that easily identifies their work. A photo editor, or someone providing photo critiques, should look for consistency in a photographer’s body of work as it’s consistency, especially in lighting, that brings that identity to the photographer.

Lighting, Photography Critiques

Ironically the light from the lampposts set the tone in this image, so we “dragged the shutter” to ensure they would be properly exposed and lit the couple with flash.

Light also sets the tone or mood in an image, something that is worth considering when critiquing a photo. When you critique your photos, look at the lighting and ask yourself, “what atmosphere does it create to me the viewer?” Your answer is impacted by several things including the intensity or brightness of the light captured. The direction of the light, front, side, back, will impact how the image is not only lit, but how we interpret the photo too.

Then when observing the image, we’ll notice the contrast, or quality of light, produced by whether the initial light was hard or soft. Our final observation is the color temperature, or Kelvin, of light that was captured as lower Kelvin temperatures are warmer and higher Kelvin temperatures are colder. It’s these four things, brightness, direction, contrast and color temperature that will influence a photography critique.

Focus and clarity are two words that are a requirement when you critique your photos; they have several meanings during the critique. Let’s start with focus first. Focus means, is the image sharply focused and if not, is there selective focus where part of the image is intentionally slightly out of focus as part of the composition that draws you into the image? Focus also means is there a focus point in the image whether it’s an actual subject, event, or thing.

Shadows, Photos Critique

I took this photo in the Smoky Mountains, the mixing of the light with shadows is what caught my eye to take this photo.

What is the main focus of the image is something to ask when you critique your photos. Does the photo keep the viewer focused on the intent of the image or does the viewer wander off because the image is weak and lost its focus? So you can see that the word focus when it comes to photography has various meanings, not just one.

As Ansel Adams once stated, “There are always two people in every picture:  the photographer and the viewer.”

When you have an image in focus, that provides an interesting focal point, and keeps the viewer focused on its intended message, a photo is said to have clarity. Clarity is often a simple but precise message either apparent, or transparent in the photo and when there is no clarity in an image, it’s said that the photo is ambiguous. A photo with focus and clarity expresses a clear thought almost instantly to the viewer.

In Conclusion

While many photo editors have their own “photo editing” style when it comes to assessing photos for publication, rest assured the ten points outlined above are factors they take into account when making their final decisions and when asked to critique a portfolio or critique your photos. If you’re after improvement in your photography, or just wanting to learn how to identify your strongest image from a photo shoot, use the ten steps in this workflow when you photo edit your own images.

Be honest to yourself when you critique your photos, and be constructive when critiquing the photography of others—this will make you a better photographer in the end. Part of critiquing photos is learning from the mistakes or inadequacies you see when studying the overall image and its capture, whether the image belongs to you or another photographer. This learning process will make you think before you release the camera shutter so you can get it right in the camera making future photo critiques and editing a breeze. Do this, and almost all editors and photo editors will love you and your photography will improve.

Note, this is part four of four of the 10 Steps to Critique Your Photos. Rolando now offers photo critiques, portfolio reviews, and phone consultation. For more information please see Photo Critiques, Portfolio Reviews, Professional Photography Consultation. It’s all about taking your photography to the next level!

Click Here to Go to Part One

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