Note, this is part one 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 Two …continued from part one

4. Editorial Value, emotional appeal, does it tell a story are three things to look for when you critique your photos, or critique someone else’s work. Study the photo and ask yourself, “Does it tell a story; does it bring out your emotions, does it have value to your intended audience?” Ideally you’d like a “yes” to at least one of those questions.

Photography Critiques, Sunset

Even with a silhouette and a Caribbean sunset a photo can tell a story as seen here.

Editorial value applies more to publication requirements when images are used to illustrate a story. If you’re asked to supply photos to a publication, an editor will normally tell you what they are looking for in an image. If you’re a blogger, or want to submit a freelance article, then the photo needs to illustrate your points. Visual storytelling is another form of getting the point across.

If your photo doesn’t support the article for publication, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a bad photo, it’s just not a photo that will work for the article and you can save it for a future article or even better, sell it for stock or use it for your own portfolio promotion.

The next thing to look for is emotional appeal where an image stirs emotions in your intended audience. If you’re photographing the birth of a newborn, then obviously your audience is that newborn’s immediate family, so look for that emotional appeal in the image. Hopefully the image tells the story of birth too.

Another emotional aspect to look for is does the image invoke emotions? If the image is super strong, emotionally, perhaps it can become viral on social media? Don’t judge the image just on your emotions; ask yourself if it will invoke emotions in others too? The most powerful images are those that invoke emotions over a broad spectrum of viewers—remember the Eddie Adams photo of the Vietnamese general being shot in the head? He won the Pulitzer with that photo.

A strong image, like the latter, will tell a story too. For example, in portraiture you have portraits and then you have environmental portraits. Environmental portraits tell a story. Let’s pretend you have to photograph the CEO of an automobile company for their annual perspective. A great photographer would place that CEO in a position where something like the assembly line is in the background. This technique, where you have a main element and a secondary element to tell the story is called juxtaposition.

Sometimes telling the story is subtle, or implied. For example, if you have a photo of a female subject standing at the bathroom mirror applying lipstick, that is one story, but if you have the same scenario that shows in the mirror’s reflection the doorway with a man’s tie hanging from the door, that is another story and can often make the viewer feel if they were actually there.

Sports Photo Critiques

Even the right facial expression can tell a story as in this photo of the San Antonio Spurs in action.

5. Perspective in photography comes in various forms, from camera angle of view to camera distance. Both impact what the camera actually captures, which is sometimes different than what we see through human perception. In technical talk, perspective is defined as the spatial relationship between objects plus their size in respect to the point of view from the camera that the viewer sees.

Because perspective is easily affected by many things including human perception, this is one reason the U.S. government requires the statement, “objects in the mirror are closer than they appear” be engraved in “wing” mirrors on all motor vehicles. This phenomenon occurs because of the mirror’s convexity that makes objects appear smaller in the given field of view, and if we’re not careful, human perception of “things that are smaller” is that objects are farther away, but they are not.

So when you critique your photos take human perception into account and ask the questions, could the perspective have been better? Does the perspective work for the subject matter? Does the perspective provide the best point of view? Does the perspective help tell the story? Does the perspective distort the truth?

Perspective Photo Critiques

In part one of this series you saw a female ostrich behind the fence; this was the male ostrich standing next to her, so I switched to a longer lens to make the fence appear behind this deadly bird. I also had to step further back to keep the same “head-size” perspective found in the female ostrich’s photo found in part one of this article series.

Notice we didn’t mention anything about camera lenses, as merely changing camera lenses doesn’t change perspective, in fact, if the camera distance and position to the scene or subject being photographed doesn’t change, going from a wide angle lens to a telephoto doesn’t change perspective—it only changes background compression and depth of field from the actual focus point plus the “angle of view.” Sometimes you might see a change in the superficial or apparent viewpoint when you change lenses, but there will be no change in the real or actual viewpoint without changing camera distance with the lens change.

As an example, if you’re standing 15 feet from your portrait subject, the size of their nose stays the same whether it’s a telephoto lens or wide-angle lens, again, provided camera position and distance do not change. However, if you want to capture the same facial area in your view frame from what you saw in your telephoto lens with a wide-angle lens, then you have to move forward, or closer to your subject and this will cause perspective distortion resulting in a larger nose for your subject.

Perspective Photo Critiques

Perspective changes with lens length as well as angle as in this photo of Holley during our Moab photography workshop.

It’s this understanding of perspective distortion that professional photographers take into account and that is why experienced portrait photographers prefer using medium-telephoto to telephoto lenses in the range of 85mm to 135mm in 35mm camera formats. Whether you’re using a full-frame or crop-sensor, DSLR or mirrorless cameras, the effective focal length for the best perceptional view of an image when it comes to photographing portraits in 35mm formats is the 85mm to 135mm range.

Some mirrorless systems, specifically the four-thirds systems, have a 75mm lens that becomes an effective 150mm lens, ideal for portraits. It’s these longer focal lengths that give a flatter perspective to your subject, thus this is why you’ll often hear professional photographers claim that portrait lenses do not add weight to your subject like that in a normal 50mm or wider-angle lens.

Perspective Photo Critiques

As you can see here, with a stronger telephone lens how the perspective has now changed with Holley from the previous photo in addition to the juxtaposition of the windmill found in both photos of Holley.

In addition to perspective distortion from lens to subject distance, you also have foreground and background perspective changes simply by positioning yourself and camera at different height levels. If you place your camera down low this allows you to put more focus on the foreground and when photographing people, this perspective will also make their legs look longer, and their body look thinner. The opposite happens when you get up high and shoot down on your subject, their legs will appear shorter and the body will appear thicker. Use this knowledge to make tall subjects shorter and short subjects taller.

Basically what you are doing when you raise or lower your camera is to break away from the typical eye-level views, but this is only the first step, you literally need to take more steps, you must walk around laterally. Great photojournalists know this technique—it’s a matter of moving around to get the best angle of view that provides for the most interesting background.

In juxtaposition, a photojournalist tries to add a second element in the frame to help tell the story or sometimes just to add something funny or even serious. This second element normally compliments the main subject. In photojournalism, this is easily applied by keeping the main camera lens focus on the subject while adding another subject, sign, or element that is slightly out of focus, but in the image frame. One example might be a close-up image of a diamond-ring, as in product photography, but in the background, slightly out of focus, is a jeweler sporting special magnification glasses and meticulously working on another ring clamped in a jeweler’s vise.

Juxtaposition, Photography Critique

In this photo of Alex, the guitar in the background is “juxtaposed” to help tell the story that she can also play a guitar, not just the piano..

Note, this is part one 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 Three, or Click Here to Go to Part One

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