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 One

As a photojournalist most of my life, I’ve had the pleasure to work with some great editors and photo editors. Yes, there is a difference, as the “editor” of a publication is usually “the general manager of the publication’s editorial content” while the “photo editor” is the manager of one piece of that content. Photo editors know what makes a great image as well if an image works with the editorial content of the article included in the publication and generally they are the first to critique your photos of a publication staff.

Parade Cover Story

I worked closely with the photo editor of Parade magazine for this cover story; their circulation is 31 million printed copies every Sunday.

And those that have worked in the publication industry also know some of the great photo editors know how to critique your photos extremely well, but many can’t shoot their way out of a paper bag, then you have some that can shoot circles around most photographers. But there is a common trait all great photo editors have, it’s that they truly know what makes a great photo and indirectly, they coach photographers plus help them nurture their careers and craft when they critique your photos.

I’ve been lucky in my photography career. While most of my involvement in photography is as a photographer, or shooter as they say, I’ve also had the pleasure of being a photo editor myself when I worked for the Air Force News Agency and the Army and Air Force Hometown News Service. What put me there? All those previous editors I worked with.

Sometimes I didn’t agree with their decisions, and often I learned from those decisions, and in this article, I share things that I’ve learned in almost 40 years of working with both types of editors, from my high school monthly newspaper and yearbook staff, up to the editors of the largest publication, Parade magazine, circulation 31 million printed copies every Sunday.

So use the information below to critique your photos, or to critique photos created by others, but do it genuinely, be tough, don’t sugar coat. Do so constructively, not destructively. Take an honest and proactive approach to your photo critiques. So study the steps below, then apply this list of critical points used by top photographers and photo editors worldwide to critique your photos.

Photo Editor

I was a contributing editor for Studio Photography magazine, but still had my photos in my articles approved by a photo editor as in this tearsheet.

1. Exposure is the first thing a photo editor looks for and with digital photography today, there is no excuse for not getting your exposure right as you can make camera adjustments while you shoot and instantly see the results, unlike the film days. This instant gratification along with understanding a histogram on your camera’s preview screen allows you to shoot, adjust, then shoot and adjust until you have a perfect exposure.

While there are times where the lighting conditions in the scene will not cooperate and your image is just underexposed, you may still be able to salvage the image in postproduction, or by merely converting it to a black and white photo. Though remember, always do your best to get it right in the camera first. Don’t rely on postproduction as your crutch or to gain positive photo critiques.

Sports Photography, Photo Critiques

For five years I was an NBA credentialed photographer and all my photos were reviewed by a photo editor before publication.

2. Sharpness in a photo comes in two forms. The sharpness of the image overall is what a photo editor looks for when they critique your photos, followed by “are the eyes of the subject tack sharp?” Obviously if you don’t have a living subject captured in the photo, the latter form of sharpness is mute, but overall the sharpness of a photo is a must—editors actually call a photo “soft” when not tack sharp and if you produce many of them, the photo editors will label you as a “soft shooter,” and that’s not a good label in the publishing world for a photographer.

In general to keep from being labeled as a soft shooter, always focus on the eye of the subject closest to the camera. If your photos don’t include a living being, such as a person or animal, then pay close attention to the overall sharpness of the main element you’ve captured in the photo—it should always be tack sharp.

3. Composition, framing, and how it draws the eye are the first things a photo editor will judge when reviewing potential photos for publication. It’s important to understand the composition in your photos and study how the image is framed for visual impact; this plays a major role when you critique your photos, as there are many sub-elements to consider in composition.

When you critique your photos, ask yourself, is the image framed properly, or is the entire capture area of your photo fully utilized—in other words, fill the frame! The worst thing a photographer can say is, “I’ll crop it later in postproduction.” Cropping outside the frame is better left to farmers, seriously. When a frame is not filled you are throwing away pixels, and in some cases, mega-pixels. While sometimes “negative” or “white” space is essential in capturing a great image, do your best to fill the frame with the mindset of getting it right in the camera.

Critique Your Photos

In this photo, the Rule of Thirds is broken, but it works because of the diagonals formed by the fence.

Second, while there are many rules of composition, the more common one that works well is the Rule of Thirds. The Rule of Thirds simply states that if you equally divided your image area up into three parts, horizontally and vertically (nine equal parts) and placed your main subject where the outer parts (lines) intersect, this will make your image more powerful. The rule also recommends that you avoid placing your subject in the center. It’s also equally important that you leave room in the direction where your subject is looking or the action is taken place.

Travel Photography Adventures

When composing an image, leave room in the direction a person is looking, or in the direction of the action, in this case the gondola.

For example, if you have a photo of a kicker kicking the football toward the goal posts in a high school football game, you want to include the goal posts—no one really cares about the referee standing behind the kicker. The ideal shot is the football going through the goal posts with victory emotion of the kicker—and if you do get the back referee, his hands up in the air indicating the field goal or extra point is good.

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 Two

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