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  #1  
Old October 16th, 2008, 10:56 AM
Cem_Usakligil Cem_Usakligil is offline
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Default Comment & Critique 101

Hi Everybody,

Let’s face it, providing Comment & Critique is tough, very tough. Most of us don’t know how to do it properly so we stay away from it. After all, we could end up offending the other party with our C&C if it contains more critique than comment. Sometimes we don’t know where to begin or have nothing more to say than a simple: “nice picture, I like it”. Or we may feel like we’ll make a fool of ourselves in front of all those resident “gurus” who can be very eloquent and elaborate in their C&C. Whatever the reasons are, by not providing C&C we are not doing anybody any favors at all. I believe that even a simple acknowledgement such as “nice picture” is much better than no acknowledgements at all.

Most importantly, when we start giving C&C we also educate ourselves further. Because we have to stop and think about the pictures first. What emotions does the picture evoke and why? How good is the composition? Is it technically good? By asking these kind of questions and by learning the answers, we also start improving our own photography albeit unconsciously. In the end, this is a win-win situation for all.

So in the hope that more and more OPF members will start providing C&C, I have decided to put together some pointers. My intention is not to educate anybody, far from it. But we may need some guidelines which we can understand and adapt to our own needs. It is just to help us get started. Please feel free to fill in the blanks or discuss freely on this issue. (PS: the structure/method I present is loosely based on the guidelines published by the Dutch Union of Amateur Photographers. I have adapted it according to my own vision. I expect you’ll end up doing the same eventually.)

First some Dos:

1) See the picture as a whole
Start by looking at the picture as a whole. A picture can be made of many extraordinary bits and pieces which deserve our attention. But the photographer has intentionally chosen to include all that we see in his/her piece of art. This total has to be more than the sum of its parts. So looking at the total picture is most important. Only when we’ve done that can we dwell on the details of the parts.

2. Be positive
C&C does not mean that we only have to talk about what we don’t like. Even a bad picture shall have some positive aspects. So start by mentioning what you like. And then move on to the parts which can be improved (notice that I did not say parts which are bad).


How to deliver C&C in a structured way

We could divide our C&C into three main areas

1) The Message & the content
2) Photographical Aspects
3) Technical Aspects


1) The Message & the Content
To me this is the most important part of C&C. This is where we really judge a photo for its essence, stripped from technology or other aspects. This is what makes or breaks a picture: the message and the content. So try and find the answers to the following questions:
  • What message or story does the picture communicate; is it clear?
  • Is the picture original and/or creative?
  • Which emotions does it evoke in you? E.g. pleasure, hope, despair, fear, etc.
  • Does it do justice to its subject? What is the interpretation of the photographer of this subject? Did he/she succeed in doing so?

2. Photographical Aspects
This is the part when we start talking about photography as a craft. This is almost as important as the message & the content part. Personally, I think that it comes just after the message bit.

Many aspects of photography can be reviewed such as (in random order):
  • What is the quality of the light in the picture? The choice of natural or artificial lighting, exposure, etc.
  • What is in or out of the picture, i.e. the composition?
  • What choices are made for the background and the foreground?
  • Which areas are in focus or blurred? How does this improve the composition?
  • How are the colors distributed in the picture? Would it be better in BW or color?
  • Is there movement in the picture, how is it recorded?
  • Has the picture been taken at the “decisive moment”?
  • Has the photographer made good use of perspective and focal length?
  • Is the choice of format (landscape, portrait or square) OK?
One can decide to handle one or more of these questions by providing answers to them in the C&C.

3. Technical Aspects
I think that this part is less important than the other two. Ironically, most people think that C&C is 90% about the technical aspects of a picture. You can see this trend everywhere. Hopefully, you’ll see eye to eye with me. The technical aspects are important since they can break a good picture if the technical execution is terrible. But even when they are excellent, they cannot make up for a picture which is rather lacking in the areas of message, content and photography.

So here are some technical aspects to be reviewed (in random order):
  • Is the color balance (hues and tints) correct?
  • Is the exposure correct?
  • Is the picture sharp? I.e. in the focus areas where it is supposed to be sharp.
  • Is it post processed and sharpened properly?
  • Is the HDR processing, panorama stitching, etc. executed properly?
  • Is framing (if present) and presentation pleasing?

Conclusions
This should give any novice in C&C enough pointers towards getting started. Now please go out and react to others’ pictures. If we all do it, our own pictures will be reacted upon as well.

Thanks a lot for your patience if you’re still with me ;-). Looking forward to your reactions and ideas on this.

Cheers,
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Last edited by Cem_Usakligil; October 16th, 2008 at 11:33 AM.
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  #2  
Old October 16th, 2008, 11:02 PM
Kathy Rappaport Kathy Rappaport is offline
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Cem,

This is a great article. In fact, it should be a sticky. Something to read, digest and read again. Then apply liberally right here at OPF! Very well articulated. Well formatted and meaningful!
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  #3  
Old October 17th, 2008, 12:05 AM
Trudy Montgomery Trudy Montgomery is offline
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I agree make this a sticky!

I like how you started out with the reasons we don't leave C&C as I'm sure we can all relate to at least one or more of those reasons. Secondly I like that you point out the benefits that providing C&C give to the C&Cer. And finally the steps for C&C are simple and well written and oooh so helpful. Thank you! I hope to see the forum on fire with C&C from here on out. I'll do my best to leave a little love on the post I scan... and if you do see me leaving some C&C for you, just remember I'm still in a learning curve and learning the ropes.

~trudy
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  #4  
Old October 17th, 2008, 03:33 AM
Rachel Foster Rachel Foster is offline
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Excellent article.


And I know I am one of the biggest offenders. Thing is, I'd rather leave a "wow" and let someone know I've at least looked at the image than leave nothing at all due to time constraints. I do know how to c&c images a bit better now but I just don't have the time.

So, I'll take you at your word that "wow" is better than nothing at all.

(Sorry for the edit...I'm pretty sleep dep at the moment.)
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  #5  
Old October 17th, 2008, 03:52 AM
Cem_Usakligil Cem_Usakligil is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Rachel Foster View Post
...So, question: Is it preferred to leave a "wow" or nothing at all?
Hi Rachel,

Good question. My personal preference is to have a simple "wow" instead of nothing at all. I know that this may bring down the quality level of C&C a bit, since it is one of the areas where OPF raises far above the rest of the photo sites.

So we are looking at two potentially conflicting goals:
- Raise the volume of C&C given in OPF
- Maintain the high quality level of C&C at the same time

In order to achieve both, we should give our members the possibility of starting simply by saying "wow". But we must also make sure that they can gradually move on to a higher level of C&C. This will be a learning process, it does not happen instantly. This is the purpose of this article; i.e. helping our members in improving their C&C skills.

Cheers,
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  #6  
Old October 17th, 2008, 03:57 AM
Bart_van_der_Wolf Bart_van_der_Wolf is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Kathy Rappaport View Post
Cem,

This is a great article. In fact, it should be a sticky. Something to read, digest and read again. Then apply liberally right here at OPF! Very well articulated. Well formatted and meaningful!
I agree. Wow ;-)

Bart
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  #7  
Old October 17th, 2008, 05:40 AM
janet Smith janet Smith is offline
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Well written article Cem.

I must put up my hand as a "Wower", usuallly because I am so pushed for time, spending long hours every day processing images, keywording etc etc etc..... and then there's the rest of life to deal with!

Anyway, I will try harder to give more detailed C & C when time permits, but will still say "Wow" or "great shot" when time (or the lack of it!) permits little more. I agree that this is preferable to no comment....

As they say time is probably the most valuable asset that we have, so thank you for the time you have given putting this article together for us, very much appreciated.
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Old October 17th, 2008, 09:37 AM
Nicolas Claris Nicolas Claris is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Bart_van_der_Wolf View Post
I agree. Wow ;-)

Bart
Wow, wow, wow!
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  #9  
Old October 17th, 2008, 03:21 PM
charlotte thompson charlotte thompson is offline
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and- WOWWEEEEEEE! every one needs to cowboy up! that's what we say in Texas-

we need this-well I do!


Charlotte-
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  #10  
Old October 17th, 2008, 03:27 PM
Alain Briot Alain Briot is offline
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I think that's a good checklist for online critique. Using it does represent a sizeable amount of work for forum participants though. It remains to be seen how many will use it.
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  #11  
Old October 17th, 2008, 03:37 PM
Cem_Usakligil Cem_Usakligil is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Alain Briot View Post
I think that's a good list for online critique. It does represent a sizeable amount of work for forum participants though. It remains to be seen how many will use it.
Hi Alain,

Thanks for your comments. Just to clarify, I do not expect that all aspects I have listed above must be handled for providing C&C. One can choose to comment on just one or two aspects, whatever they fancy to dwell on. A bit like an extended menu really.

But it still represents some work which must be done by the C&C provider, you are right. I do not have the illusion that this will become common practice, not at all. But every single person who decides to start providing C&C after reading this will be a huge bonus :-).

Cheers,
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  #12  
Old October 17th, 2008, 04:45 PM
Rachel Foster Rachel Foster is offline
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Learning how to critique has been extremely valuable to me. Now if only I could "go forth and multiply" (clone myself) .....
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  #13  
Old October 17th, 2008, 05:11 PM
Alain Briot Alain Briot is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Cem_Usakligil View Post
Hi Alain,

Thanks for your comments. Just to clarify, I do not expect that all aspects I have listed above must be handled for providing C&C. One can choose to comment on just one or two aspects, whatever they fancy to dwell on. A bit like an extended menu really.

But it still represents some work which must be done by the C&C provider, you are right. I do not have the illusion that this will become common practice, not at all. But every single person who decides to start providing C&C after reading this will be a huge bonus :-).

Cheers,
Using a checklist for comments and critique is very useful. I use one (actually 4 different ones depending on the purpose of the review) when I review my students' work.
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  #14  
Old October 17th, 2008, 05:53 PM
Asher Kelman Asher Kelman is offline
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I like the idea that we can give a range of feedback from the pat on the back, WOW! and then once in a week attempting to say a little more, perhaps choosing just a few points from Cem's checklist. I will be continuing to pick selected images for more extensive review. The net sum should be that people can get a sense of what pictures convey by following these comments; all this without paying a dime!

Now with all this, let's remember to keep our own intent with the picture sacrosanct. Take everyone's comments with good humor and select only those points that are in harmony with the original artistic feeling or it's evolved progeny of ideas.

Thanks Cem for leading the way!

Asher
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  #15  
Old October 17th, 2008, 06:16 PM
Rachel Foster Rachel Foster is offline
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Like, totally, dude! (I'm so totally hip, dig?)

OK, all joking aside, as far as MY images are concerned, no criticism is too picky. All i would ask is that what I've done right be mentioned also. I will try to do the same with others. (Please send me a pm if you want "critique light.")
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  #16  
Old October 17th, 2008, 07:24 PM
Doug Kerr Doug Kerr is online now
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Hi, Cem,

Very nice essay. Thanks.
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  #17  
Old October 17th, 2008, 08:13 PM
charlotte thompson charlotte thompson is offline
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well-
I think this forum moves way to slow-
amid 200 or more people that look at your efforts only 2 or 3 help you-
I mean
I work at what I do-
are my efforts in vain

I am a small amount
I would love if this forum would wake up-
my vote-

Charlotte-
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  #18  
Old October 18th, 2008, 12:11 AM
Asher Kelman Asher Kelman is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by charlotte thompson View Post
well-
I think this forum moves way to slow-
amid 200 or more people that look at your efforts only 2 or 3 help you-
I mean
I work at what I do-
are my efforts in vain

I am a small amount
I would love if this forum would wake up-
my vote-

Charlotte-
Charlotte,

Think about it, look how much time has been spent commenting on your work! You have to remember that people come here to browse, they have lost their retirement money because of the market drop or have just put the kids to sleep and just want to enjoy the view! A lot of photographers go away weeks at a time on shoots. We have 1000 people looking and always only 1 in 10 ever posts! Still, your pictures have been discussed and responded to more than perhaps anyone. You have been good helping to do the same for others.

Post in your existing threads and people will respond. Wake up other sleeping threads and then let the guys know by PM that you expect some response to your own work.

I'd try to follow Cem's ideas and pick 3-5 people to comment on their work using a few points from Cem's essay. Let them know by PM that you would like the same consideration in return.

Asher
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  #19  
Old November 3rd, 2008, 08:11 AM
Bill Miller Bill Miller is offline
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Many photo editors probably because of time give C&C. They quickly look thru 1000's of images. If you ask them why they picked A over B. The answer will usually be that _______ was not right in B, not what was right with A.

Sometimes you look at a photo and just don't like it, for whatever reason. It may be focus, color, composition, crop any number of things. From being a seeing other forums and the comments. Most people including some members of this site are really looking for ego boosters as I call them. Something to justify the cost of their equipment and to keep shooting. They never seem to take any C&C to improve or change there work.

Here is a short list of answers to a post made on another site. The exact same photo/photos were posted here also and received a critical but accurate evaluation by Asher and others. Take a look these are just a few of over 20+ comments. The post received 1.68% replys on ___.com and here 3.2% replys this is based on the number of views.


shots are really well done
Great work, great model.
Wow, wow, and wow!
Very nice

Posters response: "thanks to all for the comments"

Possibly the real questions are:
"Why do people post their photos on line?"
"Are they looking for honest C&C or ego stroking?"
"What do you do with a person who post the same type of photos all the time and expects C&C?"

Disclamer: this is not directed at any one living or dead person or poster.
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Old November 3rd, 2008, 12:08 PM
Asher Kelman Asher Kelman is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Bill Miller View Post
Here is a short list of answers to a post made on another site. The exact same photo/photos were posted here also and received a critical but accurate evaluation by Asher and others. Take a look these are just a few of over 20+ comments. The post received 1.68% replys on ___.com and here 3.2% replys this is based on the number of views.


shots are really well done
Great work, great model.
Wow, wow, and wow!
Very nice

Posters response: "thanks to all for the comments"

Possibly the real questions are:
"Why do people post their photos on line?"
"Are they looking for honest C&C or ego stroking?"
"What do you do with a person who post the same type of photos all the time and expects C&C?"

Disclamer: this is not directed at any one living or dead person or poster.
Thanks Bill,

"Wow!" responses are acceptable too. However, in OPF, we must insist on honesty!
  1. What do I see?

  2. What do I feel?

  3. What do I think?

That's not hard! Cem provided the reference sheet for these questions. So, yes, at least give that pat on the back when deserved! But also help someone on their creative journey to do better! That's what our community has to be about. That, alone, pays the rent!

Asher
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  #21  
Old May 21st, 2009, 11:02 AM
Asher Kelman Asher Kelman is offline
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Hi folk,

Everyone read this. Please spend a moment to familiarize yourself with Cem's excellent guide. At the very least ask yourself:

Given the pictures implied purpose:
  1. What do I see?
  2. What do I feel?
  3. What do I think?

Better Still:

add:

"What are the mechanisms that make this image work on not?, "How might it be made more effective?" and "How might this related to other work?"

Asher
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Our purpose is getting to an impressive photograph. So we encourage browsing and then feedback. Consider a link to your galleries annotated, C&C welcomed. Images posted within OPF are assumed to be for Comment & Critique, unless otherwise designated.

Last edited by Asher Kelman; November 6th, 2009 at 08:17 PM.
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  #22  
Old October 16th, 2009, 08:19 AM
Sandra Jones Sandra Jones is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Cem_Usakligil View Post
Hi Everybody,

Let’s face it, providing Comment & Critique is tough, very tough. Most of us don’t know how to do it properly so we stay away from it. After all, we could end up offending the other party with our C&C if it contains more critique than comment. Sometimes we don’t know where to begin or have nothing more to say than a simple: “nice picture, I like it”. Or we may feel like we’ll make a fool of ourselves in front of all those resident “gurus” who can be very eloquent and elaborate in their C&C. Whatever the reasons are, by not providing C&C we are not doing anybody any favors at all. I believe that even a simple acknowledgement such as “nice picture” is much better than no acknowledgements at all.

Conclusions
This should give any novice in C&C enough pointers towards getting started. Now please go out and react to others’ pictures. If we all do it, our own pictures will be reacted upon as well.

Thanks a lot for your patience if you’re still with me ;-). Looking forward to your reactions and ideas on this.

Cheers,
Well, this is exactly what I was looking for, tips on critiquing in order to 'give back' for the help I receive through others' critiques. Your opening paragraph describes my fear precisely.

I haven't even gotten through the whole thread. I had to stop and say "Thank You" for your insights and for taking the time to teach and encourage others. This will help me get past "wow", "great", "awesome"...
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Old November 6th, 2009, 08:16 PM
Asher Kelman Asher Kelman is offline
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Let me bring this to everyone's attention as this guide written by Cem is, I think, a pretty good start for giving feedback. Note it also includes reference to framing and the presentation of the picture.

Here, if you offer a picture for C&C, expect folk to give suggestions as to what might make this picture so wonderful, that it will hold them long enough to engage with it and enjoy it fully. That's what the effort is all about. It's not to say you are wrong. Rather that, other folk try to open up alternate possibilities. That, in fact, is one of the essential features of art. The finding of cracks where more light and magic can come in.

None of us really knows what's best for you on your own path.

All folk can do is hold up a light for you or let you know that if you intend this effect, how well what you have done translates into an agreeable experience. There's no truth in what someone says they "want", only what they report the feel and think. What you receive is just a general sense of how the offering and presentation effects our own sentiments.

Asher

Enjoy!

Asher
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  #24  
Old February 22nd, 2012, 04:05 PM
Rachel Foster Rachel Foster is offline
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Offering C&C can be one of the most daunting tasks in developing as a photographer. A few months back, I put my camera away because I was feeling stale and felt like I was going backwards. After a few years, I would still look at an image and not know what to do with it, or even what was good or bad. I was too immersed in it all, I think.

A couple of days ago, I was at a medical facility that's gone paperless. While I was waiting to sign the consent form (on computer) the screen had a photo of a cardinal on a tree limb with some snow on it, and what seemed snow falling in the background.

I started talking about the image to my husband, saying that while the image was "nice," the soft focus detracted, there should be more light around the cardinal's eyes, the snow was a blob of white; maybe upping the contrast would help, and etc.

I was kind of dumbstruck by the realization that I've actually learned a few things. Maybe sometimes you have to let things percolate and stop trying to force it. Anyway, it was a kick. I think in the next couple of months, I'll have the 5DII out and putting it through its paces.
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Old February 22nd, 2012, 11:45 PM
Cem_Usakligil Cem_Usakligil is offline
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Hi Rachel,

Quote:
Originally Posted by Rachel Foster View Post
Offering C&C can be one of the most daunting tasks in developing as a photographer. A few months back, I put my camera away because I was feeling stale and felt like I was going backwards. After a few years, I would still look at an image and not know what to do with it, or even what was good or bad. I was too immersed in it all, I think.

A couple of days ago, I was at a medical facility that's gone paperless. While I was waiting to sign the consent form (on computer) the screen had a photo of a cardinal on a tree limb with some snow on it, and what seemed snow falling in the background.

I started talking about the image to my husband, saying that while the image was "nice," the soft focus detracted, there should be more light around the cardinal's eyes, the snow was a blob of white; maybe upping the contrast would help, and etc.

I was kind of dumbstruck by the realization that I've actually learned a few things. Maybe sometimes you have to let things percolate and stop trying to force it. Anyway, it was a kick. I think in the next couple of months, I'll have the 5DII out and putting it through its paces.
Very nice to see you back, please stick around even if you are not shooting yourself. You know more, much more about photography than you think!
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  #26  
Old February 23rd, 2012, 01:34 AM
Jerome Marot Jerome Marot is offline
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Very nice thread which I had not noticed. If I may add my opinion: I think that there is an inherent problem with critique.

Critique is nice when one is beginning, because the critics can point at obvious defects that the learning photographer will learn to avoid. In the beginning, it will be simple technique. Later maybe composition or light, etc... Beginners tend to make the same error throughout all their pictures, so they will learn from a remark like "all your pictures are a bit too dark", "you need to wait for better light in your landscapes", etc...

But then comes a point where the critique reaches a limit. This point is when the comments given on a picture will not apply to any further picture from that photographer. So, in effect, they are wasted.

Experienced photographers, whether gifted or not, have enough experience to have internalized the process sufficiently to be able to take decisions on what and how they take a subject in the time they need to take a picture. All what is in the picture is of their choice, considering the constraints of the moment. Therefore, if a critic points a defect, it is either a conscious choice of that photographer or the result of the constraints of the moment. The first case is simply a matter of different taste and opinion and the second case will not apply to any other moment (usually). It is not useful.

Experienced photographers need a completely different kind of critique. What they need is to have the opinion of a panel of people to understand what emotions may or may not raise from their pictures. What they need is to present a handful of photographs on a theme and see which ones will be consistently chosen by most people. They need to know whether the message was understood.
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Old February 23rd, 2012, 07:01 PM
Rachel Foster Rachel Foster is offline
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Hi, Cem! Thanks, and it's nice to "see" you again, also.


Jerome has a point, and one that needs to be expanded on. Just like people at different levels need different types of critiques, there is also a variety of learning styles. I've learned classes don't benefit me, I need one-on-one instruction.
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Old February 24th, 2012, 10:51 PM
Jerome Marot Jerome Marot is offline
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Experienced photographers need a completely different kind of critique. What they need is to have the opinion of a panel of people to understand what emotions may or may not raise from their pictures. What they need is to present a handful of photographs on a theme and see which ones will be consistently chosen by most people. They need to know whether the message was understood.
Since I found this article this morning, I should point out that there is a problem with my approach: choosing the panel of critics...
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Old March 27th, 2016, 10:49 AM
Asher Kelman Asher Kelman is offline
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We need brave and honest critique!

We don't want to have "bleached-white bread" glowing feedback to every posted picture replacing honest commentary. Critique's best includes both the positive and the problems. Gem's outline above is a great guide to have read through and then use the parts that resonate with you.

Thank goodness, we do not welcome every picture as a wonder. Admittedly, I tend to err in that respect more than most. I appreciate bird photography, for example, just for the beauty of nature and the enterprise and devotion to catching site of rare events. As art they may not be so worthy, but I will always support nature photographers, because that is the real matrix in which we include our civilization. I admit having supported photographers whose pictures that are only half baked, but look for the good parts and call out what I find troublesome. I only do that if the person is open to such critique, otherwise I prefer to ignore the post entirely.

We have to get to know which photographers really cannot take negative comments or any suggestions for improving the presentation. Some photographers feel outraged at any "Attempt to redesign their work". Yes, that is understandable, so we have to know the person and be aware of such sensitivities for completed works. This is especially important for work that has been put up for sale or being sent in for an exhibition.

So we should take into account that the photographer is trying to sell that work and courteously send any harsh comments privately, as to a valued colleague.

Asher
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Old March 27th, 2016, 11:10 AM
Asher Kelman Asher Kelman is offline
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Since I found this article this morning, I should point out that there is a problem with my approach: choosing the panel of critics...

Jerome,

I had read that before but lost the link. Thanks! I heard that at a photography school someone did the same thing and tricked the professor too! The work was said to be without any artistic value of redeeming features. But I haven't rediscovered that link!

Yes, we should be able to critique even the greatest photographers. After all, they were great at their time, rising above their peers, but now our references have widened. It could be that Bresson today is not always readable in the same way to folk in his era. It could be that the art was not even as widely appreciated as such in his time as his fame suggests. But for sure, it's dishonest if we see his work as, by definition, always "the greatest art"!

If we don't appreciate a picture, then it also tells us something about what we consider esthetically interesting and engaging or what we measure as trivial.

Art is a more a demonstration of openness to new experience than merely the best result of some formula of aesthetics and craft. When we go to a museum, for each piece, we should, hopefully, be welcomed into some new reality.
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