I get asked to critique photos all the time now, and I’m happy to do it, but I often feel that people’s photography would dramatically improve if they could see for themselves where they’re going wrong. Small things that I would do differently can make a big difference to the end result. The sooner you learn to critique for yourself, the better, as it means that you’ll be able to study your photos as you’re taking them instead of getting home and wishing you could go back and retake them.
If you would like your photo critiqued, click here.
Where is the Visual Weight?
This is the first thing you’ll notice when you look at the photo. Ask yourself, where do your eyes immediately go? Where do you want the eyes to go? If you read my post on visual weight, you’ll have a good understanding of how to use if effectively, but if not, there’s a few elements that you should consider.
I really enjoy taking photos of models as its a relaxing, fun and a great way to play around with some new tricks you’ve picked up, but the important question to ask yourself is whether the photo would still be good without the beauty of the model being a large part of the visual weight? If the answer is no, then you need to consider what is good about the photo? The lighting? Your technique? Or are you just relying on your model to make it a good photo?
If you’re trying to direct the viewers attention to a certain part of the photo, but the first thing you look at is something else, such as writing, or a person’s eyes, then you need to recompose your shot. The sooner you learn to think like this, the better, as you’ll start to be able to fix your photos as you’re taking them and you won’t be left wishing you could go back and reshoot.
Are There Any Distracting Elements?
Whatever isn’t adding to the photo, is taking away from the photo. That’s my rule and it’s something that I carefully consider whenever I take a photo as it’s a very important part to the composition. If there’s a branch leaning into the photo, or a dark shadow covering part of your scene, then they’ll likely be taking away from the overall effect of your photo.
Another popular problem I see when you have lines that lead out of the photo, but don’t lead to anything. This is good when you’re trying to convey a feeling of dynamic tension, but the most popular instance of this is when an limb doesn’t quite fit into the photo, when it really should do. Unless there’s a good reason for a body part to into a photo unfinished, I like to include it. Check out the photo below to see what I mean.
Is the Exposure/Metering Correct?
Sometimes when you’re shooting on the wrong metering mode, you can end up with poor results as the camera doesn’t know how to correct the exposure. Most of the time this happens, your camera is left on evaluative when it should really be on spot mode so that it can meter for the right part of the photo (often the subject), and not the whole thing. If your metering is fine, but it’s still coming out too light or dark, then you know what you have to do. “I’ll fix it in post” are the words of a bad photographer. Get it right in the camera.
Would it Look Better Through a Different Focal Length?
There’s a lot more to focal length than meets the eye, it’s not just about how close the subject appears. If you don’t understand exactly what it is, then I suggest that you click on the link in the previous sentence, as there’s a lot to know. The main difference that the focal length can do is change the perspective of the photo – the longer lengths appear to push everything in the scene much closer together.
Have a look at the example below to see what I mean. You’ll often see portraits are shot at longer lengths because this compressing effect is flattering and isolates the subject from the camera, making the shot feel more natural. When you understand the effect that different lengths have, you can best decide what would look best for your photo.
What is the Background Doing?
Every pixel counts. Whether it’s your background, your foreground, or your subject, a pixel is a pixel and you should do whatever you can to make sure that each of them counts. Have a look at this link to see what you can do to make your backgrounds more interesting. This relates heavily to visual weight and distracting elements, as it’s important to consider what makes your photo great? This is why I don’t like shooting on a white background as you limit what you can do with the photo to make it more interesting.
How is the Composition & Balance?
There are plenty of composition techniques that you can follow to improve your photos, just make sure that you don’t follow them blindly. The rule of thirds is a great way to take photos, but don’t do it for the sake of it, it needs to work for your photo. There’s plenty of times that a centered photo will work the best, or even slightly off center – it all depends on the feeling that you would like to produce. For most instances a balanced photo is going to work best, so study the visual weights and make sure that you have them placed around the photo so that they weigh each other out. If you want your photo to be unbalanced then you know what you have to do.
Does the Photo Require Post Production?
More often then not when I take photo, the answer is no, but that’s only true to a certain extent. The photo is usually good enough to stand up on its own without post production, but that doesn’t mean that it won’t improve the photo if I do it. My photo below went up on the Facebook page with no post production, but that’s because I wanted to demonstrate that it doesn’t really need it, I will still end up putting a few finishing touches onto it though.
If your photo needs post production purely because your technique is poor then it’s best to fix it in the camera. Some people seem to think that the computer can fix most problems, but there’s actually a very real limit to what you can do. The photo below was a 30 second exposure and the only light source was a £3 torch – if you would like to see more photos like this, then come check out our Facebook.
Is the Color Accurate?
When people take photos indoors without the flash on, the white balance almost always comes out wrong as the camera struggles to recognise the tungsten light. This makes the photo appear orange and unnatural, and if you’re not shooting in RAW, then you’ll want to fix it in the camera or you’ll be a bit stuck with options for fixing it later on. On top of this, you should consider whether the photo would suit being in black and white or whether you’ve turned it black and white for the sake of making it look arty?
When I’m shooting in black and white, I’m actually shooting in colour with the intention to turn it black and white later, but the difference is it changes the way I’m shooting. Black and white relies heavily on shape, form and texture to work as these are brought out in the desaturation of colour. Ask yourself if your B+W photo has this or whether you’re doing it to try and make it look good. This is another example of misguided visual weight.
Does the Depth of Field Suit the Photo?
I recommend the 50mm f/1.8 to people because of the wide aperture and overall quality, but the problem that often occurs afterwards is that you start to see a lot of photos with the aperture wide open. Shallow DoF for shallow DoF’s sake doesn’t do you any favours and while you may look at it now and think it looks good, you’ll look back in a year’s time and cringe.
If you know what you’re doing with it, it can work really well like in the photo below. This was set to f/1.4 (the widest aperture I have), but I focused on the model’s eyes so the whole photo appeared to be in much better focus. If you’re stuck with a wide aperture in a low light condition, but the DoF doesn’t suit your photo, then raise your ISO or use an off camera flash.
Is The Photo Cliche?
We all see a lot of cliche photography out there, and we’ve probably all been guilty of it at some point in our lives, but it’s best to try and avoid it. I find that the majority of cliche photos come about from a lack of photographic inspiration, which leads us to taking photos of our pets, flowers or sunsets, or putting a garish border on our photos.
If you have to implement ’cool’ photo effects from your computer, then chances are that you’re not trying hard enough with your photography. Often when I’m meeting with a model, I wonder where I’m going to shoot, but if you put your mind to it, it’s not that hard to come up with somewhere more interesting than your garden. The sooner you challenge your photography, the better it will become.