How to criticise photos

You're a critic. I'm a critic too. It's OK because we're all critics! To criticise is not necessarily to find fault, but also to judge the merits of any artistic endeavour. Balanced criticism is healthy, after all it is what (usually) defines us as intelligent and diverse beings. Today we look at how you can improve your criticism skills in the world of photography.

By Zafar Jamati

Photography tips and tricks
The photo critic
Have you ever looked at a photograph and thought, 'it's nice, but there's something not quite right about it'?

When you see a photo for the first time, your eyes are naturally drawn to the larger images in the foreground first, and then travel to the smaller subjects in the background. 

They say beauty is in the eye of the beholder, they obviously didn't know about the golden ratio. A simple formula, that replicates natural things like the human face, flowers and animals, golden ration makes the proportions of a photo look aesthetically pleasing. Leonardo da Vinci's Mona Lisa and the Vitruvian man both follow this rule. Photographers often mimic this using the rule of thirds.

Good photographers capture what they see, great photographers tell a story:
At an early meeting of the Photographic Society of London, established in 1853, one of the members complained that the new technique was "too literal to compete with works of art" because it was unable to "elevate the imagination". (Guardian, 2012)
Despite advancements in camera technology, we all see the world through our own cognitive lens. In order to elevate the imagination, a photo should provoke and inspire it. It allows us to reflect on our lives in the good times and the bad.

By learning how to critique photos you can improve your own business photos to market and promote products and services. Here's a few ways to critique a photo:

1. Break it down - Take in the whole photo then dig deeper. Start by looking at the picture as a whole. Look at objects individually and then look at them in context with everything else. Are the layers of meaning being conveyed? Look at smaller details to enhance this understanding.

2. Decide what you like and dislike - There is no wrong or right, you may hate something that I love and vice versa, we are after all a sum of our experiences. This is a good opportunity to see which pictorial cues evoke certain emotions and motivation in people.

3. Describe the photo to yourself - I've often stood in an art gallery, staring absent mindedly at a really expensive piece of art and thought to myself 'I don't get it'. A good way of overcoming this is to describe the photo to yourself. 

How do you describe it? Think about at the technical elements of the photo such as exposure, framing, colour, noise, focus etcetera. Then think about the artistic elements such as lighting, selective bokeh (blurring), composition (is it busy or minimalist?), subject matter and colour scheme.

4. Discuss with others - Talk about it. Other people may notice things you didn't. These subtle differences may bring about a change in your own perspective as you begin to understand the photo. You'll soon find that a photo you initially disliked, you now really like. Alternatively, you may even start hating it!

As you come to understand what the general tastes are, you can use this to create photography campaigns which really speak to the masses. By adding layers of meaning you can ensure that your photos stand the test of time.

Image courtesy of  Boians Cho Joo Young on Freedigitalphotos.net

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Zafar Jamati

Stone Junction is a cool technical PR agency based in Stafford. We work for all sorts of businesses, with a particular focus on technology, technical and engineering companies. We like being sent cake and biscuits by clients, journalists and prospects.

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