March 6, 2016

How to Critique Another Person’s Image

Urban Starfish


My philosophy is: Don’t. Ever. Never.

Why? Because my opinion, no matter how well intentioned or experienced, is bound to miss the mark.

Why? Because my advice comes from my point of view, my Vision and my definition of success.

Not yours.

If I really want to help someone, I’ll offer encouragement instead of advice. If I do comment I’ll say only positive things and qualify my comments with a “what I like about this image is…”

I’ll never tell another person what they should have done or what I would have done with the image. This is not useful, no matter how well intentioned I am.

If the person presses me for an opinion, then I’ll simply say: What I think is unimportant. What do you think of the image? How well does it express your vision?

Generally I find that a person asking for an opinion does so because they have not yet found their Vision. This now opens the door to talking to them about the  importance of Vision as the driving force behind an image and not relying on the opinions of others. 

And above all else I try to be kind and encouraging. I try to remember that each person is on the same path as I am. Today they may be behind me on that path, but tomorrow they could be ahead of me.

That’s a great reason to treat each person as I would like to be treated: as one who has tremendous creative potential and is seeking to find their Vision.




16 thoughts on “How to Critique Another Person’s Image

  1. Excellent comments, as always, Cole!

    So many times I have heard so-called critiques delivered from a point of view that seems to say, “This isn’t as good as it could be, because I would have done it differently.”

    Comments can be constructive (for example, I might ask for help in trying to create a particular feel that is part of my vision for the image, but the technique I’m using doesn’t quite get me what I want. A helpful suggestion might point me to a better technique. But telling me that I should have accomplished the vision of someone else is far from helpful.

    Thanks for your clear insights and useful perspectives!

  2. Personally, I appreciate and try to understand any critique I can get. It’s always up to me how much value I place on the critique, so I’m out nothing, but have much to gain. One of the criteria I use is whether I respect the work of the critiquer….do they have a similar style as mine? …do they express their art with high quality and feeling? Feel free to critique any of my work, Cole…I admire yours.

  3. I’m struggling with this idea – in all the best ways that someone can struggle with an intellectual challenge.

    I definitely enjoy critiquing my own images. I like writing about photography and my photography provides opportunities to work on those critiquing skills. I have friends, mostly fellow camera club members, who want my thoughts about a particular photo. I enjoy examining their image, wondering what they’re trying to say, and offering suggestions about how they might improve the image.

    On the other hand, I recognize that each photographer’s vision is unique. I don’t take all the critique I get because I don’t want my images to turn out looking like they were taken by someone else. And I don’t want someone asking for my critique to change their own style to look more like me.

    There’s a line there that I don’t want to cross, but I don’t know exactly where that line is.

    Thank you for thoughts on the subject and the intellectual challenge.

  4. As someone who has personally benefitted from your insights into my work, I truly appreciate your thoughts in this regard. In recent years, I’ve found less interest in other people’s opinion of my photographs. If the images please me, I don’t care what others think. Maybe the vision that you mention taking hold.

  5. Cole,
    When I use to address camera groups or teach a small darkroom workshop I was always aware of giving praise to a person’s efforts they have made in photography . Most of the time these were people just starting out and full of enthusiasm, while a few others had already developed a smug attitude about their work. I enjoyed the ones that were eager to learn and when I could, I would give them a few suggestions on how to improve their work. I would bring some of my before and after images. It is not easy to show your raw ugly prints to a group but it helps convey the possibilities of what a fine print can look like and clearly shows what having a vision is all about.

  6. I am no longer do the Photo club or Photo- association thing have not for several years they are all about competitions and critiques in the classic sense. Too bad there is not a forum on photo-image discussion based on mutual acceptance the concept of namaste.

    I was asked to judge-critique for many years and would only agree to do so if the image maker was present and available for comment-conversation. Because I always started with the question to the image maker “does this image now represent the image you had in your minds eye when the shutter clicked?” AKA was your vision of the original moment (the 4 dimensional environment at capture) satisfied with the static 2 dimensional result. Then we have a discussion, a conversation, not a critique. I was not very popular with this approach but then photography was never supposed to be a contact sport!

    Safe imaging, Namaste
    Michael L Young

  7. Cole, I hope you didn’t think my statement referring to your photo, that I was critique your work ! Not at All!!! I just said the first thing came to my mine, from studying of (MY CREATER WORD,) (MY BIBLE) I USE THE WORD CREATOR BECAUSE IDON’T WANT TO OFFEND NO-ONE RELIGON, WE ALL HAVE A CREATOR, SOME PEOPLE HAVE OTHER
    I LOVE THE PHOTO OF THY (FORD) ON THE RAIL TRACK, I GOING TO SAY THIS,( FIX, OR, REPAIR, DAILY!) I LOOK FORWARD TO THE DAY THAT I CAN GET BACK PHOTOING. I’m trying to cope and work around my handy-cap, but is large challenge at hand, with Faith, Determination, My Creator, He will show me the way, If this is what he wants to use me for, if not then He will open other doors for me to see. JUST DON’T GIVE UP, THAT’S A LOT TO SAY TO AN OLD 75 YEAR OLD,
    As my old friend said:( Beautiful, is in the eye of the Beer-Holder) my saying, ( We are all Out-Standing in Our Own Field.)Some to their ability and others to theirs. This makes the World go around!!! Your Friend:
    Larry Hollis

  8. I partially agree with your comments Cole, but can not fully accept them. It is important to be criticized. Even to get angry is a good thing, if it gets you off your butt and makes you work a little harder. I have seen reviewers and judges discussing and critiquing images and often they struggle to find words that are kind and politically correct. Is it just me or has the world become too politically correct…? If the photographer goes away thinking their work is done, that their image is perfect, then there is no incentive for them to work harder and try to improve. I agree that the viewer should not be trying to impart their vision onto the work of someone else. But, to point out weaknesses, flaws and problems from a more technical standpoint is of benefit to the artist. I am a film guy so for me it is the compositiion and then the exposure, the development and the darkroom printing where my decisions are made. I welcome someone looking at my work and giving me a frank and honest opinion about what I have done, both right and wrong. Situations such as this have, in the past, forced me to go back to the darkroom and try again, and it was through that criticism that I was able to produce a much better final print, and learned a lot along the way. The techniques are a little different for today’s digital shooters, but the process of going from composition to final print follows a similar path. It is human nature to desire approval and acceptance and sometimes when we get it, we tend to get lazy.

    Rob Pohl
    Edmonton, Alberta, Canada

  9. well said.. it’s a sensitive matter to begin with and encouragement is more helpful than critiquing most definitely. However, it’s a delicate balance between not wanting someone to be delusional yet not giving praise just for the sake of. (kind of like the theory of everyone wins is best in sports which I think is lame). I personally think when someone asks for your opinion, rather than critique their work maybe just offer trade secrets that have helped you improve your game so it’s more generalized rather than directly assaulting their images.

  10. Thank you so much for this eloquent statement. As a high school art teacher I completely agree with this philosophy. I’m always hearing people’s horror stories about the art teacher that told them not to take our excetera, So I’m always taking the positive route, hoping to develop artistic interest instead of ripping them down.

  11. “The only thing critics do is psychoanalyze themselves.” (Edward Weston)

    “What anyone else thinks about your work is none of your business.” (unknown)

    I believe there is a very fine line between teaching/encouraging and critiquing.

  12. And this: “Under the charmed light of scholars, surrounded by abstract and learned discussion, his own vision and reality grew dim.” (Ben Shahn)

  13. Great advice Cole. Sure, you can get helpful comments from others, but it pays to look closely at your own work and critically as you are probably your best critic. Be true to yourself and follow your instinct. This is what i’ve always tried to do and over time improve my own photography.

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