The Art of Critique

Some of the beginners have a hard time offering critique or evaluating an image.
Let’s do a general guideline on the aspects of a photograph that we look at when we are viewing as critics:

1- Exposure
2- Composition
3- Sharpness and detail
4- Subject

Now, elaborating on each of them:

1- Exposure-
Formal definition: exposure is the total amount of light allowed to fall on the photographic medium
(film or image sensor) during the process of taking a photograph.
What do we look for? Highlights and shadows in check, meaning you will see detail in both light and dark areas.
Whites should not look solid white (referred to as burned or clipped) and blacks should not look solid black
(we called them blocked)
Whites should not look muddy (underexposed), darks should not look washed out (overexposed).
If the whole image looks too light or too dark, it may not be correctly exposed.

2- Composition-
Formal definition: composition is the placement or arrangement of visual elements or ingredients in a work of art.
This may be more complicated than exposure and very elusive to some.
Do not frame too tight (subject bigger than 75% of the total frame), especially for printing. Web
presentation can be tighter.
Rule of thirds: Divide your frame into thirds, both vertically and horizontally, and try to place your main subject
on or close to the intersections. Horizons or frame divisions work well in thirds. Centered placing works
better in symmetrical compositions and in vertical format.
Leave room in front of subject rather than behind. If the body is facing one way and the head the other way, try
and leave room in front of the face.
Avoid distracting elements, especially big blobs of white or black, they take attention away from your subject.
Consider perspective when choosing your angle of view. Eye level is more intimate and appealing.
Branches or lines shooting out of the corners emphasize the rectangular or square shape of the frame and are to
be avoided.
Some strong compositional elements are diagonals, patterns and textures.

3- Sharpness and detail-
Formal definition of sharpness: Having clear form and detail.
It is just as easy to over sharpen when you are preparing an image for the web, as it is to go the opposite
way, referred to as soft. Soft images do not appear crisp. Over sharpened images have lines that are too crisp
and look frozen.

4- Subject-
Formal definition: The dominant element of a composition.
It is important to have a clear subject. In avian, wildlife or macro, this is easier that it may be in landscapes. We
need a main element that holds the viewer attention. If you have two subjects, it is best if they interact.
subject placement and space was discussed in composition. Subject cropping should be done carefully, and it is
preferable to cut half a wing or leg, rather that just clip. You cut as composition. You clip as mistake.
In the case of live subjects, a nice specimen will always be better than a less fortunate one, unless you are
trying to illustrate a point. Ex: Butterfly with broken wings, flower with decaying petals.
Eye contact and catch light are positive elements. Eye contact meaning looking at you or if two subjects, looking
at each other. A catch light implies life and vibrancy.
Head angle is important for two reasons: It looks more intimate when the subject is looking at you, rather than
away from you. And, when the subject (bird or mammal) is giving you a profile, the eye and tip of bill or nose
are on a different plane in regard to the sensor, depending on the size of the subject, this may mean not enough
depth of field to get both eye and tip in focus. A slight turn towards you will improve the situation.

Using the sun behind you in the most common and easiest light, followed by the sun in front, side light being the most difficult to handle.

Try for clean, un-obtrusive backgrounds. Shooting wide open or close to it, is a good way to get this. You may have to walk around the subject, stand on your tip-toes or get on your knees looking for that all green or all blue background, but when you do it, you will be more pleased with the results.

Eye level whenever possible. This would give a feeling of more intimacy to your picture and it may take you flat on the ground for some animals, provided the terrain permits it.

It is much better when the animal is looking into the picture instead of out of it. In other words, there should be more distance from the tip of the bill to the edge of the frame, than from the tail to the opposite edge. The subject should not be too tight, no more that 75% of the image.

For flights, the bird landing towards you with the sun to your back is ideal, when he’s flapping parallel you may get unwanted shadows in the wings, which get to be real harsh when the sun is strong. The upward and downward strokes are more attractive than the gliding “pancake” look and the wing position can improve or kill a picture.

Bird small in frame should go close to the corners, unless the composition calls for it, stay away from totally centered positions, and the bird should be coming at you, not going away from you.

These are all general guidelines, you can stir away sometimes and it may work or not work. Experimenting is a great tool for improvement, and practice makes great, if not perfect!

3 thoughts on “The Art of Critique

  1. Fabs: Salvo que Fernando Ortega su haya vuelto rematadamente loco (cosa poco probable), este artículo es una joya que deberías traducir y compartir con l@s Fotonaturer@s. No es justo que se lo queden los anglos para ellos solos (snif!). Saludos cordiales desde este otro lado del Planeta.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s