7 minutes reading time (1322 words)

Test Yourself, a Critique Challenge by Robert Chaplin

Dear KCC Members,

Digital Challenge…Now it is your turn. I have critiqued your digital images. Some agree with my assessments...some do not. 

What follows is my methodology and reasons.


Let’s start with the KCC Scoring Chart:

60 - 69 = Acceptable

70 - 79 = Average

80 - 87 = Good (above average image, but could be improved)

88 – 94 = Excellent (a well-done image)

95 – 100 = Superior (a near-perfect image)

Now for my interpretation and application of the KCC score chart:

Acceptable – A simple “been there – saw that” shot. A photograph that records an image without any thought to exposure (including hot spots or blinkies), composition, focus, or artistic statement. 

 Average – A photograph that seems to be a shot of opportunity without thought to perspective, background, depth of field, or artistic statement. This photograph may have exposure flaws (lost detail in highlights and shadows). A photograph that looks like anyone could have taken.

Good – A photograph the seems to be well exposed and composed with thought given to the background and perspective. This image may have border issues (elements entering the edge of the frame), intersection issues (elements intersection the subject or other elements…think pole or stick growing out of the subject or person), slight compositional issues, and/or processing issues (think failure to correct chromatic aberrations, processing for contrast, and color correction).

Note: Images that receive a visual critique typically fall in this category.

Excellent – A photograph that is well exposed, composed, and processed, including attention to the depth of field, and includes emotional and artistic impacts.

Note: These images may receive a visual critique, but usually only as another way of seeing. Points are not deducted for these visual critiques since this observation changes the art to my way of seeing.

Superior – A photograph that is well exposed, composed, and processed. An image that makes a strong artistic and/or emotional statement. This is an image that cannot be improved or critiqued without changing the vision or idea of the artist.

The Self-Critique

How objective are you when self-critiquing your photographs? Can you separate your emotional connection to your image? Remember, the viewer of our images, whether it is a judge, family member, or friend, does not have the same emotional attachment.

The only emotion a viewer of our image has is the one we evoke when they see our art for the first time.

According to the American Heritage dictionary on my desk, a critique is a critical review or commentary, especially one dealing with works of art or literature. It did not say anything about it being an indictment as to the photographer’s personality or character.

A substandard image can be submitted to a contest but do not be upset with the judge’s comments.

Test yourself with this critique challenge. 

The critique, especially in a camera club setting, is intended to advance ideas and observations for artistic growth.

Few things stifle photographic creativity like a critically judgmental opinion; few things improve photographic images like honest critical feedback and an open mind.

Despite the importance of a critique, typically, the first response is defensive, even though we do not need to defend our photographs. This is where an open mind is important. When listening too, or reading a critique, take it for what it is worth. Does it sound like an opinion or statement of an idea or concept? Does it have a basis in study or technicality, or is it simply a like or dislike.

It is at this point that the photographer has to determine if what is being said is useful, does it make sense.

Also, note; when submitting a photograph to a competition, it is not good enough to submit a substandard photo just because it meets the theme. The theme is the starting point or basis of the competition. The theme identifies a subject or topic, and it should be understood that the judges providing the critique will be looking for quality. Quality in focus, detail, tonality, and composition, and design.

What follows is an approach to self-critiquing one’s images. If a photograph can pass these tests, there is a better opportunity for a successful competition.

Is your subject in sharp focus? When photographing people and wildlife, the subject’s eyes should have a tack-sharp focus. Landscapes are well suited to a great depth of field, but is your subject (what you want the viewer to notice) in sharp focus? Sharp focus is the basis for a quality photograph.

Is the image well composed? Use power points. The least interesting area to place the subject is in the center of the image. Divide the viewing area into thirds, horizontally and vertically. Imagine a Tic-Tac-Toe grid. Most cameras with live view capability have a grid screen setting. Think of composition as the art of design and using space effectively.

Is the subject in an appropriate power-point? It is usually preferable to have the subject moving or looking into the image. This can also include buildings. Buildings can have a feel of perceived motion or view.

Is the image well exposed? Avoid any unnecessary highlights. Overly bright or blown-out areas are attention grabbers that take attention away from the subject. The subject should be the brightest or most colorful object in the image.

Is the background appropriate? Remember, there is nothing more important than the background; there is nothing more important than the subject. How many times have you seen a beautiful subject against a distracting or inappropriate background? The background is the canvas for the subject.

Are there leading lines or S-Curves that guide the viewer through the image? The use of leading lines, C-curves, and S-curves lead the viewer through our images and hold their attention. Never assume that someone will always look where you want. Use visual cues to guide them through your art.

Is the orientation of the photograph suitable for the subject? Consider photographing vertical elements with a portrait orientation and horizontal elements in landscape orientation.

Is the direction of light appropriate for the subject? Is the subject front, side, top, or bottom lighted, or perhaps backlighted? If creative lighting was used, is it well-executed?

How is the quality of light?  Was the image created using available light or strobes? Was the light harsh or soft, even or contrasty? Are there any unnecessary shadows or bright areas? 

Is the depth of field appropriate for the image? Depth of field helps with the background. Was the image created with the depth of field in mind? This relates to the appropriate background. Was a shallow depth of field used to soften a busy or distracting background? 

Are there any unnecessary or distracting elements? Check the edges of the photograph for branches, posts, or any other object that protrudes into the frame. Does everything in the image need to be there to support the subject? If an object or element is in the image, it will either add to or detract from the photograph.

There are different reasons to create a photograph. Some photos are snapshots that are intended to be a general reminder of a vacation, trip, or family gathering. It is important for these images to meet the compositional guidelines above so they will be interesting to our viewers. Other photos are created as fine art to be sold or hang on our walls as a decoration.

The cliché image should not be discounted in the growth of a photographer. The cliché or vacation snapshot is important to the memory of a place visited. The viewers of our snapshot photographs will appreciate them because they are familiar, and there is comfort in the familiar.

Contests and critiques, however, hold the entrant to a higher standard. A Contest, as the name implies, is a competition of creativity, quality, and design.

Be ruthless when self-critiquing your images because others will.

Keep shooting…Keep submitting…Keep an open mind.

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