The how and why of critiquing

One aspect of being an artist is the art of giving and receiving critiques; one thing that every artist should be able to do, if they really want to improve, and yet it is one thing that no one wants to do. Merriam-Webster defines critique as; a careful judgment in which you give your opinion about the good and bad parts of something (such as a piece of writing or a work of art). (Critique. (n.d.). Retrieved November 24, 2013, from

One key phrase in the definition is, “a careful judgment.” When critiquing we must be careful with who we critique, when we critique and especially what we say. We must be careful who we critique because not everyone is looking to be critiqued. There are those people who are content with their current photography skill level. I have found that the people who are looking to be critiqued are those photographers that are really looking to improve and grow their skills.

We must be careful when we are critiquing because unwanted critiques can put people on the defensive because they are not prepared to receive a critique at that time. When someone is not prepared for a critique you can be doing more harm than good when you present your opinion about their work. We must be careful what we say in a critique. In a critique it is not enough to say the photo is bad, good, or that we like it or not.  We have to identify what is bad or good in the photo and identify why it is either bad or good; in other words we need be able to put it into words. For example; if we like the lighting in a photo we need to ask ourselves; what is it about the lighting that we like? What does that lighting do for the photo? These are only a couple of questions we should be asking ourselves.

What I have found is that the one thing I have had to teach myself is to slow down and really look at a photo.  It is only if we slow down and carefully examine a photo are we are going to be able to really pick out what works and what doesn’t in any given photograph.  It is only when we slowdown that we can pick out what is good or bad in a photography, only then can we translate what we see into words.

If we want to be able to critique the works of others we must be willing to have our work critiqued. If we want to provide a good critique we need to know what makes a good photo, see importance of education post. If we don’t know what makes a good photography we will not be able to help anyone, even ourselves, improve. We need to educate ourselves before we critique any photo, even our own. Most importantly if we really want to improve we must be willing to have our work critiqued.

To get an accurate idea of how we are doing and what we need to improve on we need to find someone who we trust and who knows what they are doing to provide us with an honest critique. When critiquing we must be prepared for an honest opinion and it is not enough to know what is bad or good in a photograph we need to be able to explain how to fix the problems. When we are having our work critiqued we need to identify what we want critiqued. If we want help with lighting we need to be specific about that area, if we want help with composition we need to be specific that area, or if we want them to look at the image as a whole we need to be specific about that area.

So how do we prepare to have our work critiqued? That is a really good question and the answer is really very simply, you have a thick hide and always remember that what the other person says is their opinion of your work. However, it may only be their opinion but you still should evaluate it to see if they have some valid points. How do we find the people that want to be critiqued? The easiest way to find those people who want to be critiqued is they will come to you; an unwanted critique can do more harm than good. Even if someone approaches you and asks you to look at their work it does not mean they are ready for a complete opinion, we need to ask questions to find out what level of critique they want and what they want critiqued. Just like photography critiquing can be an art and what we leave out is just as important as what we tell the person.

As an artist the only way to improve is to educate ourselves and have our work be critiqued. As an artist we must be able to critique our own work, if you can’t see ways to improve your own work then you are not going to improve and you may even slide backwards a little.

To really sum up critiquing, you have to be able to put everything you see as well as your opinion into words or it does you no good. We must be able to see what needs to be improved on and a way that improvement can happen. Also remember pointing out the good parts can be a learning moment as well as pointing out the bad points of a photograph.  Critiquing is just as much about reinforcing the good as well as helping to eliminate or improve the not so good of the photograph.  Remember that critiquing is an art and before we can critique someone else we must be ready to have our work torn apart.

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