The Art of Image Critique
Text copyright Jim Erhardt. All rights reserved.

The NPN image critique galleries offer a dynamic means of having your nature images viewed and commented on by other nature photographers. Used effectively, this process can be a powerful educational tool, allowing the determined photographer to quickly and effectively improve their work in a relatively short period of time. The purpose of this article is to provide some guidance on how best to utilize this unique learning opportunity.

So what exactly is a critique? The Random House College Dictionary offers the following definition -

1. An article or essay criticizing a literary, architectural, or some other work; review. 2. a criticism or critical comment on some problem, subject, etc.

The Poster's Responsibility

From the definition above, it's obvious that an image posted in a NPN image critique gallery becomes the subject of critical evaluation and review. By understanding that a critique is based on the viewer's personal opinion, posting an image for critique amounts to nothing more than taking a poll of everyone's opinion. Most assuredly, some will find the image pleasing "as is" while others will object to certain technical or aesthetic aspects of the image.

One of the worst mistakes that can be made by the person posting an image is to debate a critique. After all, the viewer offering the critique has taken the time at the poster's request to share their thoughts on what pleases or displeases them about the image, and to offer their advice on what they believe can be done to improve it. The nature of the process almost guarantees that there will be comments made about the image that the poster (or other viewers) will whole-heatedly disagree with. But to debate the validity of a specific critique is ludicrous; if the person who posts the image is not prepared to accept the results (both good and bad) of the "poll," they should not post it in the first place! However, it is appropriate to ask a viewer to clarify his or her comments if those comments are not entirely clear, providing the viewer is asked for their additional time and effort in a congenial, non-argumentative manner. In all cases, critique should not be taken personally, but rather at face value, nor should the critique of a photographic image be misconstrued as an indictment of one's lack of ability.

When an image is posted for critique, the person who posts it should be prepared to take all comments, both good and bad, and to do so in a respectful and appreciative manner.

Writing an Effective Critique

While the person who posts the image bears the brunt of the responsibility for extracting the "pearls of photographic wisdom" from this learning opportunity, it is the person writing the critique who has volunteered their time, energy and point-of-view, and has done so (indirectly, at least) at the request of the person posting the image. On top of this, writing a useful critique that gets to the point without being offensive is truly an art unto itself.

The goal of any image critique is to share with the person who posted the image the viewer's impressions of it, and any useful advice that can be offered in regards to improving the image. Since the persons writing and reading the critique are not privy to the facial expressions, gestures and voice inflections of a face-to-face conversation, great care must be taken to avoid misunderstanding. Photography is very much a personal endeavor, and poorly written comments can be easily misconstrued as an assessment of the photographer's ability (or lack thereof), as opposed to an honest evaluation of the specific image. With this in mind, here are some suggestions on writing an effective critique -

Other Considerations

For everyone involved in this creative/educational process, here are a few more points to keep in mind -

By following these simple guidelines and avoiding some of the common mistakes, image critique can be an effective learning tool for all involved. If conducted with care, objectivity and sensibility, it is a rewarding experience that is unmatched by any other organized learning opportunity in the world of nature photography.

See you in the NPN image critique galleries!

Read the follow-up article and post comments - More Thoughts on Photo Critique

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