When you’re starting out in photography, it’s quite easy to become obsessed with getting critique and feedback on own work to help you improve. Your peers may suggest a different crop, highlight issues with composition, and help you along your journey with camera settings and post-production techniques. Receiving feedback from your peers also provides a fantastic forum for you yourself to ask questions about specific items that have been brought up in discussion, and clear up any little issues that you may have.
While these are always very helpful methods of improving your photography, they are not the only ways. Another method is to simply look at others photographers’ work and ask yourself questions about it. You can even share websites of other photographers on social media, where you and many of your peers can have fantastic discussions about the work. Here are some tips for learning by reviewing other photographers’ work.
Some great topics to discuss may be:
How do you think the photograph was made?
For help on this read: 4 Steps on How to Read Images and Learn to Replicate the Results
We all like to discuss camera settings and possible post-production techniques, so this is an important question to ask. Reverse-engineering an image will help you understand how the photograph was made, and give you a better insight. It will help you replicate a particular technique for you to try on your own.
What compositional techniques have been used?
How has the photographer composed the image? Have they used the Rule of Thirds (or as I like to call it, the Guide of Thirds!) or is the subject in the centre of the frame? How has the composition and placement of the subject helped the photograph? From what vantage point have they photographed the subject – straight on, from up above looking down, or down low looking up? How does this vantage point influence the impact of the subject (looking down on someone makes them look more vulnerable, for example).
How does the photo make you feel?
What emotions does the image evoke in you, and why does it make you feel that way? For example, if the image has a blue colour-cast, this could make you feel cold. Or does the image have a lot of vibrant, warm colours which can make you feel warm and happy? How does the composition techniques employed affect how you feel?
For this, if the image has been photographed from above looking down, the viewer will feel more powerful where the subject will look more vulnerable – it is the opposite if the photograph has been taken from down low looking up.
Is the image confronting? Knowing how you feel about and image and why, are very important for you to be able to achieve the same result in your own work.
What elements have been included in the frame?
Has the photographer kept the frame clear of any distractions and gone for a minimalist look, or have they included extra elements in the frame? How do these elements work together with the subject; do they complement it, or do they clutter the frame and distract from the subject?
What is the light like?
Discussing the light will help you see light better in your own work. Is the light hard or soft? To answer this, look for the shadows; the more defined a shadow is the harder the light (sunny day versus overcast day). How much light is there, and in what direction is it coming from? The direction of the light will influence the shape and form of a subject, as well as its colour. For example, if an object is backlit, this can create a silhouette.
Places to Look for Images
Now that you have a list of discussion topics, it’s time to look around for some images to discuss! The internet is full of fantastic websites where you can view the work of other photographers. Websites such as 500px.com, 1x.com and Flickr all have some fantastic images, that span a wide range of genres.
Here is a list of some websites, and photographers, that I often look at: (this list is by no means exhaustive!)
- Getty Images: fantastic collection of sport, editorial, and entertainment images photographed by some of the world’s best photographers.
- Time Lightbox: nice collection of images and projects from Time Magazine. The content often changes, so it’s always a good idea to check often.
- Instagram: I’m not going to give you a list of accounts to follow, but Instagram as some fantastic photographers on it sharing some amazing work. Follow dPS on Instagram here.
- Adam Pretty: an Australian sports photographer.
- Trent Parke: an Australian documentary photographer. His style is something that I often like to incorporate in to my own work. He is also a member of Magnum Photos.
- Clive Brunskill: a UK based sport and commercial photographer and someone I have been luck enough to work with.
- James Nachtwey: the world’s best documentary and war photographer. He has taken some amazing images across his almost 30-year career!
- Vladimir Rys: European sports photographer. I really like his style of photographing through objects.
- Rob Cianflone: Australian based photographer with Getty Images.
- Quinn Rooney: Australian based photographer with Getty Images.
- Al Bello: Getty Images Chief Sports Photographer – North America.
Editor’s note: you can also come join the new Digital Photography School Facebook group where we encourage lots of images sharing and commenting.
Over to You
While feedback on your own work is important, in many ways looking at other photographers’ work will help you more. These are just a few suggestions on what you can discuss about an image, and where to look for images, and they are by no stretch of the imagination exhaustive!
Do you have a favourite place to look at images? It would be great to hear about them in the comments below.