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The Photo Critique: Portrait Edition

There comes a point in your photographic development when all of your images seem “pretty good”. Whether you are a professional or an amateur, this is the place where you like what you create, and even if there are a few little things that you would change, you’re ok with the results.

There is no better feeling for an artist than to love and enjoy the art you create. This is a wonderful place to be – so long as it doesn’t keep you from progressing in your craft.

Art is something that is developed over time. It is grown. It is reborn. As you are deliberate in the art you create, your craft will go to new heights.

So how do you work on your skills as a photographer? How do you “evaluate” what you need to change? What techniques you need to work on? How do you learn see new artistic possibilities?

One word: Critique.

Here’s a challenge. Schedule a portrait shoot. Push yourself to get “outside the box” with your perspective. Don’t accept what first catches your eye – look beyond it and refine the shot. Then afterward, take your images, and conduct an official “critique”.

It can be very difficult to critique your own images, but force yourself to be objective. Take several minutes to review each image. Remove yourself from the experience you had taking the picture, and look at the photo from an outsiders perspective. As you are reviewing, consider a few points:

Exposure – Do you tend to overexpose your images or underexpose them? How does this affect your post processing?

Focus – Is the picture sharp and clear, or is it soft – or worse, blurry?

Composition – Do all the elements of the frame support the subject, or are there distractions that take away from the strength of the image?

Story telling quality – Can you tell your subject is a part of something larger, strengthening the interest of the picture?

Emotional Impact – How well does your audience identify with the picture? What emotions captured in your portrait will cause the audience to respond positively?

To demonstrate my points, I want to conduct a formal “critique” on two photographs from a Bridal Shoot I took back in May. Both photographs I love, but I want to challenge myself to do better and better in my craft, so I will aim to be objective.

The first Image:


ISO 200 70mm f2.8 1/200s

What I love most about this image:

1. The gorgeous depth of field created by the lines of the trees and the buildings. Additional depth is created by zooming in to 70mm on my 24-70mm lens. 2. The way that the bride literally “stands out” from the image, with her white dress being surrounded by strong, bright, vivid colors.

2. The “motion” created as the bride turns around gives an excitement and life-like feel to the portrait.

Now the hard part – Objective critique. As I evaluate this image, several flaws stand out to me:

1. The sign above her head. A slightly lower camera angle would eliminate this main distraction.

2. The purple banners in the background.

3. There is a little too much “tilt” from this camera angle. The bride feels like she is leaning when she is not.

4. The lights in the background.

5. The parasol is a fantastic element. But it disappears into her dress. It would stand out much more if it was being held up above her head by her arm furthest from the camera.

6. The pose is in motion, but the angle would be slightly more flattering had she been turned just a bit more toward the camera, creating a 3/4 view of the face, rather than a 7/8 view of the face.

The second Image:

Critique Image 2

ISO 200 70mm f2.8 1/250s

What I love:

1. Her eyes are completely clear and in focus. Everything else is blurred out by the depth of field.

2. Her head placement is turned slightly to reveal the flower in her hair.

3. The shot captured at the perfect moment for a “windswept” look in the bangs.

Flaws that stand out:

1. The armpit cleavage. I should have adjusted the way she leaned on her arm to eliminate this unflattering element.

2. Her chin needs to be a little higher, so her face is best proportioned.

3. The spotty green background is slightly distracting. I needed to incorporate it more or find a simpler background.

4. The mouth is open just beyond appropriate for this image. It’s not alluring, it looks like she may be just about to say something.

5. I want to see just a little bit more of her dress. Zooming out a few inches would achieve this and create more “breathing room” for the shot.

6. I want more light in her eyes, to create deeper pools of blue. A reflector closer to her face would have accomplished this.

In the end, I still love both images. But giving myself an objective critique will help me develop an eye to see these things in future shoots, as I continue to create my images.

Need some help with photo critiques? Take a photo challenge for the summer development. Both The Institute in Photographic Studies and BrideInspired offers portrait challenges that you just may want to take part of.

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Christina N Dickson
Christina N Dickson

is a visionary artist and philanthropist in Portland Oregon. Her work includes wedding photography www.BrideInspired.com and leadership with www.RevMediaBlog.com.

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