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TP: What do you know about critiquing ???

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CTYankee View Drop Down
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Post Options Post Options   Quote CTYankee Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Topic: TP: What do you know about critiquing ???
    Posted: 25 April 2007 at 15:36
Now that the Critics Corner is up and running ... let's hear from some of our members who might know a thing or two about critiquing.

One of the things I think is common is that people who are asked to critique something think they're being asked to suggest improvement. Often, a photo can't really be improved, or the person who took it may think it's the best it can be, but needs to see it through other peoples eyes. Sometimes you have an emotional attachment to a photo because of subject matter that makes you blind to how others will view it. Other times, you might think of a way to make a picture better, but really, there wasn't a great picture to be taken at that place or time. And then, sometimes you look at a picture and it's immediately obvious to you how you could improve on it (in your opinion, of course !)

I guess the point I'm trying to make there is that CC should include suggestions on how to improve pictures, but also honest reaction.

That little bit is what I've picked up from a couple of people I respect (Mike Johnston, of course, and an artist named Norman Rich who used to post on dpreview). Beyond that, I'm pretty inexperienced at critiquing.

So let's hear it ... what do you know about critiquing ? What have you read ? What links do you have ?

Note that the intent of this thread is simply to educate and that may spill over into the CC forum; it is by no means an attempt to tell people how to critique. Already, CC is turning into a really nice feature on this site, IMO.
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brettania View Drop Down
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Post Options Post Options   Quote brettania Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 25 April 2007 at 15:58

What's wrong with the I know what I like, and I don't like that, school? ROFLGO

Seriously, critiquing does involve a little "hanging out" on a few different levels.

But if you don't try to do it, you never learn -- ultimately you may cap your own photographic development at a certain point and never go beyond into unfamiliar territory as some of our members here do so well (rules are there to be broke!).

I have normally just made minor crits such as on the rule of thirds, angle of view, choice of lens. Partly because I don't want to be too discouraging.

But the new forums have made me think harder about why and what I like in some shots, and in doing so I appreciate them more and learn more.

On a personal level, when I got my first macro, it changed my view of the world -- I would peer into the hearts of flowers, looking for insects, and think about breaking off a few dead ends just to improve my pics. We all need that sort of thing to happen from time to time and that is why I sometimes say to myself "it's a one prime lens day" -- and force myself to look for angles and shots that suit the lens.

Hope I have explained this in a way that is understandable -- I have tried to do so in as plain a words as possible.

-- brettania

(edit #23) As to reading, I have a Tom Ang book and Michael Freidman's ebook on the 7D as well as about 10 others. I have read or scanned some 30,000 to 50,000 posts in the time since I got my 7D. I found some suggestions by John Down Under at DPR very helpful when I was starting in the digital world.

-


Edited by brettania - 25 April 2007 at 16:12
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hazard View Drop Down
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Post Options Post Options   Quote hazard Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 25 April 2007 at 16:13
I think that you touch on the IMHO most important part (and hardest) of giving critique: describing what you see in the picture. How you reacted and what you reacted to.

The first step in understanding the "language of images" is to hear a lot of other peoples reactions to an image (wether you feel the same or not is unimportant). The next step is to train yourself in describing your own thoughts about an image (as always: teaching is the most effective way of learning). When you get good at that, you can use the skill in reverse and get an image from a wanted reaction.

Technical tips and comments are naturally not bad, but if you get to the stage that you can figure out what you want the picture to look like, the technical parts are the easy ones and just requires concentration and thoroughness.

Just my $.02, and IMHO etc.

/Andreas

edit: spelling

Edited by hazard - 25 April 2007 at 16:15
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Post Options Post Options   Quote CTYankee Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 25 April 2007 at 16:52
Brettania, the schools of thought on critiquing that I've read are about taking time to look at a photograph and then evaluating what you saw; not so much about your emotions, whether it fits in with your own style, but trying to gauge the photographers intent and then seeing whether or not he/she achieved that intent. For example: I can appreciate a lot of the post-processing I see here - some of it is very effective in achieving what must be an obvious intent (others less so) and I think that is probably more valuable to the photographer than 'it's not my style' or 'I don't like it'. It always amazes me to hear music reviewers critique new albums that range from a rerelease of Sinatra to hip-hop to some Venezuelan band I've never heard of ... I only know what I'd like to listen to :) But the reviewers learn about the band; learn a little about where they're coming from, how they've grown over the years, and try to objectively evaluate the album. It's a skill - I mean, they're paid to do it, after all, and we're just a bunch of regular guys spending a few minutes talking with friends on our favorite forum ... so that's a far-off, lofty goal. But I'm always open to learning more about how people look at and appreciate others' work.

BTW, a thought occurred to me ... I think we have a natural tendency to suggest improvements when critiquing because we're all photographers here ... this is what we do.

Imagine someone asked you to critique a painting (or a musical recording, or some other piece of art in a medium that you don't "do"). How would you critique that ?
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Post Options Post Options   Quote Bob J Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 25 April 2007 at 17:00
Originally posted by CTYankee CTYankee wrote:

Imagine someone asked you to critique a painting (or a musical recording, or some other piece of art in a medium that you don't "do"). How would you critique that ?


To Van Gogh: "Vincent, you really should sort out the perspective on that chair!.." :-)

Bob
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Post Options Post Options   Quote Dynaxdude Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 25 April 2007 at 17:08
I think there is more than one approach to criticism. You can look at the technical qualities of a photograph (the easy bit) and suggest ways to improve it. I mean everybody on this planet is very good at being negative and pointing out whatever is wrong. Pointing out what's good and suggest actions for improvement is something far less people are able to do.

The other approach is an emotional criticism. What do I see, does it tell a 'story'(which even applies to abstract photographs), how does it make me feel. Now that is a very personal matter. Both for the photographer and the critic. On the other hand you can comment on the fact whether the photographer has succeeded in getting the concept across to the viewer. Mostly this can be concluded when comments veer off in a completely different direction (apart from the usual topic wanderering). This sort of criticism is something you might never agree on. It's true for all 'art forms'.
I've seen paintings that after reading about their meaning just made me think: 'ah... well.. if you say so..' (and I have an art school background!)

Something I haven't figured out yet is: should you separate the two? Can you separate the two?
 



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Post Options Post Options   Quote CTYankee Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 25 April 2007 at 17:22
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Post Options Post Options   Quote omerbey Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 25 April 2007 at 17:51
this is a very good talking point IMO.

apart from photo reading, the critique of the photo requires an important input, which is the intent of the artist/photographer.

everything that helps the maker accomplish his/her task, is good. everything that hampers it, is bad.

this also has to do with the viewer, unless the spectator is the direct target, he/she should know about the target audience while criticizing.

however there are things which makes things hard for critiques. For example:
"I thought it was interesting" "It's a snapshot" "I did as I felt" "I don't think anatomy is that important" and etc. In such cases, critique can not be formed in a healthy manner, because there is
either none, or very weak point of reference. Success is strongly about perspective.

For the critique to be useful, it also needs to be successful in terms of target appeal. If the target of critique doesn't understand or care for the critique, it is useless. The target of the critique is rarely the maker of the piece though, but not in our case :)

--

Photo reading, or image reading is another important aspect, which tells about the image. The spatial, auratic, mimetic, tactile effects, or geometric values, proximity, contrast, simplicity, repetition, alignment and such effects. Every image can be read this way, even a random capture from a cctv system. The reading is important the way it forms a feedback for the artist. When the artist understands what he/she can expect from the viewer when he/she can act accordingly.

--

There's also the technical critique and critique of the story told part, in which I doubt if there'll be any trouble for people here :)

And lastly, the artist himself can gather data from the reactions of the spectators. The success is for him to decide. "it's nice" "it's grotesque" "I don't like the shadows" etc. all helps.


Edited by omerbey - 25 April 2007 at 17:53
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Post Options Post Options   Quote omerbey Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 25 April 2007 at 18:00
CT that article is a great example about the reference points. The joke aside, the critiques talk about things that have little or nothing to do with the intent of the images.
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Post Options Post Options   Quote CTYankee Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 25 April 2007 at 18:14
Omer, I've come to realize how important intent is in art appreciation. From my VERY limited understanding, intent is sort of tied to vision, creativity, etc. and you can believe a given artist has astoundingly original vision, or just a gimmicky idea, and "judge" the intent on its own merit. Then the "craft" comes into play ... how well did the artist realize his intent. I think where a lot of the difference lies between good critiquing and reaction by average Joes like me is that I have a hard time appreciating how well an artist realized his intent (or practiced his craft) if I don't appreciate the intent in the first place. And good critics seem to be able to separate themselves from that.
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Post Options Post Options   Quote omerbey Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 25 April 2007 at 19:04
exactly, but you put it together better than I did. :)

I remember having this conversation with you before if I'm not mistaken?
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Post Options Post Options   Quote damian.bradley Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 25 April 2007 at 20:35
Well having spent half my undergraduate university career in Film Studies, we basically had three different types of classes: film theory, film history, and film production. IMHO these categories apply to decontructing and critiquing photographs as much as they do film. There is overlap between the categories, but they all help in our understanding of images.

Film (and photo) theory is the study of what the image means...how we as viewers interpret it, what the different aspects of the photo mean to us and to others. This interpretation can range from the colour, texture, framing and aesthetics to content and social context.

The way the photo emphasized colours and textures can tell a lot about what the photographer wants to emphasize. Subdued, smooth, cool tones or an angular, saturated, hot image. Do these colours and tones add to the depiction of the subject matter or detract?

And lets not forget about framing: How is the subject framed, and how does this portray said subject? What else is in the photo besides the subject? Do these other subjects add to or detract from the main subject? Also, sometimes it is what is NOT in the frame that can say a lot about the photo or the photographer.

Context is also very important, although it is difficult to step outside our own cultural ideology. For example, a controversial of a bullfight was posted in a DPC a while back. In some cultures, it is seen as entertainment, while in others it is seen as cruel. Cultural context. Where and how a photo is displayed can be just as important as the photo itself.

Directly related to theory is the 'production' value of the photo. Sharpness, bokeh, lens choice, focal length, exposure, etc etc. Obviously the technical aspects of the photo affect the overall aesthetic, but could the photographer have used the tools more appropriately? Would a longer lens have provided better isolation, or extracted a bit more detail which would have helped the photographer's goal for the photo (if indeed you have figured that one out already!) Do chromatic aberrations detract from the subject or does ringed bokeh ruin a background? Or was this done on purpose?

Lastly is history...something we don't deal with much in the digital era. Our own knowledge of the history of photography and the images we have viewed will shape the way we see today's images. What was the social climate like when the photo was taken? It has captured an image in time and space, and our perception of that moment will be different today than it will be in ten years. Just another reason to go out and print those shots before your hard drive crashes, or JPG's go out of style in the next decade.

So much along the same lines of other posts, photos can be critiqued on many different levels. Aesthetic, technical, and social is all fair game. Which road you take depends on the specific photo and the critic her or himself.
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Post Options Post Options   Quote brettania Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 26 April 2007 at 03:01
Originally posted by CTYankee CTYankee wrote:

Brettania, the schools of thought on critiquing that I've read are about taking time to look at a photograph and then evaluating what you saw; not so much about your emotions, whether it fits in with your own style, but trying to gauge the photographers intent and then seeing whether or not he/she achieved that intent.

BTW, a thought occurred to me ... I think we have a natural tendency to suggest improvements when critiquing because we're all photographers here ... this is what we do.

Imagine someone asked you to critique a painting (or a musical recording, or some other piece of art in a medium that you don't "do"). How would you critique that ?


I am not sure if you are lecturing me, hectoring me, or agreeing in part with me, or expanding on what I have said. LOL.

IMHO you have used longer and more words to say pretty much what I was saying, because I always take into account perceived intent, and ultimate realisation. I thought that was a given.

TBC -- or the never ending story.

-

I add that I am a former journlaist for one of this country's more esteemed weeklies, which includes reviews. I used to write a lot about classical music and musicians, and would speak to them about their artistic ambitions, strengths and weaknesses. Often after interviwing them I would attend a concert and this would affect how I wrote up my interview.

I never liked full scale reviewing at the time. But I now feel that I could have done it a few years ago, as I had built up an extensive CD library and could easily critique the seven different versions I have of Mahler's 2nd, or I could do a side-by-side of three complete sets of the Mozart piano concertos.

I once interviewed Robert Craft, Stavinsky's alter ego, and went to the concert where half the programme was conducted by the old man himself. Recently I heard via wireless a Rite of Spring played by the Auckland Sinfonia under a no-name conductor and thought the whole performance was better than the one I heard back in the 60s, and had I been taking notes rather than typing forum stuff, would have been able to explain why.

I have worked as a coordinator of a major company's annual reports and both come up with the photographic themes and directed both the art director and the photographer on how to realise both my own and the company's requirements. I would sit in on many of the photo sessions. One of these reports won an award.

That's a very good way to learn how to critique.

-

Edited by brettania - 26 April 2007 at 03:52
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Post Options Post Options   Quote smills Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 26 April 2007 at 03:46
One place that I think that gets photography critique mostly right:

http://www.radiantvista.com/dailyCritique/

Now granted, these are essentially one person's (Craig Tanner) opinions, but I think he does a good job of balancing what works well and what can be improved. Some may not like his style ('in a perfect world' gets repetitive fast), but I feel like I've learned a lot from his critiques, even when I disagree.
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