The Power Of Photo Critique

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So, you want to be a better photographer. Guess what probably won’t help – a new camera, new lens, studio lights, radio slaves, or that beautiful new Macbook Pro. Those things are nice but they don’t change the person behind the camera – the one that actually makes the photographs. One thing that has the potential to truly transform your photography is being open-minded and exposing yourself to the opinions and advice of other photographers. I’m not talking about posting your photos on Facebook or online galleries where your friends will all tell you how awesome you are. I’m talking about a true jury of your peers. I’m talking about photo critique.

I’ve written a lot about the value of the critique process on the Photo Critique forum. However, this is the first time I’ve written about it in a more formal way. My goal with this article is to encourage photographers to participate in real critique. There’s a strong tradition of critique in photography and art education and I believe it’s one of the most powerful tools available to photographers and artists who really want to improve their work.

Photo by Overbeyond

There are two elements to photo criticism – criticizing and being critiqued. It would seem that the most value is in getting advice on improving your own photos. However, I think it’s actually the other way around. The real power of the critique process lies in making a sincere and honest attempt to provide useful advice. It’s easy enough to say, “I love that,” or, “I think your photo sucks.” Anyone can do that. True critique, however, requires that you put yourself in the photographer’s shoes, consider the photographic problems they had to deal with, and then offer them something really constructive that they can use for future work. The beauty of this is, from the effort required to analyze and articulate what works and doesn’t work with a photo, the critic is graced with self-knowledge. The act of criticism allows us to see our own work in a new light.

Photo by JoshD

Since I value critique so much and it’s part of how I think, I offer a lot of unsolicited photography advice on the Web. Sometimes it’s well received and sometimes it’s not. Apparently, some photographers prefer mutual backslapping to real criticism. Personally, I want to keep learning and growing as a photographer (and a person) and being open to criticism is one of the best ways to accomplish that. We all like compliments but if you’re serious about your photography you should always remain open to criticism – from anyone. Everyone’s opinion counts and we should be able and willing to learn from all viewers. If you think you’re too good for a non-photographer or beginner’s advice, I would argue that you’re fooling yourself. Photography and art are forms of communication and a photo should speak clearly to the widest range of people as possible. The most successful photo is one that’s accessible and meaningful to everyone. Dismissing certain peoples’ opinions because they’re less educated in art or less experienced photographers is really unfounded snobbery and likely means you’re afraid to confront your own shortcomings – as an artist and as a human being. The moment we begin to believe we can’t learn something from anyone we cease to grow.

Photo by vmlopes

My goal with this article is to encourage photographers to open up to the growth opportunity offered by true photo critique. If you’re a beginner, the benefits are obvious. You’ll get invaluable technical, content and composition advice from more experienced photographers. For more advanced photographers, the critique process can help you improve your vision, polish your technique and step things up to the next level. For the experts and pros, participating in critique allows you to give back to the community as well as keep your mind and heart open to flaws that could become blind spots. I also believe critique has the potential to make us into better human beings. Critique helps keep us humble. The act of offering a photograph to our peers for criticism reminds us that we aren’t perfect. Photo critique will help become better photographers. But it also helps keep us human.

Get started with photo critique now!

Photo Critique Forum >>


Photo by bindows


About the author: Photo-John

Photo-John, a.k.a. John Shafer, is the managing editor of and has been since the site launched back in 1999. He's an avid outdoor enthusiast and spends as much time as possible on his mountain bike, hiking or skiing in the mountains. He's been taking pictures for ever and ever, and never goes anywhere without a camera.

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  • Nicole Young says:

    Maybe I’m a snob, hehe, but I guess I just prefer (or take more seriously) critique from friends or photographers whom I really respect, regardless of their photographic “level”. If someone wants to critique my photos that’s fine, I think it’s helpful to get a feel for other people’s opinions, but if you’re just an anonymous username on the internet then I guess it just doesn’t hold as much weight. I will say, however, that I’ve learned a lot from both sides (both critique I asked for and from random people commenting on a photo, not put up specifically for a critique). Keeping an open mind is always good.

    In the end constructive critique is so much better than just always being told your photos are great. It’s like the people on American Idol who is told by their friends and family that they’re soooo great, when they end up being the “joke” of the show. Don’t become that person! :)

    Great article, btw.

  • Armando Morales says:

    The section of photo critique is the area of the forum that I value the most, it has helped me growth significantly and has shown me how to accept critiques from a group of photographers that while I do not know personally, I have grown to respect for their work and their willingness to help. It has also shown me how to look at a photo and provide constructive comments, which when done respectfully, are really appreciated by the person receiving it.
    It is much more fulfilling to have the work criticised here, than to get a bunch of no value add comments say in flickr.

  • Loren Crannell says:

    I always wonder why images from a loaned out Pentax from the school photography department took better images than my Nikon F6. Back in the day, it was easier to get real critique.

    this article is so important. Regardless of the media or the camera you took the image, because the vision and the translation to final image can always be improved. Once a photographer stops wanting real and constructive criticism then the voyage of photography is over.

    My growth as a photographer grew leaps and bounds thanks to Photography Review and the critique section. It made me a better photographer and I hoped that I helped other in the process.

  • Gary Heller (gahspidy) says:

    Since taking up photography and joining this site in 2004, the photo critique forum has been an invaluable resource/tool for me in my progress and growth as an artist and photographer.

    Helping one another by offering honest and constructive critique is far better and meaningful than the useless pat on the back for the sake of a pat in return.

    You may not agree with some of the critique you receieve, and thats fine. One should not blindly accept critique as fact, but be open minded enough to understand that if enough critics are pointing out the same aspect of your work as being at fault then you need to reconsider. That is the beauty and benefit of an active forum of well intentioned and respectful members.

    We all have something to gain as a community of like minded individuals sharing a passion for photography.

  • Paul McAlister Photography says:

    Great article !

    Photo critique is often overlooked as a means of self-improvement. When I wanted to move my photography to a higher level, I joined a camera club. There, I quickly realised just how much I really had to learn. The help, guidance, suggestions kept coming, all from people whose work I aspired too. The atmosphere was friendly and reflects the tone of your article.

    Have an open mind, and learn from others.

  • Steve Hlavac says:

    Context seems to be everything when it comes to people accepting critiques. I suppose it’s perception. When I taught at a community college, people paid money to have me pretty much tear their work down each class, so they could begin to build it up to be better. But, when I offer respectful, constructive criticism to just about ANYTHING posted on Facebook, folks act like I spit on their mother. It’s absolutely amazing how false the praise is for photos posted on FB, and how defensive people get when you don’t gush at their greatness. ..

  • Greg McCary says:

    The critique forum here at Photography Review has been my number one tool for quick improvement. I will admit at times it takes thick skin to hang there but if one can handle it ones skills will improve tremendously in a very short time. Trimming the learning curve by years. The best classroom in the world and best of all it’s free.

  • Dan Bailey says:

    Having your work critiqued by others, especially if they happen to be working pros, is definitely one of the best way to improve your photography. Sites like this provide an excellent resource for photographers to get feedback on their imagery.

    Of course, you have to take all comments with a slight grain of salt, since you don’t really know the background/experience of everyone who may give you comments. You obviously have to take the good with the bad, but overall, this is a great place to learn and connect with other photographers who can (and will!) give you helpful feedback on your photos.

  • Liban (LeeIs) says:

    Good article.

    You hit the nail on the head. Any photographer that’s not using this great new medium of the internet to their advantage in all areas is really doing a disservice to themselves. Photo critique has probably been the single most important aspect of my growth and improvement as a photographer.

    I probably even enjoy the critiques that point out many problems with my photos, to the ‘nice shot’ types.

  • Karl Graf says:

    Your article is very good and thought provoking. During several workshops, I have learned more from the critique sessions between instructors and students than the presentations. The student’s critiques provide unique insight that build upon the instructors.

    Giving good critiques has been difficult to me. I have always been concerned to provide both what I like in the image as well as an ideas that may help.

  • Patia says:

    OK, you talked me into it. I will try to remember to submit a photo to the forum later. I DO need to work on improving my technique.

    On Flickr and elsewhere, I tend to be annoyed by unsolicited criticism — unless it’s by you or someone else I know and respect. But sometimes it seems like there are trolls out there who get off on criticizing strangers’ photos.

    Beyond actual knowledge, there’s also an art to critique. The sandwich technique is a good one: Put your criticism in between two compliments.

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