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“The best way out is always through.”

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Critique Thyself...but Cut Yourself Some Slack

Like most photographers (or artists of any kind) I'm intensely self-critical. I pretty much hate when other people criticize my photos, but I'm merciless when it comes to analyzing what went right or wrong with my own pictures. Interestingly enough, I'm often much more positive and encouraging when I critique other people's photos. When I taught online regularly, for example, I would often spend an hour writing a 500-1,000 word critique of my students' work and always looked for the positive and creative aspects of their photos. I found that students grew faster and appreciated my comments more if I focused on the good things they had done.

Still, when I first download my own images, I hammer myself for all of the mistakes that I made or the better ideas that I probably overlooked. The photo here is just a snapshot. I was waiting for a freighter to leave the harbor and this couple walked into the frame so I shot a quick dozen photos of them. I liked the shot as I was taking it, but I knew it was just a snapshot. Still, I took the time to analyze the photo when I downloaded it, just to make myself more aware of the good and bad things I'd done.

Here briefly are some of the thoughts that went through my mind as I looked at the photo for the first time:


  • I like the setting next to a pretty harbor at sunset
  • I like the placement of the couple in the frame, especially the way the water surrounds their upper bodies and heads
  • I like that they're both wearing red sweaters/jackets and that those colors really pop out
  • I like that both have a foot off the ground and that I had good timing to capture that

  • I hate the specular highlights on the oil tanks across the harbor in the distance--that's my biggest criticism; I should have cropped those tanks out
  • The more I looked at the photo, I think the couple is a bit too close to center; I should have put them farther to the right (you can see that this conflicts with my second comment above--and I often wrestle with conflicting thoughts) and...
  • Thinking more about their placement: I'm not thrilled that I'm at the same level with the couple--I wish I had thought to snatch the camera off of the tripod and knelt down quickly
  • I wish I had spoken to them and asked them to turn around and pose quickly--perhaps hugging or looking at each other
  • I used too long a zoom setting, I should have exaggerated the space with a wider lens
So, like I said, it wasn't a great photo-op to begin with, but I always see things I could have done better and try to appreciate the things I did well. If you take the time to do some self-analysis each time you download photos, you will find that you are less likely to make the same mistakes the next time. Self awareness is everything, I think, in life and in photography. Just cut yourself some slack with pictures--after all, it's only photography.

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