To improve your photography, here are some photo critique questions you need to ask yourself. Use this list while picking your selects, or while trying to decide which image to retouch.
1. If someone else captured this image, would I like it?
Be honest. If you saw your photo/series on a blog, in a magazine, or on a billboard – would you like it? If you wouldn’t like it, trash it, give it one star, hit X in Lightroom and reject it. Social media has allowed us such quick access to good imagery, so don’t flood it with mediocrity.
2. Why (technically speaking) do I like this photo
Sure, you liked the subject. Your model was hot. It was your first time in Paris. The stylist pulled some amazing clothes from Gareth Pugh. Blah. How’s the composition, the light, and the exposure? Say, I had a model take a jump forward. Whoa, her legs, and the dress look amazing! Her face? She has a strained look on it. What do you do? PRO TIP: Find a better image, or a better head to retouch in. Don’t know Photoshop? Hire someone.
With under/overexposed images it is probably better to find an alternative photo that has the correct exposure. If you’re pro, you may have chosen to let stuff fall to black, or completely blow out. Just make sure the key parts of the images aren’t blown out. When I’m shopping online I keep finding images of white clothing with the texture blown out. Where do you find these photographers? Geez.
The point is that you separate your subjective and objective self. If you have any leading lines, make sure they draw you into the photo rather than out. Most of the time you want the bulk of the contrast to involve the subject your photographing and hopefully not some stupid tree in the background.
3. Are the eyes in focus?
You have to be on some next level skills to pull off unfocused eye portraits. Or your brand has to be so big and powerful that no one gives a damn what you shoot, as long as they get to put your name on it. Any of you top-tier guys reading this? PRO-TIP: Just because your lens says F/1.2 on it doesn’t mean you HAVE to use it at F/1.2. In fact, just stop use F/1.2, I’m tired of seeing these boring images with completely annihilated backgrounds. Your not creative, you’re a tool.
4. Do the clothes look good?
This applies to everyone, NOT JUST FASHION PHOTOGRAPHERS. It detracts from any photo if the clothes look like a crumpled mess. Having to retouch the fine detail of a fabric is labor intensive, and takes a ton of time. PRO TIP: Steal the garment from another image and use Photoshop to drop it in. Try and get the whole thing. The healing brush still destroys texture, no matter what any tutorial has told you.
5. How’s the color?
Do the models legs look pale and underexposed? Brighten them and add some more saturation to the colors. So many of you miss this one. Seriously, what the hell? In a series, does the talent have the same skin color? You should probably go through the series and balance out the skin tones, they don’t need to be exactly the same HEX value, but they should be similar enough that they go together and don’t detract from the experience.
ALWAYS double check your masks in Photoshop, you don’t want to accidentally have some weird color halo around an object. PRO TIP: Use a saturation layer (or two) and crank up the saturation so you can see a “color map” of your image. Useful for making sure masks are in check, as well as seeing subtle colors easily.
6. Did you pose your model the same way you always do?
This one is terrible. You created this insane lighting set up that took 4 hours for your assistants to figure out: cool. And then the model stepped in and you took the same photo you always take. You know. The one with one of the models hands on her hip, the other propped up near her face as though she had a cigarette but doesn’t. We call that the Instagram faux-model pose.
Ok, I reached a new level of sarcasm there. Sorry. I just meant that you need to change it up. PRO TIP: You can figure out a bunch of different poses you might want to use before a shoot. Then, relay one of them to the model per look and have her give you her interpretation of the pose. Even the highest level photographers do stuff like this. There is a lot more planning than most people realize.
7. What bothers you about the photograph?
Maybe the models eyes look a little dead. Maybe her pose feels a touch too forced. There could be some glare on some glass somewhere, or an annoying piece of hair in an awkward place. Shoot, maybe you just hate the whole outfit but love the concept and execution of the photo. Fix or remove whatever you can if it’s a small issue, then see how it feels. If there is still some nagging annoyance you might just want to move on and skip that image. I know it sucks, but if you notice something is off, someone else might feel the same way. No sense losing a job over an image you knew didn’t make the cut for your portfolio. PRO TIP: Be ruthless as an editor.
Bonus: Have I trained myself to know good images from bad ones
There is an experience factor to photo critiques. You have to look at great photography to understand what it looks and feels like. I’m mentioning this because you need look at work you admire. Then you need to work to create images that actually reach that level of quality. This will also teach you to take your own advice with a grain of salt. It’s very difficult for some people to look at their own work and be completely objective.
Double Bonus: Here is my (first ever) video about why you should always critique your photos. Learn to examine and (constructively) criticize your crew, yourself, and your work.
Thanks for stopping by guys and gals!