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Print Critiques: What Makes a Print Successful and Why
David L. Robertson
David L. Robertson evaluated several of his images by first explainng and then applying the basic tenets of image construction in an effort to help us better understand why some images "work" and others seem to miss the mark.
According to David, the criteria for reviewing an image are not etched in stone, but provide useful starting point. While some aspects of criticism are absolute, others are subjective. For example, while focus is an absolute, "Proper" contrast is subjective.
Criticism can be both positive and negative; it is as much about what "works' as what doesn't "work" in an image. Engaging in critiques benefits both the photographer and the viewer. The photographer will discover if his work is of interest to others, if the viewers are seeing his work as he intended, and how he can improve his work technically and/or esthetically. The viewer will be exposed to other people's work and other people's way of "seeing" images.
Some of the Essentials of a Critique that David mentioned are:
- A Critique is a judgment, to be distinguished from a preference
- A judgment is only as useful as the reasons given and the criteria applied
- A judgment, or critique, is not a final pronouncement regarding an image, but rather an element in better understanding how the image is perceived.
David then described the general Criteria of Photography Critiques:
- Focus: Can be broad (Generally provides equal weight to all components of the image) or Narrow (Generally helps direct the viewer's eye to specific components of the image that are deserving of special consideration)
- Exposure and Contrast: Use of light and dark areas helps guide the viewer through the image since we naturally move from dark to light areas, and from low contrast to high contrast.
- Color: Unless intended to convey a specific intent, color cast in an image tends to keep the viewer from fully appreciating the image content.
- Composition: Jay Maisel says: "There is no part of an image that is neutral. If it does not help you, it hurts you. You've got to be aware of every spot and every corner of that frame". Composition criteria:
- Rule of Third: In its simplest terms, this rule says that placing your subject off-center generally yields a better composition than placing the subject dead-center. By dividing your photographs into thirds with two horizontal and vertical lines, you end up with off-center guidelines for aligning key image elements.
- Corner Triangles: The viewer is drawn out of the image when small triangles are placed in corners of the image
- Leading Lines: Lines move the viewer through and/or into the image and create interest
- Balance: Formal, or symmetrical, balance (Balancing on opposite sides of a given point, either by one or more elements that are identical or very similar) Informal, or asymmetrical (Balancing on opposite sides of a given point, by one or more elements that are dissimilar or contrasting elements)
II- Aesthetic Examples
- Is it interesting? Jay Maisel was once asked how to make a more interesting photograph. He responded: "Become a more interesting person." Jay Maisel also says" If an image doesn't excite you, then why would you expect it to excite me?"
- How does it make you feel? For example, David intend by his work to instill a sense of calm
- What did the photographer intend to convey? Again according to Jay Maisel, after reviewing David’s portfolio, he described the work as evidencing “Solitude, without loneliness”
David Also advised us of some Useful Critique Approaches:
- Make a statement and follow it up with specific support: The photographer's use of negative space has created a pleasing informal balance and kept my eye in the image", rather than "I really like this image
- Be positive, even when finding fault with an image: “This image would be even stronger if it was cropped tighter to remove the content along the lower edge that tends to detract from the overall composition”
- Above all, put yourself in the shoes of the photographer whose work is being critiqued. What would you want in the way of feedback?. Be respectful
- As the photographer receiving feedback: Listen, be receptive, and be respectful
- Remember that the critique process is a bilateral exchange that can and should benefit both parties
- Avoid Poor Critique Etiquette: We owe it to each other to take the critique process seriously. A critique should tell us more about the work being reviewed that the person doing the review
Resources that were recommended:
After discussing the principles of Photography Critiques, David applied those principles while critiquing our club members’ photographs:
"First of all it is a beautiful image. Though the main subject and the sun are centered, the composition is very Strong. Rules are made to be broken. Moving the main subject off center does not strengthen this image. The silhouette is in strong focus, where the back drop is slightly softer. Our eyes go from soft to sharp, from the back drop to the subject .The backdrop is strong, it creates a sense of place and the yellow color reinforces the time of day. It is complete, esthetically it is very pleasing, very inviting scene. "
"You wonder what the subject is, the boats, buildings, mountains, or the sky. There are 2 different scenes: The boats are one scene, the buildings, mountains, and the sky are the other scene. You need to decide weather it is worth to provide the second scene to add context and completes the documentary scene or you should concentrate on the boats."
"What probably has attracted the photographer in this scene is the strong form of statues, not the tree on the right, not the sky, not the rock surface at the bottom. The reason you have that much sky should be to balance the subject, but the subject and the sky are so different. If it is neutral, it does not help. Change the point of view, move to the right to try to isolate the figures from the tree, and drop down and shoot up."
"This is a very strong composition; it makes use of the diagonals. Because it is a high contrast scene, it would have been better if it was whiter. It feels like there is a blue/magenta cast into it. It is nice that you can see into the shadows. It is also nice that there is not a lot of the sky because it is a plain sky that day."
We hope that you have found this summary useful. And of course, special thanks to David L. Robertson for such a wonderful presentation.
President, The Photography Club of Davis
(David L. Robertson has been interested in photography since college, where he learned how to develop his own negatives and to print black and white images. When he no longer had easy access to a darkroom, he moved on to color. Unfortunately, he could never find a commercial lab that could reproduce the colors and tonality that he captured in the camera. As a result, he moved away from photography until about six years ago when digital photography became sufficiently developed to match the quality of traditional film. Since then, he has been able to control all aspects of image making, from capture to post-processing in Adobe Photoshop, and to printing and framing the final print. Currently, he uses a Nikon D3 camera (with 14-24 mm, 24-70 mm, 80-200 mm, and 60 mm macro lenses) and a Canon 1Ds Mark II camera (with 16-35 mm, 24-70 mm 100-400 mm, and 100 mm macro lenses). His prints are produced with archival inks on an Epson 3800, Epson 4880, printer or Epson 7880 printer, depending on paper type and print size.
He has taught workshops on Lightroom and Photoshop. He has also had several solo and group exhibits of his photographs, including a solo exhibit at the Pence Gallery in Davis (January 2008), a group exhibit of his prints from a trip to the Brazilian Amazon at Viewpoint Photographic Art Center in Sacramento (May 2009) with two other photographers, and he will be exhibiting his Death Valley prints with another photographer at the Roseville Blue Line Gallery in April 2010.
"Photography consists of a series of choices, some as simple as which direction to face or how close to move to the subject, and some as complex as setting white balance and depth of field. Depending on the choices made, two photographers can come to the same scene and generate significantly different viewing experiences. What I attempt to do through my choices is focus attention on some aspect of a much larger visual environment, to have the viewer see the scene as if for the first time and to see the beauty often inherent in the ordinary." David L. Robertson)