Writing About Art:
Photography and Visual Literacy
Examination of Prints
1. Examine the photographs. Note your first impression upon visually taking the entire photo in, then study all of the details of the photo, being sure to view every component both singularly and in relation to the overall composition.
2. What is the positive and negative? A photo critique generally begins with a basic impression of what you feel works for the photo and doesn’t work for the photo. You don’t have to share these perceptions; they are, rather starting points for further analysis.
3. Describe the photograph in terms of your general feeling. This is a subjective part of critiquing photography and is necessary to relay the aesthetic impact of the photo to the photographer.
4. Address the technical components. Try to be as objective as possible when covering the technical elements of a photograph.
• Focus. Determine whether the photo is properly focused, or if it is unintentionally blurred by way of technical error.
Common examples of unwanted blur to cite in your photo critique are: focus on the wrong element of the composition, action blur and zoom blur.
• Technical distractions. If the photographer captured unwanted dust or glare in the photo, then you should point it out in your photography critique.
• Tone. Not all photos need to represent colors as they would appear to the unaided eye, but the photograph’s use of color should be intentional and relevant to the photo. Faded, dull or ruddy color tones may be the product of technical error.
• Lighting. Too much or too little lighting may result in a number of technically sub-par results.
• Exposure. This pertains to the length of time the camera was enabled to take in the image and affects the lighting and contrast. A higher exposure allows more light to filter in and may result in too-white highlights, while a lower exposure may result in a too-dark photo with muddled contrast lines.
5. Assess the artistic elements of the photo. Cover each of the following elements when critiquing Photograph:
• Subject matter. Note the photographer’s choice of image, and determine whether or not it seems to be purposeful, or haphazardly chosen. For example, a photo of a busy street market is more artistically interesting when it depicts a single vendor in negotiations with customers, as opposed to the less interesting composition of a congested crowd of people with no focal point.
• Tone/color. A photography critique should also address the artistic effect of the
photographer’s chosen color scheme. Determine if the colors add to or detract from the feeling of the photograph and if a black and white treatment would be more or less effective.
• Composition. Note the content and layout of the photograph in regards to subject positioning, symmetry, clutter, sparseness, and cropping. Moreover, determine if the photograph is directed in a way that best highlights its intended subject, feeling and message.
6. Explain what you like about the photograph, and why. A photo critique should point out a photo’s strong points, as well as the technical and artistic aspects that contribute to those strengths, so you should be specific. For example, saying that you “like the lighting” is not nearly as helpful as saying,
“I like the use of overhead lighting because it accentuates the shadows of the subject’s face, leading to the intimate feeling.”
7. Elaborate on elements of the photograph that could be improved upon. Your goal is to provide the photographer with a thorough and accurate analysis of the photograph’s effectiveness. Be specific, as in this example: “Adjusting the exposure time would create more crispness in the contrast, which would add to the raw grit of the photograph.”
8. Summarize your general perception of the photograph. Rather than repeat what you already said in your photography critique, provide a brief description of your overall feeling about the photograph, after taking into consideration its technical and artistic aspects, strength and weaknesses.