Constructively Critiquing Photos for Contests with Sensitivity

Most artists like myself are emotional people, so when someone insults our work, sometimes we take it personally, as if someone is insulting our souls. That is why I think it’s important to constructively critique work that will help the artist/photographer. I have learned the judging is just someone’s opinion. I view a contest judge’s preference to a piece of work in the same way as someone who chooses a different entree on the menu, because that’s really all it is.

I was asked to judge a photo contest in May for the Southeast Volusia Camera Club. At first I was a little intimidated, because I used to be a member and Vice President of Judging for the club. I knew several of its members, so I didn’t want them to be pissed at me for not choosing their photo (all photos were anonymous, so I did not know whose was whose). I did my best at critiquing, just as I would do in the classroom. It was a relief to learn how happy they were with the judging.

This is my own work taken in 2002 with a point and shoot. At the time I thought this was such an amazing photo, but now I don’t think so as much. This is my critique of my own photo as I would say to a student or as the judge of a contest:

This is a beautiful sunset. I like the transition of the purple and orange and yellow, and how they blend. The texture of the water is great and seems to be what is in focus more than the rest of the picture. I think I want to see either more of the water or more of the sky, so that the rule of thirds applies better. Taking head-on photos of the sun can be tricky, however, because we often get those glares that result in unwanted circles, like we see here. Also, I would eliminate the line in the upper right corner, because it adds nothing to this beautiful sunset, but actually distracts from it.


Critiquing photos

Being a school teacher has helped me to understand the sensitivity of student’s work. I would never say – no matter how awful I think the work is – that I think it’s bad. Saying what I don’t think works for the photo/art, such as, “I’m not sure this works…” or “You might try to change this or eliminate that…” will help them learn what to do next time. Try asking them what they would change about it, as well. Also, saying everything you do like about the work helps. If you don’t like anything about it, open your mind and find something!