How to Constructively Criticize Photos

Last year I was asked to judge a photo contest for a camera club. Recently, I was asked to judge again because the club felt that I gave much needed constructive criticism. The keyword here is constructive.

A few of the members had had issues with people saying some pretty mean things about their photos or simply giving criticism without teaching them how to fix the issues. Now this is just a camera club of older folks that enjoy taking photos for a hobby. Some of them are still learning how to use cameras and the basic elements of photography.  People are there to learn how to take a better photo, not necessarily have someone tell them that their work sucks. It’s like telling a parent their kid is ugly. Not cool.

In order to demonstrate how I constructively criticize photos as a judge, I will use a few of my own.

Taken with iPhone

Red is a difficult color to photograph, because it tends to lose detail, especially if you’re using an automatic camera. By experimenting with various exposure times you can find the right one to capture the exact color you want. In this photo, I can see detail of the fence, the leaves, and the mulch on the ground. But the biggest issue I see with this is that the main subject – the flower and bud – are both out of focus. That often happens when using automatic cameras and lenses instead of focusing manually. When it comes to things that stand still, such as flowers, I would suggest using a manual focus so you can get the best result.

Dollar Weed

This is a nice close-up of a really annoying weed. I like the depth of field so I know this is the main subject and the other plants in the background are slightly out of focus. I also like that I can see some of the veins of the leaves. The glare on the leaves tends to take away from their detail. This was either caused by a flash or natural lighting. If this was a flash, you could try diffusing it so you don’t get the glare. If it was caused from natural lighting, you could try to shade it with an umbrella or thin material. The composition is good, as the entire area is filled and the main subject is nicely centered. I would say that if this photo were corrected it would make good stock material more than something with artistic merit.