Using the “4-C’s”
Do you know how to critique an image? No, not –
“WOW! I like that!“.
That’s not a critique. That’s a Flickr comment.
Supportive but not useful if better photography is the ultimate goal.
Even the most well-intentioned critiques can be hard to take – ego’s need to be put aside.
One of the most common reasons given by newbies for not entering club competitions is fear/embarrassment because of criticisms.
A typical image has both good and bad points. Both should be recognized – the good acknowledged and constructive criticism offered for the bad. To be useful, the praise and criticism must be specific, not general – even more specific than
“There’s a problem with the focus”
What & where specifically and why do you think this happened so the maker can avoid the problem in the future
“The background is more in focus than the subject’s eyes. Your focal point was wrong for the shallow depth of field you used.”
Knowing how to critique images is a key step toward becoming a better photographer.
If you don’t know what makes an image good – and bad – how can you hope to make good images?
If you can’t recognize problems when viewing a displayed image, how do expect to see them when looking through your viewfinder?
The most important critique is self-critique of your own images
I use a structured method for critiquing images built around what I call the 4-C’s.
Take a look at this blog’s subtitle at the top of the page
The subtitle is there because I firmly believe that
Mastery of these four elements is key to Photography Improvement.
- CRAFTSMANSHIP – Using your camera to control exposure, focus and color for a technically perfect image or for the creative image that you want. Key message- putting you in control of the camera & not vice-versa.
- COMPOSITION – Making aesthetically pleasing two-dimensional images
- CREATIVITY – Making your images YOUR images (and not like everyone else’s) by building on craftsmanship and composition skills
- COMMUNICATION – Inserting emotion and feeling into your images. Great artists believed that art sprang from emotion. (A work of art which did not begin in emotion is not art. Paul Cezanne)
The list above is in the order that the C’s should be applied in an a critique.
The list begins with the most basic skills and progresses to the most difficult to master
Good craftsmanship should be a given even for a relative beginner – especially with today’s cameras
Communication on the other hand is very difficult – especially since it’s so viewer dependent
In another sense the list progresses from “objective” criteria through to “subjective”
Craftsmanship elements, color for example, are very objective. Unless the maker is making some artistic statement (see creativity & communication) we all know what color the bride’s skin and gown should be – it’s not a subjective thing.
Communication, on the other hand, is nearly 100% subjective. What “sings” to me may be “nails on a blackboard” to you.
To round out the story, the list is exactly in the opposite order I use when making an image rather than critiquing one.
Making an image begins with Cezanne’s quote – A work of art which did not begin in emotion is not art. If I can see the potential for an image that sings to me, I’m 90% of the way home toward making a good image.
We can’t begin with an everyday scene, craft & compose it in a creative way – and then “glue emotion” to it at the last minute. It doesn’t happen that way.
Note – “good image” here means one that is good for me. I really don’t care about what others think. Depending on where you are in your photography development journey, you may (or should) care.
Now that I’ve found my singing image, the rest is straight forward. Starting with creativity I try not to make the presentation of my “song” routine & predictable – I want to be creative. My ingredients for creativity are the first 2-C’s (and treating them as the “RULES” of composition and craftsmanship probably won’t get the creative job done – but you do have to know them before you can break them).
The final two steps are relatively easy.
Usually the most difficult composition task is simplifying the image.
Craftsmanship is easy (or it damn well should be else it’s back to the drawing board for you). You HAVE TO reach the point where craftsmanship (using your tools – camera/lens) is instinctive and your camera is an extension of YOU.
If you have to think about it, even for 5 seconds, you’re not ready to be the best photographer you can be. This where practice, practice, practice comes in….
Craftsmanship errors are inexcusable
This is one reason that Craftsmanship comes first in a critique (especially in judging where 75% of all entries must be eliminated; if you can’t do the basics, there’s little reason to go further)
Craftsmanship is essential in terms of making your camera do what your vision requires for this singing image, including bending & breaking rules in the name of creativity