Tips for judging, critiquing and self-assessing photos
I often solicit other people’s opinion when it comes to assessing the quality and creative merit of my photographs. I genuinely want to see how others react to the pictures I’ve taken. I want to find out if my viewers are seeing the same things as I am seeing, if they are seeing things I am not seeing, and in the process discover if there is a connection going on through my pictures.
The problem is, most people tend to be “nice” rather than “critical” when it comes to their feedback. They are often not as open and not as candid as I want them to be when analyzing my pictures. They typically play it safe.
This is why, I pay special attention to non-verbal clues, and I try to also read between the lines. It’s actually a good thing to know what other people really think of my work.
Of course, I can’t blame why I usually reap safe reactions. Maybe, they are uncomfortable dispensing negative comments. Maybe, they don’t want to hurt my feelings. They are thinking that I might feel bad if they sound harsh in their judgement.
But then again, the people I ask might just don’t know what to actually look for. I can’t say I blame them because I myself sometimes do not know exactly what to look for, until I recently came across an interesting and helpful checklist from TangoTools.com that helps me focus my attention on photographic details I need to focus on.
It’s an amazing eight-part checklist with a total of 72 questions! I don’t know of any other existing checklist that provides this much point-blank level of scrutiny. This certainly is a great way to put my pictures (and yours too) to a test.
Here it is:
Part 01: Impact & Interest
- Does the image grab your attention and hold it?
- Does the image appeal to the senses?
- Does the image suggest mystery or intrigue?
- Does the image provide a fresh and original view of the subject matter?
- Does the image express a unifying thought or idea?
- Does the image focus on one simple subject?
- Does the image make the most of the available subject matter?
- Is the image more than a mere snapshot?
- Does the image achieve the creator’s objective?
- Does the image avoid being too busy or confusing?
- If the image breaks with tradition, does this enhance the experience?
Part 02: Viewpoint
- Is the horizon level; are the verticals vertical?
- Is the image free from unwanted perspective distortion (e.g. caused by tilting the camera)?
- Did the creator use a fresh viewpoint?
- Does the viewpoint highlight the important features of the subject?
- Does the viewpoint avoid unfortunate juxtapositions (e.g. lamp post sticking out of head)?
- Has the best choice of low, normal or high viewpoint been made?
- Does the viewpoint make best use of light and shadows?
- Does the viewpoint minimize clutter and distractions?
Part 03: Composition
- Is the cropping appropriate for the subject? (Should the crop have been tighter?)
- Has the best format been used (vertical, horizontal, square, panorama)?
- Is there space in front of animals, faces or transportation (e.g. space to move to)?
- Does the composition lead the eye to the main subject (e.g. through the use of lines and curves)?
- Does the main subject stand out from the background (e.g. contrasting olor, brightness or focus)?
- Does the composition avoid the “bull’s eye effect” (e.g. main subject is offset from center)?
- Does the image make good use of forms, patterns and textures?
- Does the image convey a sense of depth (e.g. shadows, perspective, selective focus)?
Part 04: Color
- Was the best choice made from color, black-and-white or sepia?
- Is the white balance correct (e.g. no yellow, orange or green cast)?
- Are color saturation levels appropriate?
- Has appropriate use been made of contrasting and complementary colors?
Part 05: Technique
- Is the image free of barrel and pincushion distortion? (Note: An occurrence that is common to very wide angle lenses.)
- Does the image avoid lost detail in blown out highlights and dark shadows?
- Is the image free of distracting reflections?
- Is the main subject in sharp focus?
- Is the image free from dust specs, smudges, and scratches?
- Is the image free from lens flare effects?
- Was fill-flash used when needed?
- Does the image have a good total range?
- Is the image free of excessive contrast?
- Is the image free from handshake blur?
- Is the image free from digital sensor noise?
- Was subject motion handled appropriately (e.g. either frozen or exaggerated)?
- Does the image avoid clumsy or obvious post-processing?
Part 06: Manipulation & Presentation
- Has the image been over-sharpened?
- Is the image free from artifacts of excessive JPEG compression?
- Has any manipulation contributed to the subject matter and its impact? (Or, is it just a Photoshop demo?)
- Does any manipulation represent a fresh style wit merit?
- Is the size of the printed or displayed image appropriate for the subject matter?
- If printed, is the image’s resolution high enough to support the print size?
- If used, is the framing suitable for the subject matter?
Part 07: Landscapes
- Is the horizon not in the middle?
- Does the image avoid wasting space on a featureless sky?
- Does the image include elements in the near, middle and far distances?
- Was the image taken at an appropriate time of day?
- Was good use made of the hyperfocal plane?
Part 08: Portraits
- Was the correct choice made between flattery and revealing character?
- Does the image minimize un-photogenic features?
- Does the image emphasize photogenic features? (Have small blemishes been removed?)
- Is the lighting effective?
- Does the subject appear natural and relaxed?
- Does the image reveal the subject’s character and interests?
- Does the image tell a story or suggest history?
- Is the image free of red-eye effects?
- Was a good choice made of lens focal length? (Note: No big noses from wide-angle lenses.)
- Are the background and props appropriate?
- Are the eyes in sharpest focus?
- Does the lighting make the hair “alive”?
- Do the clothing and accessories avoid drawing attention away from the subject?
- Do the lighting and viewpoint reveal the shape of the subject’s head?
- Is the subject free from unfortunate shadows on the face or elsewhere?
- Is the sharpness of focus appropriate for the situation?