How to critique your own work
Being able to critique your own work will allow you to see your own images from the viewpoint of the buyer. If your not making sales, despite advertising, tagging, etc, it might be due to your work being so horrible.
There are many mistakes beginners and even advanced people make when shooting a photo. And many of those people, unless they look at their own work critically may never see the faults in it. Either accepting their work as being good enough, or they might have convinced themselves that they are indeed a master, because they bought a good camera or whatever. Being able to critique yourself is an art in itself and will let you improve yourself over time.
Never ask family or friends to critique your work. It will either give you useless results or bad feelings. If you ask someone like that for a look, they will always tell you that your work looks great. And if you ask can be be more specific – what do you like? They will often wave their hand and say, well all of it is nice. Toss the answer. It's useless unless they tell you why they like it. If they gave a pause before answering or looked at their friend, toss it. If they look and just stare with awe, you might have a winner, just don't let them roll their eyes.
Anyway, this is a primer of what to look for in having a good looking photo – it can apply to paintings too to a degree, but I see more bad photos than paintings.
Always sort your pictures into 2 directories – the trip you were on, and an edit directory. So you can erase the ones in the edit and keep the old ones for later. Never edit an original. And always back up the work before you start anything.
Step 1 – EVAULATUON
When sorting through images you have to look at basic elements.
1. Blurry - Is the image blurry? If the image has motion blur (you have to look up close), if it's soft, or things in the scene moved like a person, flower or tree – erase it. While you can sometimes save an image with a painter program (DA painter, etc), it's best to just remove it. I'll often erase the original if it's really bad.
2. Story - Does my image tell a story? Can I or anyone else understand the context of this image just by looking at it? If you the photographer can't tell where you were or why you shot it – don't post it. How am I supposed to know if you don't?
3. Framing – A part of story telling is the framing you use in the image. I'll go into it a little more below. Basically framing hides things in the background and helps the story.
4. Balance – Some scenes need a certain amount of balance. Like all the action shouldn't be on one side of the image. There are exceptions to this rule, but it shouldn't look like one side of the image will tip over if placed on a table.
5. Interest – Images from your vacation are often not very interesting. Many images are snapshots. A snap shot is any image that looks like you took it in a hurry. It often has elements that make a scene busy or has things that are cut in half. People, windows, signs, etc, cut in half at random places. Sometimes a location or an item has a special meaning to you, but often it doesn't translate to something for us.
6. Exposure – Is the sky the right color? Is there a very heavy color cast on the scene? Is there a very hot bright spot or really dark shadows? If the scene looks balanced colorwise, and everything else checks out move on to Step 2, otherwise just toss the image
Step 2 – Editing
If you use an SLR and it has a RAW function – ALWAYS shoot in raw. Side by side they look like a softer version of a jpg, often with less color comparatively. Using a raw editor you can fix color problems, chromatic aberrations, poor exposure, etc much easier than you can if you shot with straight JPG. If your goal is to become a pro photographer, even if you don't edit much now, you might later. Years later I will often go back to old things that I couldn't edit and fix them, all because I shot it in RAW.
At this stage your looking at your image, you edited the basic color if it was RAW. It's time to straighten. It always amazes me how many people don't straighten their image.
1. If you shoot a scene with water, always make sure the horizon is straight.
2. If you shoot a scene with buildings, check the horizon and the buildings. There are times when the horizon is actually slanted such as a road, but to the eye it will never look right. When your in doubt about what to straighten, always use a building as a guide, because those have to be straight, unless it's an old structure.
There are many other types of images that should be straight. However there are other types that are ok to be crooked looking or leaning, and that's usually when you look up or down at a building, often it can create a unique look.
After you straighten it, crop it. You want to try to find balance, but at the same time keep as much picture as possible. If you crop something very tight, you'll lose picture information or simply make the image too small. When I crop i'll use a fixed crop at the pixel dimensions I use. The picture may stretch a little or shrink depending on the size of the crop. At this point save it and give it a creative name, something that will attract attention without seeing the picture.
Step 3 – Cloning things out.
Depending how you straightened it, cropping may leave what I call – crop marks. A crop mark is that little white or black border that's left over because that part of the picture is missing. When cropping you want to try to avoid this, but sometimes you can't help it. You do want to fix these, especially when selling paintings.
However after that, you have to decide what else needs to be removed, and sometimes there is so much to be removed you may just want to scrap the shot at this point. If you think it will take longer than an hour to clone things out – delete it and find something else.
I've never met a scene that was perfect.
THINGS TO LOOK FOR:
GARDENS – Gardens will usually have sprinkler heads, marker signs, people, roads, cars, dead plants, bare spots on the lawn etc.
HOUSES – Dead lawns, dog piles, security signs, Christmas decorations (nearly impossible to remove some of them), wires leading to the house, house numbers (I usually remove them), other houses, dead trees, etc.
CARS – May have odd reflections of people, dirt, scratches, dents, maybe the background is poor.
STILL LIFE – If the scene is supposed to be vintage, remove anything modern. Watches, wires, security stuff, people in reflections, tags, spider webs, dust, and anything your eye spots.
PEOPLE/PORTRAIT or PET – red eye, branches growing from a head, distracting elements like wires, poles, signs, other people, etc.
There are many purists however that think an image has to be a documentary (untouched by a photographer). Art is not a documentary. However if you can avoid cloning things out later, or line them up with other things to make it easier – do that. You'll thank yourself for it later.
If there is a garbage can, sign, person etc – line them up with a natural element to block it out. I'll often use a plant or a flower to remove something else. On a street scene I might use a person walking to remove something in the background. If you time it right you won't have to clone it out. If the element is a sign post, try not to line it up with a door way or a window edge, because it's hard to replace something on a vertical. If you can line bad things up against a solid background.
After editing, adjust color, sharpen and your done.
GENERAL TERMS – WITH EXAMPLES
When someone uses the term framing they aren't talking about the border around the image. A frame is when you use an element in the scene to help a story, or to block an ugly area of an image. Often framing can be used to tell the time of year, by using a flower or something that would be there during that time of year.
All of these are a form of framing.
The first one, the pine tree blocks out much of a boring background. Eyes will naturally go to light, and the light is on the wagon. The tree is framing the wagon with it's trunk and branch. The flowers were added to help balance the shot. I wasn't thrilled with the path, it does add a little bit to the story, but would have been more of a pain to add new grass, due to the angle and shadows.
The second one, the trees frame the horse ride. Note again that the light in the back draws the eyes on that then the horse. I did a lot of cloning on this there used to be a back on this wagon and I didn't like it there so I took it out. Same with the branches on the left, they were a distraction.
The last one, is a bit more subtle. There is a tree in there, but the fence is more of a frame for the whole thing. It's very important, when you shoot a fence, that the fence doesn't block anything. Note how the path is open at the front, it leads people into the shot. The cows are bonus. I purposely made the background lighter so the eyes know where to go.
This is probably the most confusing term in photography. When I think of story, I think of – once upon a time. But a story is simple a way to show a picture, where I don't have to explain what your looking at. Not every scene needs a story and not everything has one. But it helps.
Each of these scenes tells it's own story. You can make one up as you dive into it. However the story may not be as strong if your not in trade.
Here is an example of a story – The scene – A tractor stands in front of a field, a path leads to the farm. Being in front, the tractor is the main story. The crops are the thing that the tractor is used for. The road is what the tractor came from which leads us to the barn. Each element helps the other elements
This can be a killer for many people. There are two kinds of busy – good and bad. Bad busy should really be called DISTRACTING, good busy usually means there are many things to look at all at the same time. The pharmacy on the right is a very busy image, however everything in the scene is related. Everything is poisonous.
Bad busy is when you have an image and I can't tell what you were taking. In your mind, you were taking a picture of an old guy on a bench. But what you took was the background, kids playing, odd shadows, the sky, cars, etc. everything around the guy. That's a snap shot. If you want the guy on the bench, zoom up on him, or get closer.
General stores will always be busy. There isn't much you can do about it. However everything is related in the scene. Some people hate busy, they like simple things they can understand. For those people, you take the still lives that are on the shelves.
Anyway, the last one however is BAD busy. Partly because the items don't really relate, and partly because it's so dark in there. There's also only one real tone in there. It's not really an eye catcher, it's still experimental as to whether it will sell or not.
City scenes can be complicated. Framing and filling the frame with the picture, without spilling onto something that's boring, dirty or unlrelated can be tricky. It's also hard due to parked cars and such. The first scene shows a cafe. I stayed close to keep it personal. The tree is a frame, it shows that trees do grow in NY. It also shows the time of year it was, it's not fall or winter. I cloned out wires, I think a roof of a car, and some stickers in the windows.
The second, is busy, it's both good and bad busy. There's something you'll notice in almost all of my work, I never show wire, traffic lights (unless they are unavoidable), and cars. If it's an old house a modern car hurts the shot and can create a snap shot appearance. However, 20 years from now it will start looking quaint because of the now old cars that are in there. City scenes however should look busy, which is why I left everything in. I did however add clouds, because the sky was blank.
The last shot has the most cloning. On the left was a road with signs, cars, lines, on the right there were draped wires, part of that wall was missing – I think it was another building. I re-built the wall there to keep the flow. Its very hard to remove wires on a street when there are trees there, but If I left it my eye would travel on the road because the eye is easily distracted.
DON'T USE EFFECTS UNLESS YOU KNOW WHAT YOUR DOING
It's said that covering a snap shot with a fun overlay (like neon or some blur filter), will change the work to art – but that's false. That's like icing a stale cake, no one will be fooled. Effects can however add dimension if used right.
In the first two scenes, simply dropping some lines from the window provides the illusion that sunlight is coming in. It creates a mood and adds warmth, it also show perspective and depth. Note the path that leads the eye into the scene, it's also bright, which leads the eye. The scene is busy, but a good busy, it lets you study it. Selective highlighting allows the eye to absorb each detail, adding highlights on the belts, and machine beds and such. The tool on the left serves as a basic frame, partly unintended do to where I could stand.
The last one uses natural light – use it whenever you can.
COMMON MISTAKES WHEN SHOOTING
There are many common mistakes people make when shooting:
1. When photographing a person, never let something grow out of their head. Don't line them up with a tree or a post. This goes for anything. Clone it out if you have to. If your mean, and on a trip someone hands you their camera to take a picture of them, do line them up.
2. Don't center. This is a common rule that can be broken at any time. Mostly it means, when you shoot something, and it's centered, don't leave a bunch of blank space around the subject. Either turn the camera to portrait, or place them next to something nicer like a bed of flowers.
3. Make sure you are shooting something. Many people get caught up in the moment of how pretty it is that day, or a scent in the air, and shoot randomly. Try to make it something interesting.
4. Don't take pictures of signs. If the scene is not interesting without the sign, then it won't be with the sign. Signs are good to know where you were – at home – but not here. You really don't want to say to the customer that you got this on a trip, it turns them off when they see a sign to the attraction or a sign on a building (the little history signs you see on some buildings).
5. If you take a picture of something make sure the shot is not cluttered. If it was trash day – don't shoot the garbage. If it's a pretty house, don't shoot the graffiti next door. Try to make sure everything in the scene is related. Like if it's a historic house, and there is someone in costume, get them, don't get the tourists.
6. When you shoot something reflective, don't be in the shot. Whether it's a reflection in the window, vase, or glass, don't be there. If you know your shooting against glass, wear black that day. Avoid reflections on glass if you can help it
COMMON MISTAKES WHEN SELLING
1. Many people are under the impression that anything here will sell. Just because it's called a gallery doesn't mean you will fool the people into thinking your item is art.
2. On that note, don't take pictures of signs and sell them. This goes for ceramic things left on a porch as a still life. It can be a part of the scene, but it shouldn't be the scene itself. The same thought is for statues that aren't yours (statues are actually copyrighted art, and you can't sell those).
3. If you live in a certain town, don't take a picture of a random street thinking that someone might be homesick and might want a picture of their town. Chances are they aren't that sick. I've seen many take pictures of just random streets, or the sign leading up to an attraction. If you must take pictures in your own town, choose the center, or a landmark. Preferably during spring or fall, sometimes winter. Make sure to mark the location and the town and state name so people can find it later.
4. No pictures of your pets, babies, single flowers, family shots, your car, etc. There are nice shots of babies, but it's rare to get a good one that everyone will enjoy. Pictures of pets should be on a neutral background like grass or a wall, and don't use a flash so the eyes aren't red and taken at eye level. There are many flower shots here and to be good it means you need great light, usually a close up, often rain drops, or something that will make yours stand out. However more often then not, people shoot flowers because they are bright, easy to find, and almost always at hip level so you don't have to bend much.
5. No one is interested in a picture of you and your girlfriend. No one wants to see your family reunion. No one cares about uncle Floyd or Aunt Edna at the pool. Save those for home or facebook.
6. If you take a picture of a car, make sure you don't have distracting things like reflections, people, and fingerprints. That's goes the same for still lives, no fingerprints.
7. Sunsets only look good to when your there. Just because a scene has color doesn't mean it will sell. There are so many AWESOME sunsets on this site, or any site – that the one you took out of your car window with a cell phone, won't sell just because it's here and you called it art. To add, if it is a sunset it should still be of something. In other words, if the scene didn't have a sunset, would it be interesting? If it's just some color and black trees, it won't be that interesting.
8. Oddly there are many images of just clouds. I've seen them in a dozen accounts or more. If you did nothing more than point your camera towards the sky, what makes your image so special that a buyer can't do the same thing? And if a buyer can make it themselves, they don't need you. If you have other shots that are far more interesting, boring images like that may turn off the buyer and they may simply stop looking at your stuff.
9. Always ask yourself: Would I buy this? Who am I making this for? And always be honest with yourself.
Why is this quick primer so long? Because I wrote it. And I don't write things in short ways. If I can make something more complicated I will.
Critiquing your own work starts at the moment you see a shot that you want to have. It happens when you point the camera and get ready for this shot and the next one. It happens when you choose the one you want to edit. It happens when you edit for final presentation. And it happens when you look at older work.
Being able to rate yourself will mean you have to be open and honest with yourself. Listen to that little devil on your shoulder that says you should toss the shot. He's probably right. And if the other little devil argues, don't listen to him, just toss it. I've tossed things well after I edited it. The amount of time I fuss with something removing tiny things, or filling in noise, it can take hours. That scene above with the machine shop, any of those often take 5 hours or more to make. I'll zoom in at every level to adjust highlights and shadow and remove stuff that doesn't belong. It has to look right in my eyes. It has to pass my judgment. If I can see the mistake, then other people might also. I am my worst critic when it comes to judging my own work.
To rate yourself, you should start by rating other people's work. When someone asks for a photo critique, all I hear are people whining that they don't know how to do it. Then try! To be able to see the flaws or the good things in someone elses work, means you can do your own. You have to toss out any feelings you have for a person or what they might feel and really look at it. Do you like it? Yes? No? How come? Where does your eye go? What's the first thing you look at? What's the second?
What do you like about the piece? Do you like the colors? Context? Location? Is it a place from your childhood and that's why you like it?
What do you not like about it? Is it crooked, blurry, busy, no story, no point? Just looking over something you can easily point these pretty fast.
You'll find it gets easier with time and practice. And the more you nitpick your own things the better the outcome later on.