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Old 01-23-2007, 10:29 PM
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Default How to rate photos and give a meaningful critique

How to rate photos and give a meaningful critique

A Photochimps Guide

by The Photochimps Team


Receiving thoughtful critiques may well be one of the best tools a photographer has for improving the quality of their photographs. On the other hand, taking the time to write a well thought-out critique for others can be equally rewarding, because it forces you to put into words what you like or dislike, and at the same time it improves your ability to critique your own photography.

The photographer’s responsibilities:

The first thing a photographer must consider when uploading photographs to the Photochimps Gallery is whether they are uploading the photo because they would like feedback on it or whether they just want to share something. When uploading a photo in the gallery, you, the photographer, are given options on the type of feedback you like to receive, if any.
In the extra options section, you may choose to receive:
  • A numerical rating from poor to excellent (1-10)
  • Comments from members
  • Or both

Also, if you are looking for a critique, adding a comment such as “Critiques and comment would be most appreciated” to your comment can be a clear message of your intentions to the viewer. In this case, you should be prepared to take all comments, whether they are positive or negative, graciously. Remember, the person who wrote the comment did so for your benefit and is only trying to help you. Any criticism is toward your posted photograph and not to toward you, the photographer. Try not to take the criticism personally. If you feel like the person is being negative towards you, report it to any one of the moderators and they will be more than happy to help resolve the situation. If you receive a critique that you are not sure you understand, feel free to ask that person to clarify. Just remember not to get defensive and do not argue.

When uploading a photograph for critique, it’s helpful to include as much information as possible:
  • What you were trying to achieve.
  • What you think you did right.
  • What you think you could have done better.
  • What steps you took in taking the picture as well as in your post processing.
Also, if you are interested in someone’s take on a specific aspect or element in your photograph then ask.

Writing a meaningful critique:

Writing a short comment like “Awesome”, “Very Nice”, or “Wow” doesn’t do much for the photographer other then telling them that you liked something about their photograph. It doesn’t tell them what they did right and what they could have done better. However, there are times when “Wow” is the only word that comes to mind. Don’t worry about leaving a short comment if you can’t think of anything else to say. A short comment is better than no comment any day.

To write a meaningful critique, start by taking some time to carefully study the image. A well thought out critique takes time, so try not to rush this. Start with noting your overall emotional response to the image. Then, closely look and identify the various technical and aesthetic components that make the photograph work or not work – more on these later. It may be helpful to come back to an image a couple times before sitting down to write your critique.

When you begin writing your critique, it is often a good idea to by stating what you like about the photograph and why. Something about the image caught your eye in the first place so you can write about that.

When talking about the negative aspects, it may be better to only focus on one or two major points (or points that haven’t been discussed yet) rather than listing everything that is wrong with the photograph. Try to also say why you think a particular aspect is negative. Also, if possible, try to offer suggestions for improvement based on your personal experience.

If possible end your critique with another positive comment.

If you are curious how the photographer did something, or a particular technique or tool they used go ahead and ask them. Most photographers will be more than happy to share their knowledge with you.

An Example:

When critiquing this photograph you might say something like this – “This is a beautiful seascape with good color! The colors and tones are smooth and vibrant. You did well to capture the spray from the wave, and the positioning of the boat in the frame is pleasing to the eye; giving room for the boat to travel. However, it looks like the horizon in the image is not level – the apparent tilt suggests the water is going to pour out of the picture. Assuming this is not a deliberate tilt, you can try straightening it by using the “rotate” command in Photoshop. Again, this is a richly colored seascape and with a little more post processing, this can be better and one you can be proud of.”

Elements to look at and to consider:

It is helpful when trying to write a constructive critique to break down the image into specific elements rather than the picture as a whole. By focusing your efforts on these it make the whole process seem less intimidating.

  • Why did the photographer stop to take this photo?
  • Is there a message that the photographer was trying to express? Were they successful? Why or why not?
  • How does the image make me feel?
  • Is there a clear defined subject?
  • Do the elements in the picture work together to tell a story? What could have been done better?
  • Are there any elements that distract from the main subject or from the story?
  • Does the image have any “wow” factor? Is it unique? Does it capture your imagination or thrill you? Does it inspire?
Light and Color:
  • Do the colors convey an emotional response? Think sunsets.
  • Do the colors detract from the main subject?
  • Is the lighting flattering to the subject?
  • Is the light flat when it should be dramatic?
  • Are there any harsh shadows?
  • Do the colors compliment each other?
Depth of Field
  • Is the DOF suitable for the subject? Does it focus your attention on the subject?
  • Are there distractions in the background that would have been better eliminated by using a shallower DOF?
  • In landscapes, is everything from near to far in sharp focus? If not, does it work well for this particular image?
  • Does the photographers’ choice of angle and perspective focus your attention on the subject?
  • Would the image have been stronger if the photographer shot it from a higher/lower angle?
Use of the Elements of Design:
  • Good use of leading lines?
  • Patterns?
  • Texture?
Cropping and Framing:
  • Is the main subject too close to the edge of the frame?
  • Is there too much empty space that doesn’t do anything for the photograph?
  • Is the image split in half by the horizon?
  • Is the image sharp enough? Is it over sharpened?
  • How is the while balance? Are there any color casts?
  • Does the image look too flat or too contrasty?
  • Are the highlights washed out?
  • Are the shadow areas all black?
  • How is the overall exposure?

Rating photographs:

When uploading an image to the Photochimps gallery, the photographer may choose to enable the “Allow members to rate your photo” option. This allows members to give the image a rating from poor to excellent (or 1-10). However, without any sort of guidelines, such a rating is rather meaningless. By splitting the maximum 10 point evenly between technical qualities and aesthetic qualities and giving each a maximum of 5 points, we can give a more meaningful rating. So, let’s first have a look at the technical side of things.

Technical rating:

Technical – 1
  • Almost anyone, including non-photographers would classify this photo as dreadful.
  • Most people would have immediately deleted or thrown this photo out.
  • There is nothing is in focus or there is too much camera shake to tell.
  • Picture is poorly exposed to the point that it is unsalvageable.
Technical – 2
  • Image is starting to look ok but it doesn’t look like the photographer took any care when shooting this picture or with the post processing.
  • Severely un-level horizons.
  • Important parts of the subject are cut off by the frame.
  • Still not very sharp.
  • Exposure still questionable.
  • Strong color cast.
Technical – 3
  • Looks like there was some effort put into this picture but there still some major noticeable flaws.
  • Lots of dust and scratches visible.
  • Poor contrast or important highlights are clipped.
  • Still some sort of a color cast.
Technical – 4
  • Close to perfect but not quite.
  • Slightly under or over sharpened.
  • Some areas still too dark or too bright.
  • Some dust and scratches are still visible.
Technical – 5
  • No technical flaw evident.
  • All technical aspects; including sharpness, white balance, color saturation, exposure, depth of field; all appear technically superior.
Even if a photograph is technically perfect, if it doesn’t invoke an emotional response it can still be considered rather boring. So, let’s now have a look at the aesthetic end of the scale.

Aesthetic Levels:

Aesthetic – 1
  • You as the viewer can’t figure out why the photographer even took this shot.
  • It has absolutely no point.
Aesthetic – 2
  • A typical snapshot.
  • Great as a documentary of friends, places and events.
  • No real artistic value.
Aesthetic – 3
  • A nice shot but it’s not something you would want to hang on your wall. May be better suited for the family photo album.
Aesthetic – 4
  • Almost perfect but not quite.
  • Most people would be proud to have this shot hanging on their wall.
Aesthetic – 5
  • Mind blowing! “WOW” is all that you can say.
  • Invokes a strong emotional response – either positive or negative.
  • You could spend a long time just looking at his picture and taking it all in.
To rate a photograph:

When giving a rating to a photograph have a look at both the technical qualities and the aesthetic qualities and give them each a score out of five. Add the two scores together and you will have the overall rating out of a maximum of 10. It may be useful to the photographer, if you then write a brief breakdown of the score in the comment box. For example:

If you give a photo a rating of 7 /10

In the comment box say this:
Technical – 4
Aesthetic – 3

Or even:

Keep in mind that the above rating system are meant only as a guideline and is in no way a rock solid set of rules. Use your own discretion when giving out a rating. For example, if an image has all the characteristics of a Technical level 3 but one aspect that you would consider a Technical level 2 you may still give it a 3.


Writing a meaningful critique or giving a meaningful rating can be a great asset to both the photographer and to you. It may seem hard at first, but just like anything, the more you do it the easier it becomes. So take part in this rewarding learning experience.

Tom Nevesely Photography

Old 01-23-2007, 10:47 PM
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If you would like to download and print this article, a PDF version of this article is available here:

Critiquing and Rating Photographs

Tom Nevesely Photography

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