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Thread: How to provide a constructive and effective critique

  1. #1
    Brownbear's Avatar
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    How to provide a constructive and effective critique

    Recently when I posted one of my bird photos I really liked the manner in which the critique of my photo was presented because it was presented by asking me questions, ie; which composition would you prefer and why... simply because it made me think about things I have learned about photography.

    I find it easy to comment on photos, and while I am always appreciative of kind comments, I am even more appreciative when someone is frank enough to say it is out of focus, has a distracting background, etc but also point out all the short comings of my image(s) in a nice manner, so I can try and improve next time.

    Hence, my question which is...

    How does one provide a constructive and effective critique?

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    The Blue Boy's Avatar
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    Re: How to provide a constructive and effective critique

    Hi Christina,

    I don't really think it matters as to what you say, it's how you say it that counts. I always try to be polite, even if it's a straight to the bin job (i.e. one of mine, )

    I'd say always try to be encouraging to beginners, bring out the strengths of a picture rather than dwell on a negative.

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    Re: How to provide a constructive and effective critique

    Christina: I think it is two part the manner in which it is given hopefully polite, and how the person responds to the criticism. For a good essay on this try Luminous-Landscape the link will follow, scroll down to the heading "Understanding Criticism" and it is a three part essay.

    http://luminous-landscape.com/columns/briots_view.shtml

    Cheers:

    Allan

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    Loose Canon's Avatar
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    Re: How to provide a constructive and effective critique

    Christina would it be possible to post the link to the thread you mentioned so that we could all have a look-see?

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    Moderator Dave Humphries's Avatar
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    Re: How to provide a constructive and effective critique

    I'm sure I have read a post on this angle before, but I bet I can't find it

    This is how I try to help;
    Rather than give instruction e.g. "you should do this ..." (unless that's what was asked for), I say things like; "if mine, I would ..."
    Especially if it is a new member; I try not to 'overload' with too many suggestions; 3 or 4 (max.)
    I concentrate on the easiest things they can do for the fastest improvement
    I try not to repeat suggestions made by others, but never-the-less acknowledge them so that the person realises my advice is not in contradiction of those suggestions (although occasionally it is, but 'errors' may need to be corrected)
    I'll only add about one thing (or stay away) if there are already several replies, again to avoid 'overloading'
    I always find some positive things to say and like to end on something positive too.

    ... and there are no prizes for finding examples of my posts where I have broken these guidelines - I am only human
    (and more restrained now than I used to be)

    Hope that helps,
    Last edited by Dave Humphries; 4th September 2013 at 08:51 PM. Reason: added a few more things

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    Brownbear's Avatar
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    Re: How to provide a constructive and effective critique

    Quote Originally Posted by Loose Canon View Post
    Christina would it be possible to post the link to the thread you mentioned so that we could all have a look-see?
    Hi Terry,

    Since you, yourself ask if it is possible for me to post the link to the thread, I am of the mind that it is okay with the person who provided that critique for me to share it here... By the way that person was you.

    I really appreciated your critique because you were included a compliment or two on what I managed to do well in my image , as well as a very informative analytical critique picking out the details in the image that I could improve upon which also happen to be the very things I am working on... ie; you picked out ever detail perfectly and presented what I thought was a brilliant critique in a very nice manner, which made me think about how I captured and processed these photos rather than it just should be done that way...

    ie; appropriate DOF for birds in flight and light, higher iso's versus noise and the fact that I need to improve my post processing skills so I can do things like reduce noise effectively, positioning and cropping to present the image at its best or do I prefer the center position and symmetry, and the suggestion but that I might consider losing the straps.


    New Bird in Flight Photos - Birds of Prey Sanctuary


    Your feedback also made me realize that the comments I make on others photos could be far more helpful. Hence the question.


    PS Allan - Thank you for sharing that link.. I think it is great read and that every photographer should read it.
    Last edited by Brownbear; 4th September 2013 at 10:25 PM. Reason: grammer

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    Re: How to provide a constructive and effective critique

    I hope I always remember to begin every critique with something positive. That's because I've never seen an image that doesn't have something worthwhile in it and because noting the positive characteristics is as helpful as noting the negative characteristics. I wouldn't want a positive characteristic to go unrecognized for fear that the photographer may have made it happen by accident or perhaps doesn't fully appreciative how important it is to repeat that characteristic in future photos.

    As for then following up with information about characteristics that could be improved, I try to remember to offer up a suggestion for the photographer's consideration. That is as opposed to implying or stating that whatever I'm recommending is such a great idea that it should not be questioned.

    Considering the amount of critique that you and I have shared, if I ever veer from the above, please slap my wrist through your monitor and get me back on track.

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    Brownbear's Avatar
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    Re: How to provide a constructive and effective critique

    That's great advice Mike (Dave, too) that I will try and keep in mind as I continue to learn.


    Mike, your advice and help has been extremely helpful to me... I suspect that you might wish to slap me on the wrist through your monitor after seeing my next two planned posts...


    Quote Originally Posted by Mike Buckley View Post
    I hope I always remember to begin every critique with something positive. That's because I've never seen an image that doesn't have something worthwhile in it and because noting the positive characteristics is as helpful as noting the negative characteristics. I wouldn't want a positive characteristic to go unrecognized for fear that the photographer may have made it happen by accident or perhaps doesn't fully appreciative how important it is to repeat that characteristic in future photos.

    As for then following up with information about characteristics that could be improved, I try to remember to offer up a suggestion for the photographer's consideration. That is as opposed to implying or stating that whatever I'm recommending is such a great idea that it should not be questioned.

    Considering the amount of critique that you and I have shared, if I ever veer from the above, please slap my wrist through your monitor and get me back on track.

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    Re: How to provide a constructive and effective critique

    There are two types of critiques:

    Technical: regarding exposure, shutter speed, focus, etc.
    and
    Artistic: regarding camera angle, cropping, etc.

    Sometimes these overlap a bit such as when using creative focus and slow shutter speed with a pan but, mostly the technical critique is pretty cut and dried.

    However, with artistic critique, you open a Pandora's box. If you have several competent photographers shoot the same image, you will get several different variations and if you give the same image to several photographers to crop, you will most likely get several different crops.

    IMO, I will sometimes mention alternate ways to shoot and crop an image, always remembering that the image belongs to the poster.

    There are often times that an image doesn't look good because it needs some post processing, a bit of sharpening and a bit of vibrance often go a long way in improving an image such as this shot of the Hagia Sophia. I actually worked on it with NIK Color Efex Pro, NIK Define, NIK Viveza and, NIK Output Sharpener.

    Unprocessed:
    How to provide a constructive and effective critique

    Cropped and processed:
    How to provide a constructive and effective critique

    Now I am sure that there are many other ideas on cropping as well as saturation, brightness., etc. All of the comments could be valid. However, if someone were to suggest a change, it would probably be better if they gave their reasons for the change. Such as, the industrial area at the bottom of the original images contrasts with the artistic minarets and lush trees and might be left in the crop. A comment that says only, "this image is terrible" - helps no one.

    Now, if I had a conspicuous dust spot in the sky, just saying pointing out "There's a dust spot." would be sufficient.
    Last edited by rpcrowe; 5th September 2013 at 12:37 AM.

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    Re: How to provide a constructive and effective critique

    Just to add a bit to Mike's post - I learned the "sandwich technique" for evaluation - positive first, then the negative, and end on positive note. - makes it easy to swallow.

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    William W's Avatar
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    Re: How to provide a constructive and effective critique

    I tend to divide my Comments and Critique into Technical areas and Artistic areas. That is probably because I am also used to Judging, Scoring and Marking Assignments.

    In this manner I think I can be very clear as to what comments are more predicated on Interpretation and what comments are more predicated on Rules of the Craft.

    Be clear - that is not to say that the Rules of the Craft need to be adhered. What I am stating is I separate C&C so that it is clear from what angle I am commenting.

    ***

    Although any comment & critique will have some subjective element to it, any Technical comment may stand unqualified or qualified. For example:

    “The image appears to be underexposed for Skin Tones” is an unqualified technical comment.

    “The image appears to be underexposed for Skin Tones, which in turn means the Background Shadow Detail exhibits a lot of Grain/Noise” is also an unqualified technical comment.

    “The image appears to be underexposed for Skin Tones, which in turn means the Background Shadow Detail exhibits a lot of Grain/Noise. In the case of this image the underexposure and the background shadow noise adds to the artistic interpretation of the scene, it enhances the feeling hopelessness of the Hobo who is living on the street.” is a qualified technical comment


    I think what forms a better Comment & Critique is one which also provides an option, or two:

    “The image appears to be underexposed for Skin Tones (the Main Subject being the facial expression), which in turn means the Background Shadow Detail exhibits a lot of Grain/Noise. In the case of this image the underexposure and the background shadow noise tends to add to the artistic interpretation of the scene. The underexposure and the noise enhance the feeling hopelessness of the Hobo who is living on the street.

    However, making the image initially underexposed limits the variance of the final image product: it would bode well to consider exposing any similar scene correctly for the skin tones and seek to manipulate the tone and timbre of the image in post production, to best suit the your Artist’s Vision ”


    ***

    On another point intrinsically related to the topic of this thread:

    In my experience illustration is often integral to providing any quality C&C when asked.

    I expect that, if one posts an Image at CiC and asks for Comment & Critique - modification of the original image to illustrate a point is OK, (as per the Code of Conduct).

    However, having been severely berated for editing and then reposting the edited version of the image as an illustration of a written Comment and Critique which was asked for - I tend to not give many in depth Comment & Critiques in this Forum – that’s not being sulky: it is just being practical with my time and effort.



    Therefore, as part of answering your question – ‘How to provide a constructive and effective critique’ -

    I’d suggest that those asking for Comment & Critique here, should all read and understand the CiC Code of Conduct, specifically point 4, hereunder quoted:

    “4. Editing. Re-posting edited versions of other member's photos should be clearly aimed at helping the original photographer. Such edits should therefore preferably be accompanied by an explanation of what editing was performed, along with why this is thought to improve the original image. Edits with significant structural alterations/additions to the original (except slight cropping) are discouraged, and may be removed.”

    WW

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    Re: How to provide a constructive and effective critique

    I am often surprised when I see the number of views a post receives compared to the small number of replies it receives. As Bobo said (before he ceased posting here) there appears to be a lot more "takers" than "givers". I wonder if this situation could be helped by posting a guide to offering constructive criticism, such as this site has http://www.ausphotography.net.au/for...ead.php?103809 . That is not an exhaustive list by any means, but something like that might help some to articulate an opinion.

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    Brownbear's Avatar
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    Re: How to provide a constructive and effective critique

    I've definitely been a taker because I have used this forum to learn as others likely do, too.

    I try to comment whenever I can because so many members have helped me, but when one is still learning it is hard to think of any helpful feedback especially because of the high quality of images on this forum.

    Quote Originally Posted by FootLoose View Post
    I am often surprised when I see the number of views a post receives compared to the small number of replies it receives. As Bobo said (before he ceased posting here) there appears to be a lot more "takers" than "givers". I wonder if this situation could be helped by posting a guide to offering constructive criticism, such as this site has http://www.ausphotography.net.au/for...ead.php?103809 . That is not an exhaustive list by any means, but something like that might help some to articulate an opinion.

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    William W's Avatar
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    Re: How to provide a constructive and effective critique

    Quote Originally Posted by FootLoose View Post
    I am often surprised when I see the number of views a post receives compared to the small number of replies it receives. As Bobo said (before he ceased posting here) there appears to be a lot more "takers" than "givers".
    Forum interaction should not be classified into 'takers' and 'givers'.
    That is not the raison d'etre of a quality forum.

    Allocating labels such as “Takers” and “Givers”, places an emotional emphasis on any and all interactions, leveraging pressure to make comment, which can in turn and amongst other undesirable qualities, steer the forum to value the volume of commentary, above the relevance and quality of commentary.

    Notwithstanding the above, any simple A/B comparison of statistics such as 'times viewed' and ‘replies’ are an irrelevance when discussing members’ participation, or lack thereof, in any aspect:

    • firstly if one is to cast the cursor across "Community" at the top of the page and then click on "Who's online" - then count the number of "Guests" . . . that number will be a big skew to the statistics.
    • secondly for a member who IS active in a thread, might visit that thread a number of times: I do, especially after I have written a longer response I might re-visit it up to five times quiet quickly.
    • and thirdly, for any thread where I have an email alert, (peculiar to CiC) if I will always re-open any thread whenever I get an email alert of a new message having been posted -(because CiC will only send one, until I revisit the thread again).



    ***


    Quote Originally Posted by FootLoose View Post
    I wonder if this situation could be helped by posting a guide to offering constructive criticism, such as this site has http://www.ausphotography.net.au/for...ead.php?103809 . That is not an exhaustive list by any means, but something like that might help some to articulate an opinion.
    Agreed that a guide to C&C is useful. As is the discussion in this thread - and Brava! Christina for beginning it.
    Agreed also that more quality commentary and discussion would be wonderful.

    But disagree that this is a "situation" and disagree with the beginning sentence (above), for the reasons given above.

    One has naught to do with the other.

    WW
    Last edited by William W; 5th September 2013 at 06:55 AM.

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    Re: How to provide a constructive and effective critique

    Quote Originally Posted by FootLoose View Post
    I am often surprised when I see the number of views a post receives compared to the small number of replies it receives. As Bobo said (before he ceased posting here) there appears to be a lot more "takers" than "givers".
    CiC is described as "a learning community for photographers", and I always try to learn something from the forum, whether the message contents are in the form of comments or posted images. Studying these often requires careful thought plus, when someones image does not seem quite right to me, I will often download it and practise PP on it, in an attempt not only to improve the image for me, but also to improve my limited skills. I might then compose a post in reply, with the purpose of offering something from which the OP might also choose to learn.

    However, this educational process consumes time, and time is also needed for activities other than interacting with CiC so, realistically, there must be a degree of selection applied. Therefore, I suppose that a general summary of my usual approach is - to ignore some posts, to view the majority but generally skim through them quickly, to concentrate on a few that seem most useful or interesting to me, and to compose a reply only if I think it might contribute to the discussion or be helpful to the OP.

    This is bound to result in a huge imbalance in the numbers of my views and replies, and so I do not see any other significance in those numbers on the forum, such as the implied criticism of the selfishness of some (or a majority of) members contained in the statements quoted above.

    Looking at this from the other side, the image I posted a few days ago has had over 140 views. I doubt that I would ever post an image, if I thought that I would have to study 140 constructive and effective critiques - for me that really would be just too overwhelming, confusing and time consuming. If there were up to 10 such replies I would be more than satisfied and most grateful.

    Philip
    Last edited by MrB; 5th September 2013 at 08:34 AM.

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    Re: How to provide a constructive and effective critique

    This thread has certainly run hot since I went to bed last night - well done Christina for starting it off.

    Just wanted to add a +1 to the "positive/constructive feedback/positive" sandwich. It's used in many other fields when giving feedback. Now I have to remember it when I offer something

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    Re: How to provide a constructive and effective critique

    Apologies, Christina, for forgetting to add an answer to the title question in my previous post (#15). I think Dave has described a good general approach to C&C in post #5, and others have offered similar advice.

    However, the "sandwich" model described above seems a daft idea, possibly coming from the sort of psychobabble spouted by overpaid consultants leading in-service training courses. Firstly and frivolously, it seems to me that most people would like the contents of their sandwiches to be at least as delicious as the bread that encases them. Secondly and seriously, although it is reasonable to suggest that a positive remark should be included in any C&C, it should be sufficient for that to take the form of a pleasantly worded suggestion as to how to improve a negative aspect of the image. If someone is too fragile to accept that, it would seem that they need help beyond the scope of CiC.

    Philip

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    Re: How to provide a constructive and effective critique

    Quote Originally Posted by William W View Post
    However, having been severely berated for editing and then reposting the edited version of the image as an illustration of a written Comment and Critique which was asked for - I tend to not give many in depth Comment & Critiques in this Forum – that’s not being sulky: it is just being practical with my time and effort.
    I don't post pictures often, but when I do, feel free to to anything you want to them. I like how you explain things. I'm here to learn.

    Quote Originally Posted by FootLoose View Post
    I am often surprised when I see the number of views a post receives compared to the small number of replies it receives.
    I think part of the issue is it seems - at least to me - that most pictures aren't posted for C&C but instead are just people sharing. This feels to have been a big change since I found this place 18 months ago. Then it seemed that if people posted a picture it was assumed they were looking for a critique. Now it seems, again to me, that most posts are more along the line of "I'd like to share".

    This is not to say there is anything wrong with posting to "share", I enjoy looking at and learning from everyone's photos even if there are no critical comments. But I think maybe if there was a separate sub-forum dedicated to photos posted specifically for critiques, those posts that are looking for critique would get more attention.

  19. #19
    MrB's Avatar
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    Re: How to provide a constructive and effective critique

    There is the main Forum Section that is used for critique which has the title, "Photo Commentary & Competitions", i.e. for comments on posted photos.

    Philip

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    Re: How to provide a constructive and effective critique

    Quote Originally Posted by geoz View Post
    the "sandwich technique" for evaluation - positive first, then the negative, and end on positive note. -
    Great tip, George! I'll keep it in mind.

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