Hints for writing comments in curation

Big thanks to A Almulla for contributing with these great hints for writing critique! If you follow these guidelines you will surely get a lot of awarded comments in curation which means +20 points and the chance to reach the highest levels.

What is critique?

Critique is not about only finding fault in an image. Its about looking at an image and deciding whats good and whats bad about it. Keep in mind what you write is "your" opinion and what is wrong for you can be right for many others.

As such I find images fall under two categories

  • More good than bad elements
  • More bad than good elements

The main emphasis is “good elements.” If you see a bad picture and can’t find the good elements thats your fault, not the photographer’s, his fault was including more bad elements. So when you critique include whats good. Actually start with whats good.

How to approach an image:

My approach has three parts which I loosely follow. It helps me to have a structured approach and after a while I just go through them without thinking twice, it just becomes natural.

  • Technical aspects
  • Composition
  • Impression

Even with this list I'll write whats good first. Everything good about technical aspects and composition. Once done with those I'll write what I feel looks wrong. So it ends up looking like this:

Good technical, good composition aspects. Then what needs fixing in technical or composition.

Technical Aspects:

  • Focus - Is the image in focus. One issue I see a lot is not understanding focus. What do I mean by it ? Not all images need to be tack sharp, some are good being “sharp enough.” If you don’t understand what I mean then please go look at pictures taken a few decades ago. They are sharp enough. Some compensate lack of sharpness by over sharpening their image which just makes it uglier.
  • Depth of field - Is it shallow or deep.
  • Exposure - Is it over or underexposed. Some images work well being over or underexposed and some don’t. Is it a long exposure.
  • If its a colour photo then is it fine, over or under saturated or is it right for that image.
  • Is there a tint to the colour.
  • Black and white pictures don't have distracting colours and lets you focus on content more.
  • Hows the contrast ?
 Composition:
  • Subject of interest or main subject. Call it whatever but its the first thing that grabs your eye when you see the image or do your eyes jump all over the place and can't identify one.
  • The infamous "rules" that are more guideline than rules. As an example the rule of thirds, the golden triangles, the golden spirals, etc. Have they been applied. Do we need to apply them. Have they been broken and its better not to follow them.
  • How is the foreground, middle area and background? Are they even ? Are they cluttered? Too empty, a dead space? Well balanced in content ?
  • How is the horizon. Is it tilted just by looking at it ? I've seen a dumb comment once where someone put a paper to his monitor to say its crooked my a few millimeters. If it "looks fine" then it is fine. If it looks crooked then it is crooked. Don't grab rulers to look for faults.
  • How are the leading lines ? Does the image have any ? Do they complement our subject ? 
  • Are there are other lines to interpret. Horizontal, vertical, sloped or curved. This might be tough for many to pick out and interpret.
  • Hows the perspective. Does it suit this image and complement it ? This might be another thing thats tough to grasp so pass on it if you can’t pick it out.

Impression:

This is the toughest part and its here where your comment will shine. The technical aspects and composition will help in conveying your impression. If something was off in the technical or composition parts it would be a good time to suggest them. After writing everything thats good I start a new sentence with something like "However I think you could improve on" or "Yet I feel" and state what could be fixed. Take the circumstances the image was taken in. Asking someone to go right or left while on a ledge is stupid. If the image was taken at the South Pole and you suggest the photographer should move here or there well he may not have another chance to get there. YOU may never go there. Be rational.

An image may have everything right about it and be bad and the other way round is true. A few pictures have so many faults that they all work well together.

Not all pictures tell a story. A photograph is just that, a photograph. A macro shot of the head of a housefly can look great for all the detail and colour but may not have a story.

A common shortcoming is interpreting mood. The sensation you get when seeing an image. Did that picture of a giggling baby make you happy? How about that picture of war, did it make you angry or mad ?

Did you like the picture or not ?

Close your comment with something constructive. I'd love someone telling me I did something wrong then gives me a pat on the back for doing something right. Wouldn't you?

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