2. Mood, atmosphere and emotional impact
Hand-in-hand with light are often mood, atmosphere, and emotional impact. Whether we make a conscious effort or are subconsciously aware, we as photographers use light to create or capture mood. Keep in mind that when critiquing the atmosphere, mood or emotional impact of an image the critique must be based in a concrete fact. You are allowed to express your preference but your preference should be stated as such and not as a criticism. When critiquing a photograph for atmosphere consider the following.
What is the mood of the photograph?
Does the mood of the photograph agree with the content?
Did the photographer achieve the mood they were seeking to create?
What is your emotional response to the photograph?
4. CONTENT & COMPOSITION
Last but certainly not least are content and composition. This is the heaviest area of critique. Amongst photographers there is a vast variety of purpose and perspective which affects how the photograph is composed and what is kept in or left out. The decision of inclusion is now affected by photoshop as well; a photographer can decide after the photograph is taken to remove something from the image. Regardless of if the object was taken out before or after the creation of the photograph or even left or added in, this decision is pertinent in critiquing the content of an image.
Did the photographer use the rule of thirds? If so, was using the rule of thirds the best decision in order to create the most compelling photograph?
For portraits, are there any limbs cropped in a way that should not be cropped?
Does the cropping make sense?
Are there any distracting objects?
What object makes the most impact?
Are there objects behind the subject that should not be there?
Does the photograph tell a story?
Does the content of the photograph match the mood of the photograph? If not, is that intentional?
Was an object added, left in or taken out? If so, why was this decision made and how does it affect the photograph?
How to Critique a Photograph
Whether you are new to photography, a hobbyist, a professional or somewhere in between, you can critique a photograph. Many people are intimidated by critiques, feeling as though they are not experienced enough to give valuable feedback. In reality, your unique perspective is valuable enough and it won't take long for you to learn the basics of critiquing. Below is a quick guide on how to critique.
The basis of all critique : Why does the photograph work and why does the photograph not work?
At its most basic function, photography is the science of seeing light. So, when you are viewing an image, the lighting is a key component to consider.
How does the light affect the subject?
Is the subject properly lit?
Are there shadows or highlights that distract you from the purpose of the photograph?
Was there a way to control the light to achieve a better result?
What mood does the lighting create?
3. Technical Aspects
Outside of the emotional impact a photograph can have on you, there is the more clear-cut technical side to photography that can be evaluated.
Is the color balance correct?
Is the exposure correct? Are the highlights blown out or shadows too deep to contain detail?
Is the image flat or does it have too much contrast?
Is there rasterizing or are there unruly pixels? (For digital)
How does the grain affect the photograph - was the correct isotope number used for the situation? (For film)
Is the subject tack sharp or are they blurry?
What depth of field choice did the photographer use? How does that affect the photograph?
If motion blur was used, does it make sense? Does it add or take away from the photograph?
If photoshop was used, was it well done? Where did the use of photoshop fail or succeed?
You've likely gathered by now that there are a plethora of ways you can critique a photograph. My best advice is just to let yourself be inquisitive. Ask questions that will help grow your own understanding. Ask questions that will allow for the photographer whose work is being critiqued to look at their work in a new light. Ask away and you'll do just fine, you will grow and the others participating in your critique will grow too.