How to Judge Your Own Photographs- An Article
PhotoCamel: Your friendly photo community, with free discussion forums, digital photography reviews, photo sharing, galleries, downloads, blogs, photography contests, and prizes.
 

Go Back   PhotoCamel - Your Friendly Photography Forum > Tools Of the Trade > Tutorials

Reply
 
LinkBack Thread Tools Display Modes
Old 09-01-2011   #1
Photocamel Master
 
Ed Shapiro's Avatar
 
Location: Ottawa, Ontario Canada
Posts: 6,718
CamelKarma: 5188665
Editing OK?: Ask First
Constructive Critique?: Yes
Default How to Judge Your Own Photographs- An Article

How to Judge Your Own Photographs
An article by Ed Shapiro

Sub title: Photo Judging for Hermits.
You can now single-handedly and unilaterally engage in print competitions with yourself and without ever leaving your own home or studio. No more pesky entry fees or shipping issues.

I have been exposed to print judging from the very first day I started out as an apprentice in a studio. “Apprentice”, in that era, was a euphemism for janitor/gofer and chief passport picture photographer and a doer of all the wonderful chores that one’s superiors did not want to do including policing the washroom facilities. The very first thing I was in awe of at the studio, besides the fine work, was the ribbons, plaques and trophies that lined the walls and shelves of the reception area. My first boss and mentor said “don’t worry kid- you’ll have plaques on that wall too- just start learning and listening. Every time I made a passport or an ID photo he would joke “make an extra copy of that and bring it to the next (association) meeting for a critique. I used to laugh but little did I know. As soon as I started shooting actual sittings of high school grads and solo shooting the smaller wedding jobs, he paid for my first year’s membership at the association and made me stay after hours and make my “salon” prints for critiquing sessions and to submit to competitions.

Let me tell y’all- our association group was one of the toughest affiliates - it was loaded with “super masters” who made elegant photographs but well- let’s say, did not necessarily have elegant language. I will never forget the day when one of my critics, upon seeing my print shouted out “THAT’S SHIT”! Sorry for the rough language but I was as just as shocked as y’all may be by seeing my cussing here. It’s a good thing I was not quite 16 years old at the time and I thought cussing and swearing was fun (I still do) and I laughed my head off to the surprise of everyone- I laughed ‘till it hurt- well you had to be there! Meanwhile another guy growled “Give the kid a break”! My boss ran into the washroom because he could not stop laughing. I began to suspect that he set me up for a humbling experience because I was somewhat “mouthy” at that time as well. In the end I really discovered that theses old masters and some of the younger ones as well, were really a bunch of great people who, at the end of the day, undertook the task of making a still “wet behind the ears picture bum” (me) into a PHOTOGRAPHER.

Nowadays, I feel like a “has-been figure skater” I did my competitions (possibly hundreds of them) got some trophies and finally had to buckle down and begin the think hard about my earning a living what with opening my own studio and then having a family to look after. As the figure skaters say “I had to go PROFESSIONAL and make some money. No more pay check unless I generated one so association business had to play second fiddle to the business of business.

I could no longer enter every competition, teach too many free courses to earn more “service merits” and I did not have the time to attend every meeting and convention. I also had my lovely wife/loyal business partner and a couple of kids to spend my non-existent “off time” with so I had to create off time- there were times when I feared a total burnout what with my 18 hour days and sometimes all-nighters to keep up with customer’s orders.

Here’s the big problem; I wanted to have my cake and eat it too. I wanted to have more spare time but I did want the competitions and the continuous challenges that the print competitions offered and felt that if I totally dropped all my extracurricular activities I would soon be out of the loop of what’s hot and what’s not and eventually become a bad photographer. I did continue on with the occasional competition and did attend “judging school” so that I could serve on judging panels. Going to judging school was the best decision I ever made as to quality control of my own work.

I am a do-it-your-self guy at heart. I am fortunate enough to be handy with tools and I am not afraid to swing a hammer or turn a screwdriver. I am no cabinet maker but I can build good work spaces, shelving and do electrical wiring to code. I have build a number of studios from scratch and only had to hire guys to do the fancy finishing. I do NOT, however do my own dentistry, medical care or accounting otherwise I would be in trouble with the revenuers or be dead or at least toothless. I quit taking music lessons and much to the dismay and chagrin of my neighbors and family, have undertaken self teaching. In the summer we used to have problems with ants but my accordion playing has driven all manner of pests and vermin from the entire neighborhood.

My “judging” problems were solved as to how to keep my quality up there as a family guy and nowadays as a virtual hermit except when I am shooting. Firstly I had to develop a great measure of hate, disdain and utter disgust with my own photographs- I did that long ago- during that early “S**T” incident. When someone compliments my images I feel like telling them to “shut the heck up” because they don’t know what the hell they are talking about but I don’t say that because I am a nice fellow and a decent enough a businessman as to know better than to degrade my own product in front of customers.

Once I had developed enough self-effacing of my work I the simply go to the judging criteria that I learned in judging class. Please forgive me if this may be somewhat outdated- I attended that class well back in the last century in a little town called Winona Lake, Indiana.

So here are the “rules: or what ever the heck you wish to call them. There are various schools of though on theses matters but this is how I work:

I use a point system based on 100 %. The categories are:

1. Impact 25%
2. Composition 25%
3. Color balance and/or tone 25%
4. Workmanship 25%

Each of the categories have 5 subdivisions meaning that each of the subdivisions have to be divide into 5 parts at 5 points each.

1. Impact:
a. Creativity
b. Subject matter
c. Dynamics and shapes
d. Visual and emotional energy
e. Interpretation

2. Composition:
a. Perspective
b. Center of interest
c. Direction
d. Design
e. Graphic stability


3. Color Balance:
a. Lighting
b. Color quality and quantity of light
c. Tonal range
d. Color harmony
e. Color of subjects and objects

4. Workmanship:
a. Print quality
b. Style
c. Texture
d. Techniques employed
e. Presentation

Theses are very basic guide lines if you will. Then the reality of subjectivity and objectivity kicks in. Since I am judging my own work the concept of despising everything I shoot helps me maintain a good degree of objectivity. When I judge the work of others I have to add in one more factor, what I like to cal the WOW! factor. I see the image and say “WOW” the only thing I dislike about this image is that I did not create it! You will know when that happens!

When I judge my own work, it is not the best of the best that end up being submitted to print competitions or even the ones that end up on my display wall. It is the lesser of the evils that get selected and they usually do very well at the end of the day. Lets face it folks, we do not enter print competitions every day and we do not have good critics, teachers and mentors at our disposal all the time. If we are to maintain our integrity as good photographers we must exercise quality control and discriminating standards at all times. In professional circles it is said that your reputation is only as good as your last assignment. Keeping that in mind, it is a fair and noble goal to outdo yourself every time you are out there. It won’t always happen but it is nonetheless a great philosophy to work under. Even as a serious amateur photographer it is nice to know that you are doing you best and striving for better all the time. As a professional photographer it is a matter of business survival and knowing that you have done you best every day to benefit you industry, your business, your community, your clients and yourself and your family’s well being.

Oh- Those aforementioned rules and concepts are not all of my own creation- far from it. Not to recognize this, on my part, would be tantamount to plagiarism. Most of them are extracted from what I have learned form judging classes, lots of practice and experience and my collaboration with an old and dear departed colleague, Frank Kristian whose untimely death still haunts me. Frank and I were fellow “competition” addicts and studied and researched hard into photographic and artistic principles. Oftentimes we discovered new and exciting elements, sometimes we found out that some of the “rules” were too dogmatic and made no sense without the photographer’s creativity. Some times we were delighted to find out that we were already doing things that we had never seen writings about- hey- a little validation is good medicine for the soul! Frank even went on to research as far back as 300 BC to the principles of Euclid, a Greek mathematician with was formulating the “use of space”- the main principles in artistic competition. Before his passing, Frank quickly wrote a thesis on COMPOSITION and self published it in a modest ring-binder format with photo-copied hand typed pages. He beautifully interwove his research with modern day-to-day applied professional photography issues. This little book is one of my most prized possessions. I made one working photo copy for my reference files and the original resides in my safe-deposit box at my bank.

Judge well! Ed

__________________
Members don't see ads in threads. Register for your free account today and become a member of PhotoCamel to open up the site's many benefits and features.
__________________
Ed Shapiro - Master Photographer
Ottawa, Canada

Last edited by Ed Shapiro; 09-05-2011 at 11:55 PM.. Reason: Call me Mr. TYPEO! What a mess!
Ed Shapiro is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 09-01-2011   #2
PhotoCamel Supporter DONATED
Camel Breath
 
wolfd's Avatar
 
Location: Beautiful B.C.
Posts: 56,440
CamelKarma: 199622943
Editing OK?: Yes
Constructive Critique?: Yes
Default Re: How to Judge Your Own Photographs- An Article

Excellent information, Ed.

We should put this up as a sticky.
__________________
The best camera is the one you have with you.
- Chase Jarvis
wolfd is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 09-05-2011   #3
F1 Camel
 
Sailor Blue's Avatar
 
Location: Bangkok, Thailand
Posts: 4,140
CamelKarma: 227845
Editing OK?: Yes
Constructive Critique?: Yes
Default Re: How to Judge Your Own Photographs- An Article

Thank you for the tutorial Ed. As usual, your writings are very thought provoking.
__________________
--Don--

Canon 7D, Canon EF-S 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS II, Tamron SP AF28-75mm F/2.8 XR Di, Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L IS USM, Tamron SP 90MM F/2.8 Di 1:1 Macro
Nissin Di866, Electra CLASSIC Plus studio strobes & modifiers
Sekonic L-358 Flash Meter, Yongnuo RF-602 Transmitters & Receivers
Dell 20" 2001F (1200x1800) IPS monitor, Samsung SyncMaster 23" F2380 (1920x1280) PVA monitor, Datacolor Spyder3Elite for monitor calibration
Sailor Blue is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 09-07-2011   #4
Alpaca
 
ayardstick's Avatar
 
Location: Australia
Posts: 20
CamelKarma: 104
Editing OK?: Yes
Constructive Critique?: Yes
Default Re: How to Judge Your Own Photographs- An Article

Thanks Ed for the education, something for me to consider before posting my pictures.
ayardstick is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 09-07-2011   #5
Photocamel Master
 
Ed Shapiro's Avatar
 
Location: Ottawa, Ontario Canada
Posts: 6,718
CamelKarma: 5188665
Editing OK?: Ask First
Constructive Critique?: Yes
Default Re: How to Judge Your Own Photographs- An Article

Hi AYARDSTICK!

Thanks for your kind words.

Never hesitate to post your images here, especially if you need some help, have questions or just want some feedback on you work.

If you are disappointed with an image you have made simply post it for remedies- there are tons of nice folks here that will be pleased to help you.

You may just enjoy sharing you photographs with all the other members here of post some tips or advice of your own.

This article is intended for photographers who want to enter their prints into competitions, pros who want another quality control method help along with customer satisfaction and as general information.

If you or anyone else is asked to judge at a local camera club print competition this will help and if you care to make a critique here on the Camel, this will serve as a good resource.

Ed
__________________
Ed Shapiro - Master Photographer
Ottawa, Canada

Last edited by Ed Shapiro; 09-07-2011 at 11:56 PM.. Reason: added something
Ed Shapiro is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 09-08-2011   #6
F1 Camel
 
korman's Avatar
 
Location: Switzerland
Posts: 3,544
CamelKarma: 497479
Editing OK?: Yes
Constructive Critique?: Yes
Default Re: How to Judge Your Own Photographs- An Article

Ed,

thanks for the article. Do you have by chance any web-links or book references that go a little more into details about points 1. Impact, 2.c. Direction, 2.e. Graphic stability and 3.d. Color harmony? Those things sound very intriguing and useful but foreign to me.

Korman
korman is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 09-08-2011   #7
Photocamel Master
 
Ed Shapiro's Avatar
 
Location: Ottawa, Ontario Canada
Posts: 6,718
CamelKarma: 5188665
Editing OK?: Ask First
Constructive Critique?: Yes
Default Re: How to Judge Your Own Photographs- An Article

Hi Korman!

I wish I could recommend a text book of some sort that will explain some of the concepts that I have written about in this thread and others that I have posted here on the Camel. There are possibly thousands of “how to” books on all aspects of photography but most of the do not drill down deep enough into certain specifics and theories beyond the basic methodologies of our craft. I have a collection of many of theses books, magazines, audio visual programs and I have seen many good resources on the internet. If I am inspired by any of this material or learn even a few new pointers from each of theses resources, I consider my purchase as a good investment.

I find workshops and seminars much more effective and my formal education in photography was a great experience as well but I must admit that over the years I have learned more, acquired more skill sets and ascertained more practical and useful knowledge “on the street” as it were- suffice it to say by experience.

When I first started to teach and train other photographers I, at first, had an ongoing dilemma. When students or trainees would ask how I did a certain effect or asked me to simplify certain concepts into a simple rule, I would oftentimes quickly respond “I don’t know”- that’s bad- very bad! It was not that I did not want to answer their questions properly it was just because I did certain things instinctively based on my basic knowledge, and bits and pieces of experience that I picked up as I gained more
experience. I had to change my teaching methods fast- just about overnight. The idea was that I needed to distill each and every answer into a rule of thumb that would work in day to day photographicc assignments in a professional situation or setting.

At the time, I was teaching on a community college level, not a four year degree program filled with theory, esoterica, philosophy, science and mathematics. I had to turn out working photographers who could seek and secure employment in the industry or go into their own business. The same things applied when I was training staff for my own studio. Worst of all, when, I was giving (paid) seminars and I could not give definitive answers to every question, the attendees would feel I was holding back, keeping secretes, being snobbish or wanting to leave the audience wanting more in order to get them to sign up for my next workshop! ALL BAD!

Then comes the ugly confrontations; people who see themselves as artists don’t like the idea of “rules” so I have to explain that technique is necessary in order to apply creativity and I could write a book about that. Then I am confronted my the “mechanics” who WANT hard a fast rules that work all the time and do not want to hear about the philosophical, emotional, and/or inspirational aspects of photography.

In terms of composition alone, I have studied the work of the OLD MASTERS (painters) and have done research into the Euclid Elements- Euclid was a Greek mathematician and started to define “space, line, and graphic balance” as far back as 300 BC. This is where things like the Rule of Thirds came from but that is only the tip of the compositional iceberg. There are mathematical equations and diagrams that can be studied but they can be difficult to understand and relate to in practical photography. Theoretically speaking, you can draw one of theses diagrams on the ground glass of a view camera and arrange your subjects to conform to certain compositions. I have experimented with doing this with still life images and advertising layouts of products- it really does not work for me but I can use some of theses theories to reinforce my instincts. Imagine doing that in sports photography or photographing an active child or shooting a wedding. You have got to get your skills to the point where you look at the job at hand and when it looks good- SHOOT!

So here is my take on he POINTS you were asking about. It is oftentimes difficult to separate the different elements that I have pointed out because they all become intertwined in the making of an effective photograph.

Direction: When we speak of “direction” we may be discussing many aspects of direction. Compositionally speaking, images consist of lines and shapes and in most traditional photographs all the lines should direct the viewers’ eyes to the motif of the image whether it is a person’s face, a building, or a race car. Lighting comes into play as well because we need the lighting direction to bring the eyes to where we want the viewer to experience the theme and motif of the photograph. Lines and shapes that drag the eyes away from the main subject or re-direct the eyes become distractions. Lighting that is too intense on any element of a photograph as compared to the lighting on the subject will also become a distraction.

Shapes also helps us better define our subjects. If I am photographing a round perfume bottle and want to accentuate the elegance of the bottle, I may use a background consisting of straight lines in order to emphasize the roundness of the bottle. If I have to photograph an expensive classic fountain pen, I might select a background consisting of round elements so as to emphasize the straight line of an elegant designer writing instrument.

In portraiture, if I am photographing a person in profile, I would use a profile, rim, or kicker lighting to emphasize and define the profile of the face- this is a form of lighting direction. At the same time I would allow for more space in front of the subject rather than in back of the subject, otherwise the subject would not be facing into the picture but out of the picture as if looking at or bumping into the frame- the image would then seem claustrophobic. Surprisingly enough, the exact same theory, as to subject placement, applies to photographing a race car- you want to see it moving into the picture rather than out of it- as if it was gonna crash into the frame. You may want to see the car coming into the image at 45 degrees to feature more of its lines and photographing it on a overcast or hazy day would give you an overhead lighting direction which would clearly define the lines whereas on a bright sunny day the clean reflections of a gray sky would not be there and replaced by confusing reflections of clouds against a blue kky and other surrounding objects.

Color harmony means that we can use color to manipulate our images in many ways. In portraiture and commercial photography color is used to better define our subjects, crate mood and various degrees of contrast. The study of color itself can fill an encyclopedia. Starting off with knowing that the sun is our only main source of natural light and we see it as white light. When the sunlight travels toward earth, once it strikes the ionosphere, it is divided in to invisible and visible components of the spectrum. From an artistic point of view, photographers deal with the warmth and coolness of light as it is available during the different times of day. We also deal with many sources of artificial light, each with its own characteristics. Strictly speaking, in digital photography we usually correct for a neutral white balance but we can go warmer or cooler to create a mood of our own choosing. Traditionally, portraiture is associated with warmer renditions of the skin tone and many commercial subjects are better rendered in neutral colors- more realistic. In the end, it is a creative choice.

When we speak of color harmony, especially in portraiture, we are talking about colors that will bring out the warmth, beauty and texture of the skin tone. I prefer cooler shades of blue and green as backgrounds for traditional portraiture because it is opposite to the colors of various skin colors. Using earth tones and browns can be good too but it tends to be more monochromatic and as a result produces less contrast between the subject and the background. Color harmony also applies to the clothing that the subjects dress in for portrait sittings. Obviously, a high chroma color such as hot pink or candy apple green would become a distraction in a traditional portrait. The eye always takes the path of least resistance and very bright colors, patterns and over-lighted parts of the image will drag the eyes away from the main subject. Clashing colors such as pink and orange can also cause distraction in a portrait. In a commercial shot a magenta object photographed against a green background will jump right off the page if all the other elements are in place.

A good photograph makes a simple and concise “statement”. In a portrait of a young woman wearing a dark dress and photographed against a subtle low key background may “say” “a lovely young lady” or to those who know her it may simply “say” “Mary”. Change the dress to hot pink and you change the visual statement to “WOW- a hot pink dress with a model showing it off”! Therein is the difference between a classic portrait and a great fashion shot!

Knowing theses theories does not lock you in to any one way of approaching a subject, they just give you more tools to work with. You are the artist and you are the person that makes those statements. Having harmonious colors, proper subject placement and traditional use of compositional elements can create some great images, however, what if you want to make a different statements, perhaps not a traditional ones or not a necessarily flattering ones?

All you need to do is fracture some of theses concepts. You may want to
Express “evil”, chaos, insanity, stress, tension- all valid statements.

When I judge a photograph I do not necessarily take off points for using non-traditional methods. I consider it to be good usage of the “rules"when they are deliberately and skillfully broken to get the makers statement or message across.

Viewer impact: Yup! That’s when all the elements that are explained herein are perfectly homogenized in to an effective memorable image. When the statement or message planned by the photographer attracts interest and influences the viewers and perhaps good things happen- this defines a great image. I love when a photograph can make people laugh or cry- when if has emotional or psychological impact or when the viewer simply enjoys looking at the image and experiences a nice feeling. Not every image has to knock the viewer’s sox off. Some images may contain a rude awakening or even evoke a bad memory causing stress. I love the power of visual communication.

Graphic stability also contains various elements of all of the other categories. In portraiture, some kind of commercial work and all kind of pictorial and landscape photography there are elements of geometric forms such as triangles that lend and base or balance to a pose or an arangment of objects or people in a group portrait. It may has to do with framing a main subject in an archway or other object to help direct the viewers’ eyes to the main subject. It can be the difference between balance and unbalance in a photographic composition or a pose. Even the use of color balance can kick in to this category.

I am gonna dust off some of my older books or files and I will try to come up with some kind of a bibliography for you soon.

Thanks for your interest and your questions.

Ed
__________________
Ed Shapiro - Master Photographer
Ottawa, Canada

Last edited by Ed Shapiro; 09-08-2011 at 01:41 PM.. Reason: Re-formating and type corrections as usual!
Ed Shapiro is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 09-08-2011   #8
F1 Camel
 
korman's Avatar
 
Location: Switzerland
Posts: 3,544
CamelKarma: 497479
Editing OK?: Yes
Constructive Critique?: Yes
Default Re: How to Judge Your Own Photographs- An Article

Ed,

thanks a lot, although I'm still confused. What I took from your posting is that these kind of things need to be experienced and best communicated by someone who knows based on actual examples. I always visualise the old photographer giving his feedback with a stick: Whack! Boy, your image lacks direction, you need to ...

On the other hand, I'm not really certain I'm at a level where wondering about such concepts is really very productive. I guess, I should first get focus and exposure roughly to what it should be, then start to learn to see light instead of playing lighting lottery.

Korman
korman is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 10-13-2011   #9
Vicuna
 
Location: Florida
Posts: 59
CamelKarma: 134
Editing OK?: Yes
Constructive Critique?: Yes
Default Re: How to Judge Your Own Photographs- An Article

thank you, I printed your list and will try it on my photos and also try to use it to compose my photos better
Madsnapper is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 11-05-2011   #10
Alpaca
 
Posts: 27
CamelKarma: 10
Editing OK?: Ask First
Constructive Critique?: Yes
Default Re: How to Judge Your Own Photographs- An Article

Thank you. I am looking forward to the bibliography. I tend to learn best with a note pad, a pen and a glass of Brandy to hand while reading


__________________
Members don't see ads in threads. Register for your free account today and become a member of PhotoCamel to open up the site's many benefits and features.
davejann is offline   Reply With Quote
Reply

« PhotoCamel - Your Friendly Photography Forum > Tools Of the Trade > Tutorials »


Share this topic:

Thread Tools
Display Modes

Similar Threads
Thread Thread Starter Forum Replies Last Post
The Russian judge... gjtoth Birds 7 06-15-2011 07:31 PM
Judge Joe knows his photography aam1234 Photography Talk 2 03-03-2010 10:08 AM
Second wedding by judge jnm Weddings 3 10-09-2009 10:23 AM
You have to be a Judge Rense Street & Photojournalism 46 08-29-2009 01:07 AM