Cindy sniffing cherry blossoms. Uji / Kyoto, 2018

How to Give a Constructive Critique in Photography

Cindy sniffing cherry blossoms. Uji / Kyoto, 2018
Cindy sniffing cherry blossoms. Uji / Kyoto, 2018

Dear friend,

In order to become a better photographer, learn how to be a better constructive critiquer of the works of others (also being a better self-critic).

Help empower other photographers through constructive critiques

River view from Ryokan. Uji / Kyoto, 2018
River view from Ryokan. Uji / Kyoto, 2018

First of all, what is a ‘critique’?

To me, a critique is a judgement whether a photograph/image/artwork is good or not.

A “constructive critique” is a critique which is constructive– it informs the photographer how to improve.

To me, the only useful type of critique in photography is constructive critique.

Why? You actually give the photographer useful information how to improve, and get better. You tell them what they can possibly do next time to avoid a mistake. To me, a constructive critique is positive, optimistic, and helpful/useful.

How can I improve?

Ryokan. Uji / Kyoto, 2018 #cindyproject
Ryokan. Uji / Kyoto, 2018 #cindyproject

A lot of photographers online only give negative/useless critiques/criticisms. To simply say that a photograph “sucks” without constructive feedback is useless. I would actually not mind so much if someone told me that my photos sucked, as long as they told me why they thought the photo sucked, and how I can improve my photos in the future.

How I give a constructive critique

Water. Uji / Kyoto, 2018
Water. Uji / Kyoto, 2018

Generally when I give a constructive critique to a photographer, this is what I do:

  1. Tell them what you like about the photograph: What you find interesting, or visually appealing.
  2. Tell them what distracts you in the photograph, or what you don’t like.
  3. Constructive ideas on how they can improve their photos in the future.

I also like to tell a photographer how my eyes scan a photograph. Imagine describing your own ‘eye tracking’ movements.

Be brutally honest in a loving/compassionate way

Shadows. Uji / Kyoto, 2018
Shadows. Uji / Kyoto, 2018

There is a certain finesse about giving someone a constructive critique, which doesn’t offend the other person.

I generally think it is all about your tone. The tone in which you give a critique is essential. Give your critique in a positive, non-judgmental, and non-pretentious tone. The more inviting and down-to-earth your tone and presentation of your critique, the more likely the other person is to receive that critique in a positive way, and actually learn.

What you DON’T want to do is to give a critique in a manner which causes the photographer to get defensive. When a photographer becomes defensive, they totally block their ears (and heart) to your feedback.

I also like to preface my critique saying:

“This is just my personal opinion, and I am giving you this feedback because I like you, and I want to see your photography improve.”

Ask for permission

Red selfie shadow. Uji / Kyoto, 2018
Red selfie shadow. Uji / Kyoto, 2018

Another tip is asking the person:

“Is it OK if I give you a brutally honest critique?”

Most people actually say “yes.” And when you ask for permission, and the photographer says ‘yes’ — they actually end up taking the critique much more positively.

“Keep or Ditch”

A lot of modern photographers are lazy to give critiques, especially over the internet. I like giving in-depth critiques to other photographers in-person, but dislike writing super-long constructive critiques over the internet on my keyboard.

Thus, Kevin, Cindy, and I created “ARS” — a photography feedback platform that has a simple ‘keep’ or ‘ditch’ function (learn more about ARS here).

I like the simple binary of ‘keep’ or ‘ditch’, because it signifies to the photographer:

Either keep your photograph or ditch it. You will end up shooting a lot more photos, so it isn’t a big deal if you ditch a single photograph.

Also, having this simple binary makes our lives simpler as photographers. We have thousands of photographs — should we categorize, and backup/tag all these photos? No. Let us delete the photographs that we decide to ‘ditch’, so we can feel fresh, empty, and open to creating NEW photos.

Give a constructive critique like you would like having your own work critiqued

Red shadows. Uji / Kyoto, 2018
Red shadows. Uji / Kyoto, 2018

When in doubt how to give a constructive critique, simply give another photographer a critique in the manner how you would like to be critiqued. Put yourself in the shoes of someone else.

And remember– you are giving a constructive critique NOT to put down the other photographer, make them feel crappy, or to boost your own self-ego by putting them down. No — your duty as a photographer is to empower your fellow photographer, and see how he/she can achieve their personal maximum as a photographer.

Be brutally honest when giving constructive feedback, yet do it with finesse, love, compassion, and a benevolent heart.


Photography 101

Dear friend,

If you’re new to photography, start here:

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RICOH GR II selfie in mirror, double eye surreal. Prague, 2017

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Start here:

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Prague, 1968. Josef Koudelka / Magnum Photos
Prague, 1968. Josef Koudelka / Magnum Photos

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