Evaluating your photos

As the end of the year rolls around, it becomes natural to take a look at what you've done over the past year... And as a photographer, taking a closer look at the past year of photography can be extremely exciting indeed!

Apart from just taking a closer look at your own photos, if you're in a self-improving mood (and you may very well be; the new year's resolutions are just around the corner, after all!), perhaps it's a good idea to take a closer look at your year in photos, with a critical hat on.

If you've never actively sat down and consciously evaluated your own photographs, it may be quite hard to get started. In fact, even if you've made a habit of doing just that, it may still be difficult to actually vocalise what makes a photo 'good', and how you can make it 'better'.

I was having this very discussion with a friend of mine online, who asked me 'but I don't even know where to begin to evaluate a photo. Have you got any tips?' I sure do;

Self-Evaluation Aide-Memoire

  • What is the story? All photography is ultimately about storytelling in one way or another: If your audience is to connect with your photograph on an emotional level, there has to be a 'story'. As such, the first challenge is to identify what the story is that I'm trying to tell.
  • Technical Quality Is the image in focus? Is the exposure perfect? What about noise and sharpness?
  • Composition: Does the composition of the photo improve / help tell the story I am trying to convey?
  • What was good? Even if it isn't perfect, there's probably something I like about this photo. What and why?
  • The right tools for the job Could this photo have been better if I had used different equipment? If so, what is the difference between the equipment I did use, and the equipment I wish I had used? Why didn't I use that equipment? Can the effects be recreated with the equipment I do have?
  • Hindsight Now that I am looking at my photograph over a cup of tea, is there anything I wish I had done differently, creatively?
  • Did I tell the story? Now that I've answered all the other questions, the line of questioning comes in a full circle. It's time to go back to the first question, and determine whether the story was successfully told. If the answer is 'no', chances are that one of the questions between the first question and this one holds the answer to why the image 'failed'.

Especially when you are just starting out, using a form asking the above questions can be extremely useful in increasing the percentage of photos that come out great.

Don't worry if the process feels like it takes quite a long time at first; like anything you are learning, it will feel a little unusual and clunky at first, but once you grow accustomed to running through this little checklist, it'll become second nature to evaluate your own photos.

The secret to why this is so successful is that you're not just training yourself in evaluating your photos back in the comfort of your office chair – you'll also gain the ability to evaluate your photos as you are taking them! Bonus.