The Pre-Photography Checklist

So, you're ready to do a photo shoot? No, seriously, are you really ready for your shoot?

A while ago, I was challenged with creating a pre-shoot checklist for photographers - I figured it'd be rude not to, so I gave it a whirl.

Before you press the shutter button...

  • Check your settings – Is your camera set to the mode you planned to use? Is the ISO set to a useful setting?
  • Fill the frame – Does your subject fill the frame? If not, get in closer, either by walking closer, or by zooming in.
  • Pre-focus – When you press your shutter button half-way, your camera will focus and measure the light. Use that functionality every time
  • Check your focus! – If you’re taking a photo of something with eyes, make sure you have the eyes in focus. If not – well, try to get the important bits in focus.
  • Compose – Keep the shutter button pressed half-way, and re-compose your image so everything you want in your photo shows up the way you want it.
  • Check your edges – Before you press the shutter all the way down, run your eyes along the edges of the frame. Is there anything along the edges that shouldn’t be there? If so – re-compose your shot and try again!
  • Check the background – New photographers are so focused on what’s happening in the foreground, that they fail to notice the huge dog taking a poo in the background. You laugh, but I’ve seen it happen
  • Deep breath – Hold your breath whilst you very slowly press the shutter button all the way down. This helps eliminate camera shake when you are taking the photo.

Best of all, if you want a handy, keep-in-your-pocket version of this checklist, it's printed on the back of my super-handy Photocritic Grey Cards. Spiffing. 


How NASA uses sound triggers to capture amazing rocket launches

The internet is full of a Crazy Frog (No, not that Crazy Frog, thankfully) today. This little buddy took a leap of faith in front of a photographer's sound-triggered camera at a NASA launchpad. The full story is available over on Mashable, but have you ever wondered how these photographers do their job? NOW WE'RE TALKING.

For security and safety reasons, photographers aren't allowed anywhere near the launch pad at launch. For obvious reasons, they can't use remote-triggered cameras either (Think about it... Would you allow anyone with a radio transmitter near a space rocket?), and so they use other techniques instead. Specifically, sound-triggered cameras.

There are a great many different ways of doing this, of course, but over on the Triggertrap website, there's a fantastic interview with Walter Scriptunas II, who shoots NASA rocket launches using the sound triggers built into the Triggertrap v1 camera triggers. Clever stuff, and well worth a read!

Google brings Snapseed to Google+

Earlier this year when Google shuttered the Snapseed for desktop app, it didn't exactly leave me heartbroken, but it did mean that I had one fewer cheap and reliable editing option that I could recommend to nascent photographers. (If they'd shuttered Snapseed for iOS, I might've gone into a raging frenzy, but thankfully that wasn't necessary.) Now, however, Snapseed is making a desktop come-back, provided that you use Google+ on Chrome. The 'Edit' button should be appearing on a G+ screen near you soon

Upload an image to Google+, select it, hit edit, and you're presented the opportunity to adjust it using Snapseed's tools. If you're already familiar with Snapseed for mobile, you'll be right at home. If you're not familiar with Snapseed, it is easy to get along with it and there's always the 'Revert' button for your edits get a little over-zealous.

All the usual Snapseed features are there

It is a rolling roll out, so if you don't see it yet, you should have it soon.

Headsup to Engadget

Did you know: Bulb Mode!

I've been doing a lot of talking about Bulb Mode with people recently - as this is relevant to how the Triggertrap Mobile App does stuff like HDR and Star Trail photography modes - but it only recently occurred to me that not a lot of people know what 'Bulb' mode on your camera means. Contrary to popular belief, 'Bulb' mode has nothing to do with light bulbs; it is a remnant from something that most photographers today haven't even heard of: An Air Bulb Remote. If you have an old (or retro-styled) camera, you may have spotted a small hole with a screw thread in your shutter button. It's possible to screw in a mechanical remote control here, which physically 'presses the button' on your camera when it is activated.

This is a Bulb Remote: Squeeze the bulb to take a photo. (Photo cc Denkhenk)

There are two ways these remote controls work: They either have a cable running inside a sleeve (much like the brake system on your bicycle), or a system working on pneumatic pressure. In the case of the latter, you'll have a air hose with a small piston at the end. When the pressure is increased in the air hose, the piston extends, and the shutter button is pressed.

Traditionally, the pneumatic systems had a small 'bulb' at the end, so when you squeeze the bulb, the piston extends, and the picture is taken. This is the bulb that camera manufacturers refer to when they say 'Bulb' mode.

So now you know! What's your favourite depreciated bit of photography jargon?

Competition rights grabs don't just exploit photographers, they destroy the industry

When we feature competitions here on Photocritic, we do our best to ensure that they're entrant-friendly: we don't like to promote contests where you run the risk of losing control over your images and we prefer not to support paid-for contests, either. If we're the slightest bit suspicious, the competition PR takes a one-way trip to the delete bin. And if we do feature a competition, we always urge you to check the terms and conditions to ensure that we haven't missed something and that you're happy with the rules.

Last night, I received a communique from an agency representing an internationally renowned publishing house requesting that Photocritic promote a competition aimed at up-and-coming photographers. The prize could be a huge break for an as-yet unrecognised but talented fashion photographer, with a commission, mentoring from some significant individuals, a gallery exhibition, and a chunk of cash.

A closer inspection of the rules, however, has ensured that this competition will not be featured positively here on Photocritic. Indeed, rather than being consigned to the dustbin of broken dreams, I'm going to highlight it for what I believe it is: a rights-grabbing exploitation of ambitious young photographers that has the potential to do them, and the photography industry as a whole, more harm than good.

The issue lies in clause 7a of the contest's rules, covering Ownership and Licence:

All entry materials become the property of the Sponsor and will not be acknowledged or returned. The copyright in any Submission shall remain the property of the entrant, but entry into this Promotion constitutes entrant's irrevocable and perpetual permission and consent, without further compensation, with or without attribution, to use, reproduce, print, publish, transmit, distribute, sell, perform, adapt, enhance, or display such Submission, and the entrant's name and/or likeness, for any purpose, including but not limited to editorial, advertising, trade, commercial, and publicity purposes by the Sponsor and/or others authorized by the Sponsor, in any and all media now in existence or hereinafter created, throughout the world, for the duration or the copyright in the Submission. Sponsor and/or others authorized by the Sponsor shall have the right to edit, adapt, and modify the Submission.

The translation? The competition organisers can use all the images submitted to the competition any way that they want to, across any media known or currently unknown to man, without informing, compensating, or even acknowledging the photographers for the duration of the copyright.

Not only is this an exploitation of the photographers who might submit their images to the competition, but it is damaging to the photography industry as a whole. For every rights-stripped photograph entered into the competition, that's a potential commission taken out of the market. The competition organisers have created for themselves an image archive that they are at liberty to use in perpetuity without compensation. Why would they need to commission material or purchase stock when they have this at their disposal?

Flick through any magazine and you'll see hundreds of images used to bring colour and interest to articles. We use them here on Photocritic. The images aren't intrinsic to the pieces and the content won't suffer from their omission, but the articles look better for them. Team Photocritic tends to trawl through its archives in search of suitable images, but magazine publishers might turn to a stock agency or an in-house photographer for their needs.

For one of the largest and most powerful international magazine publishing houses, it doesn't matter that the images they've harvested from a particular competition are fashion shoots and won't necessarily be front cover material or suitable for splashes. They can be used to illustrate all manner of feature articles across a huge range of publications that need nothing more than a generically beautiful image: 'Ten tips for a tan-ready tummy in twenty days' or '52 things to do before you die'. These free photos can be used time and time again in a huge number of magazines, and in so doing they deprive in-house and stock photographers of work. Cover shots and fashion spreads are the prizes in fashion photography; they're not the bread-and-butter work that keeps rooves over the heads of photographers and food on their tables.

By looking for their big break when they enter a competition that's aimed at up-and-coming photographers, the entrants are quite likely doing themselves out of work in the long run. Please: always read the terms and conditions before entering a competition and don't relinquish your rights cheaply.

An end to Focus on Imaging

After 24 years, the UK's annual photography extravaganza, Focus on Imaging, is to be brought to a close. Mary Walker, who has organised the show since it inception, has decided that the 2013 event was to be the last, and it won't be sold. Walker commented: 'It's been an immensely rewarding job that has brought experiences and friendships that will always remain. I am certain that the time is right for the industry to perhaps find fresh opportunities and bring new ideas to photographers - maybe we're due a new revolution of some kind?'

You can read Mary walker's full statement here.

The Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize 2012

Margarita Teichroeb by Jordi Ruiz Cirera. 1st Prize (Copyright Jordi Ruiz Cirera).

This year the Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize, hosted at the National Portrait Gallery in London, had 5,340 entries from from 2,350 photographers, some professional, some student, some amateur. Of those entries, 60 are exhibited at the gallery. One picture is judged the winner, and then there are second, third, and fourth placed prizes to be had, too.

I popped along and took a look early in November and Gareth went this week. My immediate reaction to the overall exhibition was that it felt very muted and subdued, with relatively few bold colours. Just like everything, photography has fashions and right now, that's in vogue. Gareth, however, goes into this trend more deeply in his analysis, so I'll hand you over to him, and his impressions of the winning entry and the runners up.

This year's winning entry was Margarita Teichroeb by Jordi Ruiz Cirera. What I have noticed is that, every single year, people react angrily to the winning entry and indeed to many of the shortlisted images. Because I hate being happy, I decided to trawl some comments underneath online articles announcing the winners. Thankfully, it wasn't all bad, but the main complaint was the somewhat reductive argument that it was 'just a woman sat down, looking worried.'

This attitude baffles me. I feel like these comments are the result of a combination of bitterness and laziness, or a reluctance to make an effort to interpret the image. Saying that Margarita Teichroeb is 'just a woman sat down looking worried,' is like saying The Exorcist is 'just a scary film about a little girl.'

Margarita is a woman living in a Mennonite community in Bolivia. Mennonite communities often frown upon and do not allow photography, believing it is a form of graven image. This is reflected in Margarita's deeply worried expression. She is attempting to obscure her face, possibly partly subconsciously, and it is clearly a uncomfortable experience for her.

In print, it is a breathtaking image. The sense of connection between the viewer and the subject as you look into her eyes is really quite powerful: the emotion captured is so raw and real. In being so very nervous, Margarita has laid her honest feelings completely bare in front of us. People often speak of a person looking 'natural' in an image, which they always translate as looking relaxed, essentially. However, I think a 'natural' portrait comes in many flavours, the key being the genuineness of the expression, regardless of what emotion is being expressed. Margarita has a genuine, natural expression of concern on her face.

The deeper level to the image is what it says about the Mennonite community. The beliefs held by these people are clearly strong religious beliefs: Margarita's concern and conviction tell a story of the wider community and give us a telling insight into the isolation and strict rules which typify this community.

For those reasons, I agree with the judges' decision to award it first prize: Margarita Teichroeb is an image that captures genuine, raw emotion whilst simultaneously telling a much wider story. It is not 'just a woman sat down looking worried.' I would recommend you take a moment to visit and have a look at the series that the image came from. They are excellent. I particularly like the contrast between the children's portraits and those of the adults. The children have not yet been moulded by the strict rules of the community the way the adults have, and this is clear to see in their significantly more relaxed and confident expressions.

Addressing the other winning entries, I mostly agree with the judges' decisions here, also, Spencer Murphy's Mark Rylance being my personal favourite. One image that doesn't grab me, however is The Ventriloquist by Alma Haser.

Like any art form, photography often goes through fashion spells. At present, there seems to be a penchant for low contrast images, sometimes with no true blacks, sporting very neutral, window light tones. As it happens, this style really appeals to me, as there is often a feeling of truth to the final shot: a feeling of the image not hiding anything.

With The Ventriloquist, however, it feels as if the photographer is a little too aware of the current trend and has processed it in that style for no real reason other than it being currently popular. I also feel that it has been processed quite clumsily. The story behind the image of two friends is that the photographer 'wanted to turn their verbal banter into a visual image.' I appreciate that interpretation can be a very personal thing, but to me, 'banter' conjures up images of fun and affectionate jibing, a key element of a close friendship. Her decision to capture them both with neutral, blank expressions is at odds with this idea.

I feel that all the visual decisions made in the image were to tick the boxes, so to speak, of what is currently appetising in photography. The clumsy processing and attempts at distant, emotionless expressions leave me cold and feel incongruous to the message and I feel like it doesn't belong in the winning entries. A better replacement for a posed, conceptual portrait would have been Nadia Lee Cohen's absolutely stunning American Nightmare, for example. If the judges were more interested in the sense of companionship and the relationship between the two subjects, a better fit would've been the delightfully simple yet beautiful Rosa and Adoney by Sarah Booker.

Nevertheless, I felt that the entire selection of 60 images were varied and a fair final decision, even if I disagreed with some of the entries.

Should you have the opportunity to pay a visit, do go. It costs £2, and we'd be very interested to hear what you have to say about the entries. The Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize 2012 exhibition is at the National Portrait Gallery, London, from 8 November 2012 to 17 February 2013.

Gareth Dutton is a portrait and editorial photographer based in London. You can see his work here.

A Closer Look: Jonathan May

I've handed over the reigns to Gareth again today. He's taken a slightly different approach to his article this week: he's going to take a closer look at a photographer he admires, and examine just what it is that does it for him.

All yours, Gareth...

A Closer Look is a series of articles looking at the work of photographers whose work means something to me. When I am influenced by the work of others, I like to take less tangible elements away from the images. It isn't useful, in my opinion, to closely study the technical style of a given photographer, as you are at risk of losing your individuality. A more useful practice is to study what you love about an image beyond the immediately visible.

This week, I'm looking at Jonathan May, a photographer I became aware of when he was selected as a finalist in the National Portrait Gallery's Taylor Wessing 2011 Photographic Portrait Prize.

A small disclaimer: just because I admire May's work doesn't necessarily mean I can speak about it with authority – I merely aspire to describe what I like about it.


The first thing that strikes me about May's work is that it's often very positive in tone. This is extremely refreshing in the current climate, because so many photo stories, whilst absolutely beautiful and shot with a mastery that leaves me open-mouthed, are of subjects that are, frequently, unrelentingly bleak. Now don't get me wrong, I think it's  vital for photography to be able to highlight issues and tell stories that would go untold and unseen by the world. Not only that, but I think the people who bring such stories to the world are genuine superheroes (and possibly slightly unhinged): it's just that the saturation of such stories makes me yearn for something different.

You can see this immediately in his set L'Afrique. I feel that, in the West, we have a skewed image of Africa: a combination of the doom and gloom of the media and the plethora of photo projects that cover injustice, poverty, war and political horrors throughout the continent. It feels like from north to south, east to west, it comprises misery and human suffering. There is, of course, much of that, all of which needs to be exposed to the world and not kept a secret, but there is also a vast and beautiful culture and history which is seldom celebrated in the face of documenting all that is wrong with Africa.

May's shots of Africa exhibit a warmth, respect and admiration for African culture. It is refreshing to see a story of Africa that feels more celebratory than exploitative: in L'Afrique we become students, soaking in the beauty, gazing up at these people, learning, engaging on a human level.


The most important skill exhibited in L'Afrique is May's ability to act as the humble recorder whilst still applying his style, skill and proficiency to the images. If an image evokes more of the photographer than it does the subject, it's doing something wrong, in my opinion. This is something May is acutely aware of and he elevates his subjects whilst remaining anonymous to us, the viewer.

It's a feeling May achieves in many of his projects and is something evident in any story he tackles. I love his ability to find beauty in topics and stories that are infrequently covered. This is why one of my favourite photo stories of his is Greens: a look at crown green bowling, more specifically the bowling club his grandfather founded.

There is something quite beautiful in the telling of a story through the paraphernalia and objects that surround the people involved in the story, and Greens achieves this beautifully. An image of a somewhat chintzy clubhouse carpet with a table occupying the corner tells us as much as a one of his intimate, shallow depth of field portraits does. It's when these two are combined in a series that they unlock the power of one another: although they are strong images on their own, the effect is compounded when they are brought together, contrasting as they are in content.


As a portrait photographer halfway through my first ever long-term photo project, I am fascinated with the idea that a portrait of someone can be greatly enhanced by an image of their surroundings, or of something that is illustrative in some way of who they are, as opposed to a single image of the actual person.

There are dozens of single images within Jonathan May's work that I love but, in the interests of not making this article tediously enormous, I will look at my absolute favourite and attempt to articulate why I adore it.


This is a portrait from May's series Caravans, a story about a society that is often looked down on and dehumanised in many ways. The series itself has all the trademarks of May's work, but there is something about this particular portrait that, as I cycled through the images, was like a punch in the stomach: a good punch in the stomach, if that makes sense (it doesn't).

Initially, the intimacy of the composition grabbed me, so I brought it up in full screen. The background is uncluttered and plain yet far from blank: it further draws us to the subject's face. The expression that May has captured is utterly captivating: it's an expression that is both inscrutable and full of emotion at the same time. His mouth is ever so slightly curled up at one side, suggesting a smile may be breaking out. There is the tiniest hint of a wet glint in his eye, as if he is holding back a tear, but it's all so slight that we're not sure whether that is a projection of what we are seeing in his face or the reality of the situation. When I look at his face, I see a man remembering: an expression of fond reminiscence. We are the ones to lay down the final brushstroke, the canvas is left open for us.

And 'canvas' is an appropriate word here: the mesh of the door has muted and diffused the light and the wooden frame forms the right hand side of the image, creating the feel of a Renaissance-era painting, faded over time. I love the idea that something so beautiful can come from a seemingly innocuous shot of a man looking out of a window in his caravan. That, dear readers, is the magic of photography.

What I'd really like is for these columns to become discussion points about the artist in question. I want to hear what you think of Jonathan May's work – does it resonate with you? Does it excite you? Does it bore you? What do you like? What do you hate? Let's hear your opinions!

The illustration was by the mightily talented James, of Sweet Meats Illustration.

You can check out Gareth's photography here.

And if you're wondering about the copyright implications of reproducing May's work in this article, it's covered under fair dealing, as criticism and review.

Subscription fees set to soar at SmugMug

SmugMug's new pricing scheme

There's a bit of a ruckus going on over at the blog of online portfolio and printing service, SmugMug, right now. It's all very polite and restrained, but there are a lot of angry and confused photographers trying to make themselves heard, and I don't really blame them.

Last night, an email dropped into the inboxes of some of SmugMug's members, informing them of changes to their subscription plans. 'That's not so bad,' you say, 'businesses need to earn a profit and they need to evolve,' and you'd be right. Except that some SmugMug users might be paying 66% more on their current fee for the same service, whilst others might be paying the same fee for a reduction in features. A bit steep, no?

Until now, SmugMug had three levels of subscription: Basic, Power, and Pro. They cost $40, $60, and $150 a year respectively. All of the accounts offered unlimited photo storage; the Power account offered a customised domain and site along with unlimited HD video storage; finally the Pro account added the ability to sell your images with your own markup and offer promotional coupons if you wanted, too. There were other bits and pieces, as well, but those were the key features.

Come 15 October, Pro users' accounts will be split into two categories: Portfolio and Business. Portfolio will cost $150 a year and offer (amongst other things) domain and site customisation, watermarking, and professional print options. The Business plan will be $250 per year for existing subscribers, whilst new users will be expected to fork out $300 each year for the privilege of all that's available to Portfolio users, with the addition of the ability to sell their prints at prices they set, the provision of discount coupons, and customised packaging, along with some other bits and pieces.

Consequently, existing SmugMug Pro users who wish to continue to sell prints through the site will have to pay an extra $100 a year for the convenience. SmugMug has made a rough guess at which of its subscribers will want to renew with Portfolio subscriptions and which with the Business plan and sorted them accordingly, but they can alter their preferences come renewal time if they wish, and that's just as well. There are a lot of SmugMug subscribers expressing their dismay, disappointment, and disgust on the SmugMug blog. It isn't just that a $100 increase in fees is a significant sum in one go (hell, if my car insurance renewal were to increase $100 in one go, I'd be looking for an alternative) but that SmugMug isn't offering any tangible benefits alongside it. In fact, users claim that they've been asking for feature improvements for some time, but nothing has been forthcoming. They're not too happy about the idea of paying for something that might or might not happen.

The platitude that SmugMug hasn't increased its prices in seven years isn't having the desired effect on riled subscribers. If anything, it's a claim that smacks of bad business practice, not only because SmugMug's directors haven't reacted appropriately to the market over the last few years, but SmugMug is likely to force its low band-width users–those who can no longer justify the cost of a Portfolio account, but put the least strain on the servers and therefore provided the business with its highest margins–into self-imposed exile. They might down-grade their accounts to Power level (which doesn't offer printing options), or look elsewhere. Either way, SmugMug would lose a valuable revenue stream; one user has gone so far as to suggest its a decision that could lead to the company's demise by summer 2013.

That's possibly a little over-reactionary, because there are a great many SmugMug users who love the operation, and in particular its customer service, and appreciate the up-front manner that Chris MacAskill, SmugMug's president, set out the changes. But it doesn't change the fact that it's a lot of money to ask for without any appreciable improvements.

There's been quite a lot of talk of users switching portfolio and print providers. So what, then, are the alternatives? If you're only looking for portfolio providers then there's the cutely named (and themed) Carbonmade and the far more grown-up looking Viewbook. If you want the SmugMug Pro experience (portfolio and printing) but without the pricing, then Zenfolio is the most commonly named alternative, but I've heard very good things about Photoshelter and I've enjoyed good experiences with Photoswarm.

Any other suggestions out there?

Amah's day off: or how to shoot your story

A great many column inches across the Intergoogles are devoted to the notion that photography is not a crime and to the rights of photographers to be able to shoot what they want to, where they want to, when they want to. This is something about which I have been vocal in the past and until that heaven-sent day when officious security guards without an understanding of the law and with an over-inflated sense of ego get their acts together, I will be continue to be, too. I spend what seems an absurb amount of time explaining to the non-photographic public that, yes, actually, when they are in a public place I do have every right to take their photograph. The term is 'no reasonable expectation of privacy.'

These are our rights.

However, if the obverse of our photographic coin are our rights, the reverse is our responsibility. Anyone who practises the craft of photography has a responsibility to their story and to their subject. We're privileged to be able to record the world around us, to be able to slice moments out of time and make pictorial records of them, and to be able to show people another life, a different way. Unless we're prepared to do this with sensitivity and respect, there's no point in doing it all. What's the point of telling the story if we're going to ride rough-shod over the subject?

We have a responsibility to tell stories honestly and with compassion, protecting and respecting our subjects as necessary.

This was rammed home to me today as I went to catch the ferry from Hong Kong Island to Kowloon.

Story i

Sunday is the day off for Hong Kong's great tribe of amahs. In years gone by, amahs were housekeeper-cum-nursemaid spinsters who became a part of the family for whom they cared. They'd watch one generation grow up and help to raise the next, a constant presence in the family. Nowadays, amahs are imported domestic help for Hong Kong's more affluent residents. They cook, they clean, they care for the children, and they walk the dog.

The majority of amahs come from the Phillipines, but there are plenty from Malaysia and Indonesia, too. As they are live-in employees, they have nowhere to socialise other than in public. On Sundays, then, they gather in their thousands to worship, to chatter, to do their hair and nails, to play cards, to eat, to drink, and to be merry. The entire area around Central station on Hong Kong Island is a fantastic cacophony of cackling laughter, raucous gossip, and 80s music. (There might well be other music, but I only heard reminders of my childhood.)

Everywhere I looked, there were incredible photo opportunities.

Every time that I raised my camera to my face I was met by resolute head-shaking. None of these women were in the least content having their photos taken.

So what to do? I could I have stood there explaining that I didn't care whether or not they were happy with me taking their photos, they were in public, and dammit I can. But these are pretty feisty ladies, and I didn't much fancy having a few thousand of them chasing me through the streets and across the aerial walkways of Hong Kong. I'm not the protagonist in a martial arts film, thankyouverymuch. And obviously something was bothering them. It would have been easy to walk away and leave it. But, there was more to this than met the eye. They were women, I'm a woman: I approached them.

Story ii

It transpires that many of these women are working here illegally. They are terrified that if their images are splashed all over the intergoogles or over newspapers and magazines, the wrong person might see it and they can be deported. They don't know who I am or what I'm going to do with their pictures, so they'd much prefer their collective anonymity and safety in immense numbers.

Even worse, some of these women are abused by their employers. The majority of maltreatment is verbal, but there's physical and probably sexual abuse, too. They don't want to rock any boats and they don't want to get into trouble, so no pictures, please.

What, then, if I took their photos so that they couldn't be identified? Shots of hands and feet with no faces at all? What would I do with the photos, they asked. Tell your story, I said.


I have my pictures, the world has a story, and for one two-hundredth of a second, these Filipina amahs have the respect that they deserve.

Lending your gear to friends: is it all that scary?

Willis the dog, taken by Tom (aged 4)

Gosh photographers can be a funny bunch. A little while ago I stumbled onto a forum thread where someone had asked if he weren't the only person to refuse to lend kit to friends if they asked. The vast majority of the answers were in the 'Hell no! I never I lend my kit to anyone!' camp.

The responses were generally point-blank refusals, not even conditional considerations. One guy even went so far as to say that his wife is banned from so much as touching his cameras, let alone using them. I sat there goggle-eyed with disbelief and quickly went to find myself some photos of puppies or kittens to remind me that the world isn't really such a dismal and mean-spirited place.

The puppies and kittens obviously did the job, because I didn't think about this peculiarly possessive discussion until this week, when two events reminded me of it.

First, on Thursday I was editing some photos when my four year old nephew, Tom, sidled up to me and asked if he could have a go at taking some photos, too. I was so thrilled that he was interested in picking up a camera that I nearly knocked him over as I leapt from my seat to fetch my gear.

I flicked my dSLR in auto-mode (he is only four, after all), told him he had to walk and wasn't allowed anywhere without me, showed him to look through the viewfinder and which button to press, then hung it around his neck and we went off to explore. Twenty minutes later he'd photographed mum, dad, big sister, me, and the dog. He was thoroughly proud of himself.

Meanwhile his older sister had lost interest in her bead-threading activity and was clamouring for a go, too.

The same rules applied to her, and she took off to photograph pretty much the same things, less the photos of herself and plus some of plants in the garden.

Within half an hour I had two young'uns interested in photography. If I'd have been preciously fanatical about my kit, what were the chances that I'd have let two sticky-fingered kids loose with it? How would they have had the opportunity to experience the excitement that's taking a photo and letting everyone else see the world the way that you do? Yes, I laid down some ground-rules with them and I might have thought twice about it if I didn't think that they would treat my camera appropriately, but I can promise you that the warm and fuzzy feeling I got from watching them enjoy themselves far, far outweighed any jitters I might have had from letting them use my camera. This was their opportunity to learn and I didn't think that I could be selfish enough to deny it them.

(I could sit in my psychologist's armchair now and suggest that it is only by allowing children access to valuable and fragile objects that they learn to appreciate them properly; but I'll leave you to ponder that one in your own time.)

Then on Saturday evening I received a Twitter message from someone who's looking to buy her first dSLR. She wanted a bit of advice. I left the technical side of things to Haje–he's already written about that, and covered it extensively. Instead, I go for slightly more practical hints, for example to hold in your hands every camera that you're considering buying. It needs to feel comfortable; you need to be able to imagine yourself going out and using it and enjoying it. Photography is meant to be fun, after all, and it's a bit late when you've been shooting with your 60D for a few weeks and you realise that it makes your wrists ache.

If you know someone who owns a camera that you're considering buying, ask them pretty-please if you could have a go with it to see if it suits you. In fact, I would go as far as to actively consider investing in the same system as that which your friends and family might use. If you are a trusting and respectful group of people, you have the opportunity to borrow from and lend to each other all sorts of interesting bits and pieces as your equipment stashes grow.

When you're just starting out and your resources–both financial and physical–are limited, that can be heaven-sent. But years later, it still comes in useful. Last summer, my bacon was well and truly saved by a fellow photographer who leant me his camera when mine decided that it just wasn't going to play nicely with some studio lights. Without his trust and his generosity, I would never have been able to complete a scheduled shoot and it would have left me in a very difficult situation with some deadlines. I'm still grateful to him now, and should he ever need a similar favour from me, I'll help him out.

If for one moment you think that I'm bats enough to lend my camera to just anyone without any thought as to how they'd treat it, I promise you I'm not that nutty. My equipment might be insured, but I'm not in the habit of tempting a claim. (Your gear should be insured, too. If it isn't, go sort it, right now.) And if I were in need of it myself when she or he wanted to borrow it, I'd have to decline. But there has to be some give-and-take in life; if I think that they'll respect my gear and it isn't going to end up in pawn shop in Moss Side or at the bottom of the Thames, then I'm happy to lend. For no other reason, I don't know when I might need the favour returned.

Cameras are incredible things. Expensive things, too. But they're just that: things. There's a key element in the light+camera=photograph equation, and it's the photographer using the camera. We can't replace our creativity and we can't replace ourselves, but we can replace our cameras. So why not be a little more giving? It can't hurt that much, can it?

The birth of Mirrorless Cameras


The development of the EVIL (Electronic Viewfinder / Interchangeable Lens) platform has been a long time coming, and in a way, it has been pretty much inevitable.

From one end of technology development, digital compact cameras and bridge cameras have been getting more and more advanced.

At the same time, camera manufacturers realized that SLR cameras aren’t just for the photographic elite and advanced amateurs anymore. Anybody who wanted to start do a little bit more serious experimenting with photography was reaching for entry-level SLR cameras, which led some manufacturers (especially Sony) to launch more affordable and simpler digital SLR models.

A gap in the market...

In the gray area of very advanced compact cameras and very simple SLR cameras, there was a very obvious gap – which was eventually filled when Olympus revived their PEN name.

The Olympus PEN brand was first used in the late 1950s, with a series of very innovative cameras. The PEN name was attached mostly to non-interchangeable lens rangefinder. The first few models were ‘half frame’ cameras, which, at the time, was the smallest camera to use the standard 135 film.

This ‘rangefinder’ word is important: Instead of having a mirror, so the photographer can see what they are photographing through the camera’s lens, you would look through a small hole next to the lens, which would give you an approximation of the picture you were about to take – much like you would get on film-based compact cameras and disposable cameras.

The half-way house: digital rangefinder cameras


When Olympus launched the PEN EP-1, it immediately drew comparisons to the cameras from another camera manufacturer who have a long history in the world of rangefinder cameras: Leica.

Leica is one of those camera brands that most serious photographers have heard of, but that leaves amateurs scratching their heads. Hand-built in Germany, the Leica company is well-renowned for building high-precision, high-quality camera instruments that retail for obscene amounts of money.

In 2006, Leica introduced the M8, which follows in the footsteps of a long and rich history, going all the way back to the Leica M3, a rangefinder camera launched in the mid-1950s. The M8 was the first digital rangefinder from Leica, and it is still considered a very capable camera today. However, it doesn’t have Live View, so there is no way of seeing what you are doing – until after you have done it. A true purist’s camera, then, but considering that it was launched already in 2006, it was also an intriguing look into the future of what was to come…

Technology matures, and EVIL cameras become possible.

screen_shot_2012_03_26_at_141317.jpgThe introduction of the EVIL cameras is the culmination of a lot of technology coming to fruition, finally: Up until 2008 or so, there had been several attempts at launching cameras with electronic viewfinders (Among others, I remember the miserable experience of using a Canon Pro90 bridge camera in 2002 or so), but the technology, on the whole, was pretty much useless.

Using the camera’s sensor to display what the camera was seeing ‘live’ on a small screen in a configuration similar to that of a SLR camera was a brilliant idea. It wasn’t without problems, however: The imaging sensors were of poor quality imaging sensors – especially in low light – and the low-resolution displays available at the time made a pretty hopeless combination. Most people who gave EVF (Electronic Viewfinder) cameras a shot quickly returned to the safety of the SLR camera.

Meanwhile, in the Compact camera world, more and more people were using the LCD display exclusively, ignoring the optical viewfinder. Camera manufacturers were noticing this, of course, and decided to concentrate on making the LCD displays better, and ditched the optical viewfinders from their cameras.

Eventually, when live view became good enough that the viewfinder became superfluous, the technology was ready for EVIL cameras: Why should the users have to put up with the humpback design of SLR cameras when the mirror and pentaprism part was superfluous?


Customers wanted smaller, lighter cameras that didn't compromise on image quality; they didn't want the weight and size associated with the SLR platforms, but they did want the flexibility of being able to select the perfect lens for the job.

The rest, as they say, is history...

And so, the EVIL cameras were born...


The above is an extract from the introduction chapter of my brand new book, Creative EVIL photography. I'm biased, of course, but I think it's a fantastic book.

Whether you've already bought an EVIL camera, whether you're considering it, or even if you don't think you'll ever go near one, but just want a thorough introduction to photography, this is the book for you.

It has just popped up for sale on and, so head over and buy your copy today!


The world's slowest fastest camera

So we get excited by cameras that have burst speeds of 60 frames per second at a resolution of three megapixels. How about a camera that can shoot a trillion frames per second? That's fast enough to capture a burst of light travelling through a Coke bottle, bouncing off of the cap, and reflecting back into the bottom. In slow motion.

It's something that Andreas Velten, Professor Ramesh Raskar, and Professor Moungi Bawendi have been working on at MIT.

Problem is, apart from costing $250,000, it also takes about an hour for the camera to capture a sequence of events that takes, ooh, about a nanosecond.

The camera that they use is a streak camera. Its aperture is a narrow slit; photons pass through it and through an electric field that deflects them in a direction that's perpendicular to the slit. Later-arriving photons are deflected more than earlier-arriving ones. But this means that the two dimensions in which it captures images aren't both spatial; one is spatial (the one corresponding to the direction of the slit) and the other (corresponding to the degree of deflection) is temporal.

So that it can record that beam of light in the coke bottle in a format that we'd recognise as 2D, the sequence has to be recorded again, and again, and again. Each time, the camera has to be moved slightly so that a 2D image can be constructed. That, of course, means that it isn't exactly useful for anything that isn't perfectly repeatable. And hence the moniker 'the world's slowest fastest camera.'

It might have the ability to make anything in the universe look slow, but it takes a while to manage it!

For scientists, the streak camera can record light passing through or being emitted by a chemical sample. But what about practical uses for photographers? One day, it might be at the foundation of developing better flashes. As Professor Raskar put it: 'With our ultrafast imaging, we can actually analyse how the photons are travelling through the world. And then we can recreate a new photo by creating the illusion that the photons started somewhere else.'

(Headsup to Engadget, and take a look at the MIT news site for a far more in depth explanation.)

Little-ish gifts for photographers, seeing as the season is almost here

Lens cleaning pen for under £5

The season of frenzied gift-giving is nigh upon us, meaning that it is time to wheel out Daniela's quick and dirty guide to finding perfect pressies for the photographer in your life. (Or you could just send people whom you love in this general direction for gifts that you might wish to receive.) Quirky or practical, the criterion for today's selection was that it had to come in sub-£25 (or around $40). Credit cards at the ready? Let's go shopping!

Lens cleaning pens are super-useful. They're also super-easy to pick up from Amazon UK for £3.90 or Amazon US for $7.15

These cute camera-shaped rubber stamps can even be customised if you ask cupcaketree very nicely. They're only £6 from cupcaketree's Etsy shop.

Grey cards - everyone should have a set of grey cards in their kit bags. This rather groovy set from Photocritic even has nifty hints and tips printed on the bag, all for a bargainalicious £7.95, available on Amazon.

In addition to the lens cleaning pen, how about a little air blower to help shift dust spots, too? This one from Giottos is £7.50 from Amazon UK or $9 from Amazon US.

If you're not fortunate enough to have a memorycard reader integrated into your laptop, you'll likely find one useful. This version from Kingston is curently a bargain at just over $10 on Amazon US or £8 from Amazon UK.

Last year I suggested that you might wish to buy the male photographer in your life a set of cufflinks; this year, it's the turn of lady-photographers. Now, they might want cufflinks, too, but perhaps they'd prefer earrings? How about these for $12?

Fancy a tipple? How about from a hipflask decorated with a hand-drawn camera? These gorgeous things are only $14.95 from buyalex on Etsy.

I still handwrite quite a bit, and if I don't use a fountain pen, then I use pencil. A camera-shaped pencil sharpener would be an ideal addition to my desk, and probably my brother's too. They're $14.99 from Amazon US.

Last of all, cleaning your own sensor might sound a bit scary, but there's plenty of advice on how to do it, and kits available from Amazon to help you! Just make sure that you pick up the correct size for your camera. These kits are for 1.6 crop factor sensors and cost £16.85 from Amazon UK and $24.95 from Amazon US.

How's that for a start? Don't forget, you can always take a look at last year's suggestions, too!

Hallelujah! Guidance for security guards when it comes to photographers

Screen Shot 2011-11-04 at 15.23.17

It’s taken bloody long enough and has come at the expense of dads being told that they can’t take photos of their kids in shopping centres, but finally there is some guidance for jumped-up heavies in uniforms who pass for security guards on what they can and cannot say and do to photographers. It’s the result of some pretty lengthy discussions that involved the Home Office, the British Security Industry Authority (BSIA), and photographers’ representatives such as Amateur Photographer and SceneThat. But by Juno, I’ve read it and it’s clear and reinforces some important points that we’ve been trying to teach them for a while now.

As far as I’m concerned, these are the edited highlights. You can go peruse the rest of the document – and it’s only four pages long – on the BSIA website.

  • The size and type of cameras are not, in themselves, indications of suspicious behaviour. Large cameras, lenses and tripods should therefore not be viewed as being more suspicious than other types of equipment.
  • If an individual is in a public place photographing or filming a private building, security guards have no right to prevent the individual from taking photographs.
  • Security guards cannot delete images or seize cameras, nor can they obstruct individuals from taking photographs.
  • Members of the public and the media do not need a permit to film or photograph in public places. This includes where an individual is in a public place but taking a photograph or film of a private building.

There is more, but this alone should help photographers reinforce that they’re not terrorists and by taking a photo, they’re not breaking the law or doing anything that’s otherwise nefarious. I think I’ll print out a copy and keep it in my camera bag.

Rihanna and LaChapelle settle out of court

Rihanna S&M

It seems that a bucket of out-of-court settlement cold water has doused the artistic cat-fight between photographer David LaChapelle and singer Rihanna. Shame, really, as this one could have been interesting.

Rihanna has agreed to pay LaChapelle an undisclosed sum after he sought $1 million in damages from her, citing copyright infringement. LaChapelle thought that some scenes in Rihanna’s S&M video looked suspiciously similar to a set of his photos that had appeared in Italian Vogue.

LaChapelle claimed that Rihanna had copied everything from his images that appeared in the magazine, from the poses to the ligting set-up; Rihanna countered that he was ‘trying to monopolise a whole genre’ of sado-masochistic images. When it went before New York Judge Shira A Scheindlin in July, to decide if he did have a claim at all, she agreed: ‘An ordinary observer may well overlook any differences and regard the aesthetic appeal of “Striped Face” and the “Pink Room Scene” as the same.’

From LaChapelle’s point of view, he has got what he wanted. ‘Musicians commonly pay to sample music or use someone’s beats and there should be no difference when sampling an artist’s visuals.’ He’s happy with the settlement.

As for Rihanna, she might want to consider her next video a bit more carefully. So far she has managed to upset two photographers and a conservative Northern Irish farmer when shooting them. Is anyone opening a book on her next line of attack?

(Headsup to the Guardian)

September 2011: A record month for me.

It's almost a year since I moved my Photocritic blog over here to Pixiq. I'll be honest with you; it was a tense time. Was I selling out my readers? Would people react well or would they hate it? Would they run away by the droves, or would I collect a nice amount of new readers, and benefit from the cross-promotion with other talented photography writers?

I was worried about giving up control. I was worried about not being able to do the coding myself. I was worried about not being able to implement my own code on the blog. It turns out I was worrying about absolutely nothing. Sure, there are toys I wish I could have, and there are occasional bugs on Pixiq that I think ought to have been fixed quicker (I'm particularly looking at the video player that doesn't work in all browsers - but apparently that is getting fixed soon)...

But ultimately, handing over the keys to the technical side of the blog means that I don't have to worry about caching layers, bandwidth costs, or server tweaking. Being able to ignore all that and concentrate on what I do best - Writing and ranting about photography - has been liberating.

And I believe it shows: the month of September has shown me, more than any other month, that I've made the right decision. My posts alone here on Pixiq attracted a quarter of a million page impressions - yes, that's nearly 250,000 page impressions, just for me. Pixiq as a whole, obviously, got a whole load of extra traffic too.

The top 20 articles in September:

In other words, these are the ones that have been most read... And if you haven't seen one or more of them yet, perhaps you'll find a gem or two here!

  1. Nikon: "A photographer is only as good as the equipment he uses"
  2. 50 inspirational nude photos
  3. Is Apple turning its back on photographers?
  4. Lens thieves ruin the day
  5. Adding passion to nude photography
  6. 150 unmissable photography sites
  7. Top 50 photography websites
  8. The Dirty Tricks of Food Photographers
  9. Making your own flash diffuser
  10. Implied nudity in portraiture
  11. Prime lenses
  12. Macro photography for $10
  13. How much should you charge for a photograph?
  14. How To: Concert Photography
  15. 100 amazing iPhone photos
  16. The ultimate guide to HDR photography
  17. Creating a photography portfolio
  18. Photographing smoke
  19. Create your own IR pass filter
  20. Giving a good photo critique

Photo Credit: "Dance" on Flickr (cc) by Nuno Duarte.

Is Apple turning its back on photographers?

Perhaps I should stick to photography...

I've been thinking about this article for a very long time; I've been using both pieces of software for a while, and I think I've now conclusively made my choice: Adobe Lightroom it is.

There are a couple of subjective reasons for that; Ultimately, I prefer the workflow tools offered up by Lightroom over those built into Aperture, and I like how well-integrated Lightroom and Photoshop CS5 are, for the times when I need editing that's beyond Lightroom's very capable hands.

Apple always had the edge over Lightroom when it comes to pricing; but back in January, Apple took out their machetes and slashed the price even further: the price of Aperture plummeted from $199 to £78.99 (when purchased via the App Store), whilst Lightroom is still retailing at $299.

So, it becomes very hard to recommend one piece of software over the other: They are both capable, and they both have their flaws. The price difference may sway some people (and PC users are out of luck altogether; no Aperture for Windows...), but ultimately, I think the question is very different indeed.

Apple doesn't care about its professional users.


For various reasons, I've been reading and learning more about the film and TV industry  (What? Pictures? That move? I can barely get one photo per hour right, never mind 24 pictures per second. You must be out of your mind), and they've been burned by Apple several times now.

You may have spotted the phenomenal backlash recently when Apple launched their new Final Cut Pro, which set the film industry a-bristle. Instead of having two versions of the software; Final Cut Express for the 'prosumer' market and Final Cut Pro for the, well, 'pro' market, they consilidated the software packages back into one. For Express users, that was pretty good news, because for not-a-lot-of-extra-money, they got a lot of extra functionality.

Professional users, however, were not so lucky. Conan O'Brien's editors got a minute of prime-time to whine about the software, and both the app store reviews and the professionals have trashed it for being a monster-leap backwards. The  reviewers for the mainstream media, however, generally reviewed it quite favourably. The message is clear: It's still one hell of a capable software editing package, but it's no longer fit for purpose for professional use.

apple_shake.jpgIf this was an once-off occurrence, we might have forgiven Apple, but it isn't. There was another piece of software that was of extreme importance; again to the film industry. Shake was aimed squarely at the professional market, and was used for visual effects and compositing - that is, putting the different pieces of digital footage together into a single frame. You know; adding explosions, and adding backgrounds to shots, that sort of thing.

When Apple announced they were unceremoniously closing the doors on Shake, it shook up the market - several huge film productions - multi-million dollar projects - were completely relying on Shake to get completed. To this day, there are special effect studios who had their tools so deeply integrated with Apple's software that they haven't been able to disentangle themselves; including playing an important role in Weta's production of the blockbuster Avatar, for example. And this despite the fact that the last version of the software was launched in November of 2008 - that's 3 years ago. I'm willing to bet that most of us don't run any 3-year-old software, never mind one of the most popular entertainment industries in the world.

The other big entertainment industry - the music business - also have a software package covered by Apple; Logic Pro. The rumour mill is already spinning that the current version of the software (which was launched in July of 2009) is about to receive an update, reportedly labelled Logic Pro X. Perhaps predictably, current Logic Pro users are already in fear about what Apple might be doing to their beloved piece of software.

But, can't you just use the old software instead?

win311logo.gifOf course, a simple counter-argument to all of the above is "if you don't like the new software, why don't you simply not upgrade"? It is true that this is a workable solution for a while, but the truth of the matter is that software slowly loses its lustre over time: Competitors will bring out features and technology that doesn't exist in the old versions of the software, and without the updates, your software cannot benefit from technology advances that happen in the meantime.

Worst of all, 'unsupported' software is just that - unsupported. So, if something should go horribly wrong with your files, and you are unable to figure out what is going on, nobody is able to help you: A simple query will be deflected with "What version of the software are you using". If your answer is "an old version", then they won't help you. And rightly so, I think: If you call up a web developer today to tell them their site doesn't look right in Internet Explorer 7, the only appropriate answer, in my opinion, is "Why are you using a piece of software that was introduced in 2006, and has been obsolete since 2009"?

Er, aren't we meant to be talking about photography here?


So what does all of this got to do with photography? Well, when Aperture was first launched back in 2005, it was seen as a bit of a curious beast. Taking a look now at the news around its launch, it's funny to see how news writers couldn't quite make sense of it. . For one thing, it cost a whopping $499, and it was aimed squarely at professional photographers. Six years ago, it made sense, when Apple were still the underdog; the go-to brand for graphic designers and photographers alike.

Steve Jobs may well have saved Apple when they were at the brink of bankruptcy, against all odds. However, things have changed a lot in Cupertino since then. From being a fringe hardware manufacturer, they've gone well and truly mainstream: iPods, iPhones, Apple TV, the iTunes music store, not to mention the billions and billions of applications sold for iOS devices like the iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad.

screen_shot_2011_09_20_at_211205.jpgIt's hard to imagine any company that is more mainstream than Apple these days; and the software the company is releasing is reflecting that. Instead of innovating, developing and launching industrial-grade tools for professional users, Apple are ramming home their 'simplicity' approach to things. Which is lovely if you are my mother, but not so much if you are a professional artist of any sort.

Apple are making powerful tools more available to the mainstream, which is a good thing for their stockholders: Obviously, it's better to sell a million copies of a piece of software at $80 per copy, than it is to sell fifty copies at $499. What does appear to be the case, however, is that the accountants have taken over the asylum at Apple, and that software engineers are no longer allowed to push the envelope onwards and upwards.

If you ask me, it's only a matter of time before Aperture starts looking more like iPhoto than a professional piece of photo editing software.

As much as I love Apple, I simply don't trust them not to turn their back on me, the professional photographer, and turn instead to the other 200 people who live in my block of flats. After all, why should they bother selling me one copy, when they can sell them two hundred?

So where does that leave Adobe?

If there's one thing you could never accuse Adobe of, it is to simplify their software. Lightroom will, over the coming years, undoubtedly slowly grow out of control with more and more features and more and more bloat. However, as professional photographers, I think we can handle the occasional hardware upgrade to cope with the additional load it'll put on our computers. As a professional, I can trust Adobe to leave all the tools where I need them; right at my fingertips.

And for that 1400-word reason, I'll stick to Adobe Lightroom for the foreseeable future.

Attracting better feedback

As photographers in this Internet age we read about photography, and share our work, in hopes of honing our craft. You could be pursuing a career as a wedding photographer or a sports shooter and either way you’re searching for articles, subscribing to photography blogs, and participating in photo forums in hopes that there are gems of knowledge that will take your photographic prowess to the next level.

What most photographers, especially those that didn’t do any formal art training, are missing from their arsenal of learning tools, is the art of critique.

Defining Art Criticism

Sometimes, it can be fiercely difficult to know what's missing in a photograph. The easiest way to get a bit of help is simply to ask for it - but you've got to do it right.

Simply put: Art criticism is the discussion of the evaluation of art.

And having your peers, especially those whom you respect, evaluate your photography in a constructive manner will make you a better photographer.

And yes… it can seem scary.

We often think of critiques as negative and judgmental. They don’t have to be. And if they are…well, you just shrug it off. Chalk it up to the learning process.

There is an alternative.

You could upload your images to Flickr and join groups where they require comments and post badges and prizes galore! You’ll be inundated with happy unicorns and shiny gold medals. Comments like “Wow!” and “Nice!” will flood your comments sections and you’ll be able to see through rose coloured glasses for days!

While that may be okay for the occasional ego-boost I’d argue that those kind of groups are doing you more harm than good.

I mean, let’s get real for a second…did you actually learn anything from those kinds of comments? Did you become a better photographer because you got a scripted response from someone else looking for tons of comments filled with other scripted responses?

I didn’t think so.

Get Better Photo Critiques

I know from experience that there's nothing more difficult than getting harsh critique or a ton of suggestions for improvement on a photo you're particularly proud of. But stand tall and take it like a (wo)man - it's the fastest way to get better.

Getting better photo critiques starts by going to the right places (hint: you’re already at one of them).

  • You may already know that Photocritic does photo critiques and I highly recommend adding your photos to his queue.
  • Flickr has a rather large assortment of groups that are dedicated to criticism and critique. Simply search Flickr for “critique” and find the one that best suits your tastes and style of photography.
  • DeviantArt also has groups dedicated to criticism. What’s unique about DeviantArt is that you’ll get critiques from artists of varying mediums, not just photographers, which can add a different perspective and unique insights.
  • Photography forums often have sections dedicated to critiques. You’re probably already part of a photography forum, or know of a good one, so search for critique threads.

So you found a place that does critiques. Now what?

  • Upload some of your photographs then submit or post them to the groups or threads in the critiques section.
  • Participate! When you join a new group or forum you’ll likely get ignored for a little while in the beginning. Don’t worry, this is natural in every social setting. You need to be pro-active and start conversations. Critique other photographs. When you start critiquing other people’s photographs you are essentially inviting them to critique your work as well.
  • Keep the conversation going. After someone has left a critique of your work it’s a good idea to thank them for their time and/or insight. This simple act of “conversation” will encourage more participation from others who may be sitting on the sidelines.

Keep it constructive or you won’t really gain much.

The day you think there's nothing left to learn, you may as well eBay all your camera equipment and give up. Trust me; that day will never come. And if you think it has, you're wrong.

  • Feel free to set guidelines on your work. Not everyone will pay attention, but many will. On every image I post on my flickr account I add “While your comments are greatly appreciated, your presence is enough reward. Please do not post awards or banners, leave a comment or a thought instead. I know you can!” in the description box. Think about how you could set guidelines on your work to get the best comments and critiques that you can.
  • Make friends with photographers that you respect. Keep in contact with those that do constructive criticisms and maintain a conversation with them.
  • Give the best critiques you can give by avoiding annoying and overused comments and critiques and other’s will more likely reciprocate.
  • Be as objective as you can. You aren’t going to agree with all of the comments and criticisms you get and they’re not all going to be right. One of my best selling photographs got slaughtered in two separate critiques (one group critique and one published *yikes!* critique).
  • Research. If someone calls your photograph out for not having or overdoing a certain artistic element you need to look it up (especially if you think you know what it means) before you disagree with them in an open platform. Otherwise you alienate anyone else from leaving critiques
  • Be gracious and objective. This can’t be stated enough!

Following these guidelines will help you garner better critiques and comments on your photographs. You’ll learn how others look at your photographs and you’ll learn whether or not you are achieving your goals as a visual story teller. Did I miss anything? Do you actively pursue critiques?

About the Author:

I’m a huge fan of Damien Franco’s work. He’s obviously exploring; finding his feet as a photographer, but more importantly, he’s always ready to share what he knows. He works as a contemporary fine art photographer working in West Texas and writes photography tutorials when he’s not fighting tumble weeds, cactus, and oil tycoons. You could do a lot worse than following him on that there Flickr thing.

Do you enjoy a smattering of random photography links? Well, squire, I welcome thee to join me on Twitter -

© Kamps Consulting Ltd. This article is licenced for use on Pixiq only. Please do not reproduce wholly or in part without a license. More info.