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Archive 2013 · Critique groups or mentoring?
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p.1 #1 · p.1 #1 · Critique groups or mentoring?

Hi everyone,

Would anyone be interested in doing semi-regular critics of larger bodies of work (albums/series/etc)?

I'm the type who is learning, but doesn't want to completely spam this subforum with every image I've got questions about.

Are there others here that would like to look over each other's work on a larger scale every so often?

Also, are there any experienced photographers that would like to provide any sort of mentoring (how involved is up to you, of course) to the less-experienced?

Sorry if this isn't the proper forum - I'm still expaning beyond B&S and the Weekly Assignment subforums.

Jan 24, 2013 at 01:37 PM
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p.1 #2 · p.1 #2 · Critique groups or mentoring?

This is a pretty low activity forum so posting frequency wouldn't be a problem. Just don't post lots of unrelated photos in the same thread.

When posting more than one shot is very useful for those commenting is when you've taken the shot from different points of view, captured different facial angles in a portrait, tried vertical vs. horizontal crops, etc. It makes it easier to point out what worked and what didn't by comparison from your frame of reference of having taken both shots. For example if you posted two oblique views of the face I'd be better able to tell you what you did differently in one vs. the other you weren't consciously aware of when shooting which make it more a more balanced flattering rendering of that face.

Overcoming the need to post every shot can be done by thinking in terms of goals, strategies and technique (in that order) when shooting and evaluating the results.

With anything you do if there isn't a goal / target your efforts will be scattershot vs. focused. When setting a goal you also need to define criteria for success. In teaching lighting I ask the readers of my web tutorials to consider what they personally find "flattering" (the goal) in a conventional portrait. The list will usually include lighting criteria like light in the eyes, no dark harsh shadows, nose shadow not hanging sideways and distracting from the eyes and mouth.

You'll find if you sit down and think in terms of goals and criteria the next time you shoot with that goal in mind your brain will CONSCIOUSLY recognize when criteria like light in the eyes or harsh shadows are occurring and SUBCONSCIOUSLY react and move the face in the light or change the ratio.

The "learning curve" is simply learning to be consciously aware of what clues have been causing the sub-conscious reaction (other than the obvious expression) that tells you the subject you see in photos others take is flattered, sexy, happy, sad mad. What makes a photo look "right" is when all the clues in it match what the viewer would expect to see.

The goal/criteria, strategy, tactics/technique is just a problem solving frame that provides focus to any activity. It's been around since Sun Tzu and used by the military, taught in MBA programs, etc. In a learning situation setting criteria for success for a portrait, landscape, editoral PJ shot will allow you to look at the photo you take and see if they meet the criteria for success you set.

A difference between "artists" and "technicians" (what most photographers seem to be starting out) is that an artist by nature thinks in terms of goals/emotional reactions first, not what f/stop to use, and are more in touch with what clues trigger emotional reactions. For the "gearhead" photographer it might take years to realize the real goal of the exercise isn't perfect exposure, etc. but triggering an emotional reaction in the mind of the viewer. So when setting the goals for different types of photo make the goal the desired reaction you want to evoke when the intended audience sees your photo.

Will they recognize the content (see the snake temple thread)? How will they react to it?

Everyone likes a pretty woman. Take her clothes off and reactions become more polarized. Cover the body with tattoos and piercings and the reactions will become more polarized. The guy or gal looking at the photo will react differently if they have tattoo and a ring in the nose than the girl's granny or pastor would. So the overall reaction a photo creates is subjective and depends on what is in it and the intended audience.

What is more predictable is how the brains of the viewers will process the clues. What will attract the eye first? Where will the eye go next? Is it as interesting and add to the story? These are the questions you need to ask to determine which lighting / posing / lighting / clothing / background strategies best meet the goals.

Photography is so situational figuring all that when shooting is too confusing. That's why beginners take so many bad shots. You learn by sitting down after the fact and asking the questions about goals (desired reaction), the strategies you used, the clues they created and whether they triggered the desired emotional reaction you wanted the intended audience to have.

Parents and granny will LOVE any shot of the kid because they react emotionally more to knowing the little darling than what is in the photo. Show the photo to non-photographer strangers and they will react to the expression clues and have the same "Aw how cute!" reaction if you manage catch the rug rat actually doing something cute. Show the same shot to photographers who don't know the kid and the feedback you get will focused on improving technique: exposure / lighting / composition.

What goals and criteria will help you do in something like a photo of your kid or wife is be more objective in your evaluation. To some extent you need to forget your emotional reaction (which is based more on memories than what in the photo) and go down the criteria check list:

light in the eyes? Check
light toned shadows on the front of face? Check
balanced facial angle? Hmm... the far ear is hanging out, I'll need to watch for that next time.

YOUR criteria check list (against YOUR goals) are what will allow you to become your own "worst critic" and do more to improve your results faster than 5-6 different and often conflicting opinions on a forum. The checklist criteria approach is just a way to become consciously aware of the subliminal clues and prepare you mentally to "fix the problem" next time.

When posting a shot tell us your goals and the intended audience for the shot. What mood were you going for? What did you want us to see first, second, keeping getting drawn back to to create the emotional reaction. While most don't frame their critiques in those terms as I do those are the perceptual clues their brains are reacting to. You'll find of you ask those questions and just look at the photo you'll be able to see for yourself how well it "works" against YOUR goal for shot.

My tutorial site is at: http://photo.nova.org The first tutorial is on goal setting

Edited on Jan 24, 2013 at 03:43 PM · View previous versions

Jan 24, 2013 at 03:07 PM
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p.1 #3 · p.1 #3 · Critique groups or mentoring?

An awesome and well thought out post - thank you very much.

Would you mind linking me to your tutorials?

Jan 24, 2013 at 03:29 PM

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