Being your own toughest critic

Of all the skills that one may acquire as a photographer this is among the more crucial. There are a few articles online about this but they seem to dwell on the act of picking out the cream of the crop of your finished photos. I’d like to extend this concept to the ideation stage and composition stage as well and then come full circle at the end.

Great pictures can be captured by being at the right place at the right time, leaving an awful lot to chance. Producing an image (whether outdoors capturing an event or in the studio with props and models) means that you’ve an idea of what you can work with – and that’s when you should aim to tap into this critic psyche.

Before shooting

Ask yourself whether the shot you have in mind is something you’re genuinely excited about.

  • Is it something you’ve never seen before?
  • Are you actually tapping into your well of ideas gleaned from what you’ve learned?
  • Will your audience see this image and recognize your unique point of view?
  • Is the result going to blow your mind?

Trying to answer yes to these questions will get you to push the variables of your shot in favour of a better result.

I sometimes look for hooks while composing an image – something that one can pick out as a point of interest in a picture that makes it memorable. It could be as simple as a shape, an imperfection, a leading line, a dominant colour, etc. Don’t be afraid to develop your own either.

Repetition as a hook

Repetition as a hook

In the two images above, I’ve showcased the repetitive patterns caused by the arches.

Think about whether you’re getting the most out of your resources – your models, your location, your make-up artist, your ideas. Does everything look as right as possible before the shutter releases? Attention to detail is key in separating the chaff from the grain so develop that from early on and you’ll be golden.

After shooting

You’ll also have to be hard on yourself when it comes to choosing your best pictures – the ones you’re going to edit and will eventually make it to your client’s desk or your portfolio. I like to use Adobe Bridge for this. I start by opening up the image folder in Bridge, stacking similar images together (Cmd/Ctrl+G with multiple images selected), and then choosing the best of each stack (use colour labels or star ratings to mark your favourites).

Once you’re done editing your selections, take a good, hard look at your crop of images and see which ones really work.

  • Do they communicate the desired message or tell a story?
  • Do they hold your attention for more than two seconds?
  • Do they make you think?

The images that get you to answer yes to these questions are your winners.

Using Adobe Bridge with stacks and labels

Using Adobe Bridge with stacks and labels

Between shoots

Staying in touch with your body of work allows you to be conscious of what you can do and how you can improve. Set aside some time for yourself to review your past work and see if you’ve been able to meet your own expectations. You’ll also learn more about your own style and maybe understand how you can develop it further. Similarly, you’ll find out what you might not want to repeat in your future work, either because you’ve done those things too often or because they’re no longer relevant.

In closing

Being your own critic is merely an approach to achieving focus. In doing so, you’ll put together better shots before you take pictures and you’ll have stronger results when you’re finished. Plus it  helps you instrospect and lets you free your mind from biases you may have towards your own work. There’s a lot you can learn from yourself. We’re all looking for tools to help us become photographers – what better place to look than within?