Be a critique and become a better photographer

By being a critique I don’t mean being an arrogant knows it all 😉 It is actually the opposite: be able to share with the others your view on their photos and progress together (yes, together). And ultimately, make yourself a better photographer.

Strangers in the dark VII. Cluj-Napoca station, Romania.

Strangers in the Dark VII. Cluj-Napoca, Romania, 2016. Get a fine art, original print in limited edition.

This photo has gone through several critique processes, internal (by me) and external (by peers) before reaching its final form.

Critique the others’ work

I just love to give a constructive feedback on my peers’ photos. Try to understand the strengths and the weaknesses of the photo, share your findings and propose eventuality a different approach. It’s a very enriching experience for everyone: you help the photographer progress, and you develop your skills by analysing other people’s photo. By understanding how this shot was done, you educate yourself!

The harder, by far, is to find the correct context. The people has to accept the fact that you are giving a feedback that is not 100% praises, and you have to formulate this feedback correctly in order to avoid shaming him/her. And keep things objective, constructive, whatever the reaction is. It may lead to some very interesting discussions and debates. Another way to progress on your communication skills too 😉

My experience is that is works better in smaller groups, online or IRL, rather than in large group. Knowing the persons involved allows a much easier communication. I have been part of a group of this kind for years now, it has helped me a lot by being critiqued first, and then being the critique. Knowing ourselves quite well now has really made the process much easier and to the point.

Be your own critique

And here is the best thing: be your own critique. After years of analyzing other people’s photos I started to go through the same process with mine. It’s way tougher as you are never totally objective about your own work. But being able to detach as much as possible from your work and look at it with a real critique eye is really mind blowing.

The gain? I am now able to filter much better the work I display, online or IRL, in a way that I am much more able to identify the strengths of my photos against the emotional attachment I may have. How often did I think a photo was good because I had a particular connection with it… but it wasn’t that good in the end? Way too often. Therefore take your time and give a second, critique look to all the photos you’ll leave in the wild.

Take away

As a short take away from this article:

  • Don’t just look at the photos, also try to understand it
  • Share your findings with others and discuss it
  • Critique your own work!

Take your time, it’s going to be better!

We all know this feeling. You’ve been taking photos for a few hours, the whole day maybe. Your memory card has tens, hundreds of new photos on it. Some are test shots, some are “why not?” opportunistic shots, some are good or maybe even pretty good ones… But there are always those 2, 3 photos that you’ve spent so much time owning the scene, waiting for the right moment, you made the stars get in line to make this happen. And it happened, you got them. And like a kid at Christmas, you want to see them, post process them and, obviously, share them on your portfolio, your Facebook page or you Instagram account.

Yes? No? Well, at least, I know I do.

Or at least, I know I did.

Because when you unload your memory card in your computer, you do not look at the whole picture (pun intended), the entire session. You go directly to those few shots, that you know at the ones, that you want to edit right know, the way you imagined them. Before you forget, before it’s too late!

The result? A few pretty good photos indeed, quite a few “like” on your favorite social network, and that’s it. A bit underwhelming actually, face to what amazing photo you thought you had in your hands.

Exactly, what you thought you had. What I often thought I had.

Arashiyama bamboo forest, Kyoto, Japan, 2015.

Arashiyama Bamboo forest. Kyoto, Japan, 2015. The original, processed-on-the-day file was an ugly HDR-ish photo. Redone 15 months later, it’s a classy black and white shot. Get a print.

The emotional link between a photographer and a photo he has just taken is not always right. It is more often linked to how difficult, how long it took, what skills he had to use rather than to the actual content of the photo. Unfortunately, a photo that was hard to take is not necessarily a good one. The effort spent, the complexity of the shooting is not a warranty of success. When judging with your heart rather than your brain you are not critical enough about your work. And trust me, being able to self critic his own work is a fantastic tool for a photographer.

Furthermore, one tends to overprocess the photo they work on just after a shoot, trying to recreate the scene that remains in memory, and maybe make it even better. The result, often, doesn’t meet the expectations. Over saturation, high contrast and excessive clarity are a frequent “rapid edit” mistake.

In the other hand, an easy shot doesn’t mean a bad one. Those are the ones you won’t necessarily remember after a session, you’ll maybe look over and forget because of those few other “awesomely awesome” shots, but…

This is something I figured out with my Long Legs photo from Prague. I totally forgot this photo. It is a “snapshot” I’ve taken while trying to get a totally different scene. I wanted to have the sun right were I wanted, as little crowd as possible… and I took this photo while waiting. Back home I’ve processed the few 10-15 photos I thought were the ones of that day, including a few of this scenery. And guess what? The 3 photos I really do like from this selection are not even from the scenery I waited for a long time to shoot! I was emotionally link to them, but as a result and after a few days, this link has faded, they weren’t such good shots in the end. BTW, I found Long Legs almost a month after I came back from Prague on my hard drive, totally forgotten. I almost broke my head on the wall when I figured out what I missed.

And I can tell you that I missed quite a bunch of good shots, being to emotional, and too fast, after a day shooting. Now, I take my time, there is no rush 🙂

Long legs. Prague, Czech Republic, 2016.

Long legs. Prague, 2016. Almost forgotten in a corner of my hard drive. Get a print.

So, what is the take away of that story? To just take your time 🙂 Of course, it may not apply to everyone, I refer to pros that need to have a very rapid turnover. But, well, they’re pros for some reason, right? Let’s resume it like this:

  1. Let things cool off. I just do after a session a backup of the photos of the day and a basic culling with Photo Mechanic: I want to get rid of the blurred/not in focus/duplicated photos… ASAP. There is no point on keeping them.
  2. Edit when you’re cold. A few days later is another culling session, from an editor(-ish) point of view. This is were the heavy lifting is performed. However, I have broken, or at least reduced, this emotional link. I can be more critique about my work, and I have a much better view on what I have achieved then. I am led by my brain, not by my heart.
  3. Then, the post processing can start. On a much lower number of much better photos.

The beautiful thing with digital photography is the instant feedback, and the instant gratification that goes with. This is an awesome perk, but I’ve also figured out it could be my enemy. This is one of the reasons why I like to shoot digital like I’d shoot film.

About copyright infringement

A lot of people don’t know or understand that a photo found on the internet isn’t free to use or modify as they want, that there is an actual copyright on it. It’s more of a lack of education over the ownership of the photo, rather than being a thief. And some of them just don’t care.

As I get more and more audience on this website and on social network, I face myself more and more subject to copyright infringement. Some services like Pixsy (I use the free version) are really helpful to find “duplicates” of my photos. I then can take the action I feel are necessary. This article has been triggered by a short run on Pixsy 2 days ago to see how do I stand. It’s not that bad, but 1 case is very interesting.

Before I go deeper, just a reminder: every single photo I put on the internet is copyrighted, and also for sale, for editorial or commercial purpose, there.

Case 1: the personal blog

This is the most common case, hopefully. Usually, someone uses one of my photos as an illustration for a personal blog article. In this case this is obviously someone that thinks that internet = free. It’s already easy to get a huge and free movies and music collection with a tiny effort or searching, so when Google images gives you all you want on a silver plate, why bother? In this case, I won’t redirect the author to my licensing page, there is no point. However, I like to shoot him a mail or a comment in the article explaining that my photos are copyrighted, and that the courtesy would be to at least credit me and put a link to my website under the photo. I doesn’t always work, but it often does, and I like to think that I’m helping a bit the other photographers too.


Transfagarasan, Romania. Here, you get it in larger size.

Case 2: the commercial website

This case is for me more of a grey zone regarding copyright infringement. While usually, any commercial activity using my photos should pay for using them, I don’t necessary apply this rule at 100%. I’ll take as an example the small website of a group of amateur authors selling fan fictions of Dracula, that took my Transfagarasan photo for illustration purpose… in a gigantic resolution of 320 x 240 pixels. It’s a very small picture, amongst tens of others, on a marginal commercial site. While I could ask them to pay for it, there is just no point. I prefer to choose my battles and don’t want to spend time on such a small case. I’m just going to ask them to replace the photo with one with an URL to my website watermarked. If it’s such a problem, well, never mind.

There is however the case of a large Turkish blog (making money from advertising) that used the illustrating photo of this article (the one with the several presets on 1 photo) as an illustration for the fact that Nik Collection is now free. They obviously looked in Google Images for a photo of this kind, pasted it there and voilà. But it’s totally dumb as if they would have put a link to the matching page, they would have offered their readers, interested into Nik Collection, some free resources! Seriously, this is great “journalism”, right? I’ve sent them a mail, let’s see what their answer will be. I’ve also put a comment on the article, they dismissed it as spam… But for sure, I won’t let it go so easily!

Cheile Valisoarei, Alba, Romania.

Cheile Valisoarei, Romania. Don’t steal it, license it. Or get a print.

Case 3: the thief

The third case, my favourite. One of the largest regional online magazines from Romania has used one of my photos of Cheile Valisoarei as a headliner for one of their tourism article (click here if you want to see the article, but it’s just one more hit for those thieves…). Of course, without credit or anything. And even less paying the fee for editorial use. Being a high traffic website with so-called “journalists”, that should know what copyright infringement is. Or not, as they fall in the “journalists” category to me. Anyhow, that something that shouldn’t happen and that, by no means, seem to be a news to them. All their article are illustrated with professional grade photos, and I could bet none of them has been paid. I’ve sent them a mail giving them 3 working days to pay me the fee or I’ll contact an attorney. Let’s see what will be their answer. Of course, all the necessary screenshots were done.

So here it is. I’ll keep you guys updated on cases #2 & #3. #2 is not such a big deal, but I think there could be something interesting with #3.

Now, some will say I should watermark my images. I’ve done that already, and it doesn’t stop people to steal your stuff and “creatively crop” your photo. Or use a content aware filling tool, it works very well. Watermarking is more an advertisement than a protection, really. Of course all my photos have my data in its EXIF, but well, it’s so easy to delete (ask Facebook). So there is no real protection against bad usage. The only way is to educate people, and at my little scale, that’s what I’m trying to do. I encourage all the other photographers to do the same when they face copyright infringement.