How to Critique Images (And Get Great Feedback on Your Own Images, Too!)

How to Critique Images (And Get Great Feedback on Your Own Images, Too!)

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As architectural photography becomes a more popular genre both on and off the internet, the number of people taking part in critiques (whether warranted or not) has exploded. As a member of a number of groups and fora frequented by thousands of architectural photographers from all around the world, I’ve noticed an alarming trend over the past few years.

People who have no business giving critique love to give critique. This isn’t to say that you must be a decorated veteran photographer to be able to give input on photographs posted online, only that you must know how to actually give critique before opening your mouth (or running your fingers).

So when I came across this video produced by one of my favorite Youtube channels in history, I had to share it. The Art Assignment is a channel that is a product of PBS Digital Studios and features the insight of Sarah Urist Green, a former curator at the Indianapolis Museum of Art. Urist Green covers a wide variety of art-related topics, everything from art theory to valuation, museum curation to commentary on $150,000 bananas, and how all art is pretentious with total mastery, broken down into perfectly understandable five-to-ten minute videos.

I remember when I first started taking photographs of architecture and posting my work online. I’m convinced that I’m here today because someone actually took a minute to look at what I was doing and try to apply relevant, helpful critique instead of “lol u fkn noob, what is this hdr clown vomit? sell ur camera”.
Everyone knows about the faceless, profile-less commenters who love to confuse knowledge with derision, and it’s admittedly an easy trap to fall into if you don’t know how or want to learn how to effectively critique.

On the other side of the coin, the person offering their critique must put a little bit of effort into asking for it in a way that stimulates discussion and feedback. I won’t even bother offering critique if someone shares an image and just writes “cc please”.

Ok. What?

CC on what? Yes, it’s a picture of a house. Job done. Who was it for? An interior designer? A hotel? We have lots of different clients with lots of different needs. What were the conditions on the shoot? Were you under a time constraint, did you have an assistant, was the homeowner being a complete prick? What was your intention? To rattle off something quick because you were running from security guards, or to create a gorgeous image with $15,000 worth of production budget and 24 hours of time to do it in?

Was this your first attempt, or have you been doing this for decades? Is there any deeper meaning or story behind the image that you are trying to convey? And on and on and on.

You’ll get much, much better feedback by taking this into account rather than just burping another image onto the internet. When it comes to giving good critique, Urist Green offers six easy to understand guidelines which she fleshes out in the video above.

  1. Be attentive
  2. Don’t be lazy
  3. Be generous
  4. Find your point of entry
  5. Don’t be a jerk
  6. Put yourself out there

Yet the most profound takeaway for me came in the form of one sentence offered up midway through the video. Not only can putting yourself out there for critique improve your work, but commenting on and trying to understand why someone did something a certain way can inform your own work on much more than just a surface level.

Critique is often most instructive for the person offering it. In looking at other people’s work and forming an opinion of it, you’re learning a great deal.

Sarah Urist Green

I hope this video opens your eyes to the power of good critique! I know it has helped my career in so many ways that I can’t even possibly begin to understand. A thousand thanks to all of the people who offered their feedback to me over the years, as it shaped my portfolio and approach in uncountable ways into what it is today.

About Mike Kelley
Mike Kelley is an architecture and interiors photographer who has photographed projects all over the world. He is a self proclaimed airplane food enthusiast and the founder of the Architectural Photography Almanac.