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dudler’s latest blog : what does the critique team actually do?

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What does the Critique Team actually do?

17 Aug 2020 9:02AM  
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The simple answer is to ensure that there’s some thoughtful and positive feedback on images in the Critique Gallery. The nuts and bolts vary from one member to the next, and what follows is a (fairly) methodical record of what I do. Other members of the Team may well do something slightly different.

First, a couple of times a day, I check the Critique Gallery (hereafter CG) for new images. If there are any, I look at them, and at the narratives that the photographers have put with them. (When you upload, the site asks you, very specifically, to say what you want comments on, and why you think the image has worked – or not. We encourage introspection as a first step to improvement.)

I check the EXIF to see if there are any actual or potential technical issues in there (for instance, if you shoot in Program mode, you can’t exercise creative control of depth of field or movement blur).

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And, of course, I check the image itself. As a rule (but remember rules were made to be broken) the first things are that the image should be well-exposed and sharp. These are basic, like driving with your eyes open, and on the correct side of the road, unless there’s a particular creative reason for something else.

I check composition, to see if it makes sense – it doesn’t have to be conventional, but it does need to have a point. I’m entirely happy with a portrait with the subject at the edge and looking out of frame if that adds to the narrative. Otherwise, thirds, S-curves, leading lines and so on provide a basic structure for something that is reasonably pleasing.

And I look at any special processing techniques. Now, this is a bit of a Marmite area: some people don’t believe that they have ‘made’ a photograph unless they’ve processed for hours. My touchstone – articulated by Moira (mrswoollybill) some years ago – is that the effect should not overpower the image. Someone described Sean Connery as wearing a Clan McNoticeme kilt at a Scottish event. McNoticeme processing is a turnoff.

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I also have a few personal ‘hot buttons’ – these include (but are not limited to) faux HDR effects, plastic skin processing, oversharpening to the point of creating wiry edges, and unfeasible softness added in processing. (That’s where area the same distance from the camera are not equally sharp, or where sharpness is selective through the frame in a way that no real lens could achieve, with or without the Scheimpflug Principle.) In fact, these all tend to fall under the heading of McNoticeme…

A final thing for me is processing that comes out looking like the sort of the print I hide in the bin if I produce it in the darkroom. Grey and lacking contrast, soot and whitewash without justification, or with light leaks and dust marks all over the place. Others will tolerate these more! But years of working to minimise them in my darkroom printing have left their mark…

After analysing, I’ll comment appropriately, and sometimes, if I can see a way to improve things, I’ll do a mod. I try to be kind – if there’s a hard lesson to learn, I aim to say it, but gently. People respond to encouragement, so a ‘this is good, that could be better, and this is lovely’ format works well. Those versed in interpreting managementspeak will recognise that there’s a common name for this, but it’s not as polite.

One final step: I set the notification marker before posting my comment, and I check my notifications at least twice a day. It’s really important that when the poster responds to comments, the people who offered critique reply reasonably fast. If we can get a conversation going, that’s all to the good.

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And linked to that: if you’ve posted an image in the CG, please go back and see what people say, and respond to the comments. A terse ‘thanks guys’ doesn’t really cut it for me – it makes me think that the twenty minutes I spent on a detailed analysis may not have been optimally employed, shall we say. I really appreciate proper engagement, even if you don’t agree with me. Did I say something negative about something that you had no control over, but didn’t include in your description? That’s fine: say it, and explain. We may be able to move things on at a deeper level.

For all the ‘civilians’ out there – the CG is for you, too – both to post images and ask for help if you want it, and to offer your views. It doesn’t matter if you’re not technically advanced: sometimes, the important thing about a picture is the emotional impact. And you can feel that, whether or not you know how to increase depth of field or get water droplets pin sharp!

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