Feature Video:​ Learn the Language of Photography Through Critique

Updated: Oct 30, 2018

by Eileen Rafferty

In this talk given by photo educator Eileen Rafferty for B&H Photo in New York, Eileen teaches us how to talk about our images in a deeper way through critique. This video was made to help judges critique images, but learning to talk about and describe photos brings us all a deeper understanding our own images.

Eileen talks about how to talk about photographs - the words we use to describe the photographs and, as teachers and judges, how to provide constructive feedback. She acknowledges that photo critiques can be very subjective, but should go beyond what the person critiquing the image simply likes or dislikes. She walks us through the various ways we can talk about the images to provide the most constructive feedback possible.

An important point is to critique the image in front of us not the image we wish was in front of us. Her talk is structured around talking about the Subject (what), the Form (anything visual), and the Content (story, context) of the photograph.

She uses her own images to help us practice talking about the photographs - both what is going well and what might be confusing. She gives tips when talking about images that may be difficult to talk about - for instance when the photo isn’t very successful. There is a lot of audience participation in this video so we can play along, describing images before she unpacks what she sees in the image.

Critiques don’t always need to be in the context of a judging competition. Eileen's talk is geared towards photography judges and teachers, but her points also apply when we are talking about own photographs or if we are providing a more informal type of critique to fellow photographers. We can arrange much more informal discussions amongst our fellow photographers - a round table idea. The camera club I belong to supplements weekly competitions with a monthly "salon". This is a much more supportive environment where we talk about what went well in the photos and what might help the photographer -- all while we're drinking wine! 

Whether you are in a position to critique photos of others, even in an informal situation, or are having images of your own critiqued, Eileen's practical advise will help us become better photographers.

Published Description

As photographers we love looking at photographs. Quite often we instinctively know what we like and don’t like about an image. But can we articulate this in words? Why is this important? Understanding and speaking the language of the photograph is an essential skill as a photographer. It is important to effectively talk about our own images as well as give feedback to our peers. In this video Eileen Rafferty introduces the language of the photograph and discuss the important elements to address in a constructive photographic critique. We will practice talking about photographs and come away with skills to appreciate images through words.

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Article Written by Jennifer Mishra

Jennifer Mishra is an American travel photographer born in Colorado and based in the St. Louis metro area. She has a background in classical music and academia. She is the founder of PhotoYoga. Her photos are published at Wits End Photography or follow her on Facebook or Instagram.

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