Even after I began taking photography seriously, I still had no idea if my images were good enough for publication. Like many photographers starting out, I read articles about composition, worked hard at understanding the technical aspects of the craft (f-stops, shutter speeds, and the rest), and visited libraries to look at images of magazines I enjoyed (this was well before Google) and compare them to mine. Then, whenever I could, I went out to take pictures.
Later I attended a couple of photography field workshops and was introduced to the concept of the photo review. The feedback I received during these reviews was invaluable to progressing as a photographer.
Following are some things I learned over the years about photo reviews, both as a reviewer and by being reviewed:
1. The reviewer is not your mom
We all know about this but it bears repeating. Family and friends are not the best reviewers, since (a) they are biased in your favor, and (b) they probably do not know much about photography.
An independent reviewer, on the other hand, will have lots of experience in what kinds of images are “good” (more on this below) and likely to be published.
2. Most images are “good”
One of the biggest challenges in reviewing images is trying to give constructive criticism out of context. While an image might not be appropriate for a travel magazine because it is overly saturated, the same image might sell as a fine art print.
When I perform reviews, therefore, I try to go over various possibilities of how a particular picture might be used. Some images, of course, will not be appropriate for most media, which brings me to the next point.
3. “If the image sucks, just say it sucks!”
This quote is not from me. Let me explain. The first time I conducted a photo review was in a workshop in Morocco many years ago. My co-instructor was a very experienced photographer called Mitch (not his real name).
I was struggling to find something positive to say about a particular image when Mitch blurted this gem of blunt brevity from the back of the room. I informed Mitch and the rest of the attendees that I was not comfortable using such language, and that I preferred something like “this is not your best work.” So if you hear me say an image is not your best work, well…
4. It’s best to share the good and the bad
I like my reviews to be positive experiences, and I break them down into two sections. First, I point out the qualities of an image I like, then I go over the areas where the image can be improved. In my experience the vast majority of images—including mine—have both good and bad aspects.
5. The more the better
The more reviews you get from different instructors, the better. We all have different styles, experiences, and views, and your photography will benefit from these different points of view.
6. Group reviews are even better
I love group reviews because they give attendees tons of feedback. Not only will you get your images reviewed, but you’ll also benefit from seeing the work of others—how they might have interpreted a scene differently than you, how they composed the image, and so on.
Also, during group reviews you will learn from repetition, as you will see patterns emerge as beginners make the same common mistakes (such as branches coming out of people’s heads or cluttered backgrounds).
7. You’ll learn to self-review from reviews
Once you’ve been through a few reviews you’ll be in a great position to review your own work. It can be scary to have 100 good images of a particular subject and an editor says, “Send me a dozen images.” Being able to determine which of your images are the best of the best will be crucial to maximizing your chances of being published.