Once, the future writer Darya Dontsova was asked at school to write an essay “What was Valentin Petrovich Kataev thinking about when he wrote the book “The Lonely Sail Turns White”?”.
Little Dasha came to Kataev’s dacha and asked:
- Uncle Valya, what did you think? .. I really need a five …
Valentin Petrovich, the kindest soul, sat down and wrote 3–4 pages. Dasha copied and received two — at the bottom of the teacher’s hand was attributed to “V. P. Kataev thought quite differently.”
One can rightly ask the question: if I am not a critic, a professional in the field of art, including photography, what is the use of my review?
First, let’s not use the word “criticism” — it really sounds pathetic and arrogant: it immediately seems that Antoine Ego from the cartoon “Ratatouille” will now enter the room, a tall, thin and contemptuous critic, arrogantly adjust his glasses and equalize your life with earth.
But to say that we analyze photos, share our impressions and thoughts — there is a difference.
It’s one thing not to understand and say that the work is worthless, it’s another thing to look at the photo under your own point of view and even if this does not coincide with the opinion of professional critics.
Secondly, it seems to me that a work of art is most often a cry, a desire to express what lies on the soul. And it is unlikely that this cry is intended only for a qualified jury — the author probably wants to be heard by as many people as possible.
Well, since we assume that this cry is also intended for us, we begin to consider the work and try to understand what the author wanted to say. And this is where analysis is indispensable.
In my opinion, almost any work can be improved. If the author wants to be understood, but at the same time original and not beaten, it is in his competence to “twist” the detail so that it is creative, but at the same time resonates in the hearts of more people. So why can’t we tell the author how to tweak this detail?
In addition, by evaluating the images, we learn ourselves: not only our observation develops, but also the skill of writing, the ability to formulate a thought and, with the help of words, convey what is only at the level of our perception. It’s bright here — why is it so catchy? And here it is also bright, but why does it seem out of place?
And for a photographer, this is, of course, an invaluable contribution to the development of their photography skills. Looking at images from other photographers will help you get a feel for the details that you yourself would like to use in your work.
Writing about the exhibition
Before visiting the exhibition
Study information about her, the photographer and the works that will be presented. Find out what inspired the author to work.
Walk through the entire exhibition before writing anything
Take a moment to walk through the gallery, immerse yourself in the atmosphere. What feelings does the exhibition evoke in you? Do you feel the general mood, do any specific works catch your eye?
Write a description of the exhibition as a whole
Each individual work can evoke certain feelings, and the entire exhibition as a whole can evoke a completely different reaction. What did you feel when you first entered the hall? Write down your thoughts and feelings. Later, it may help to compare your reaction to being in the exhibition hall with the general impression of the exhibition.
Interviews with other visitors of the exhibition
If you want to look at an exhibition from different perspectives, talk to a few people around you about specific pieces or the exhibition as a whole to compare thoughts and observations.
Conversation with curator, gallery owner and author
It will be great if you have the opportunity to chat with one of the organizers. Ask about inspiration, the theme of the entire event, if they have a favorite piece in their collection, etc.
Looking at photos
1. Replace “I like it because” with “It works because”
When you look at an image and say what works and, conversely, what doesn’t work in the picture, your brain starts working from a different angle and you yourself see in a different way.
When an outsider looks at a photo, he has an emotional reaction — positive or negative, which is expressed in “Oh, that’s cool” or “What’s the point?”.
Think about it for a moment — what if an image can be compositionally strong, have amazing lighting and sharp outline, but the story it tells is never told? Is this picture good? Can it be improved?
Likes and dislikes, that is, whether a picture is liked or not, have nothing to do with whether the photograph works, whether it successfully captures the attention of the viewer. So start using these phrases right now:
— This image works / does not work because …
— This image catches or does not catch, because …
As for your own images. Of course, you like your photos — you took them yourself and put so much effort into the result. But if you look at them more objectively and use this life hack — think about what works and what doesn’t — you can better see the strengths and weaknesses of the images. This will help you figure out how to do better next time.
Now that you’re looking at images objectively, let’s see how exactly it can work or not.
2. Is the theme of the photo clear to the viewer?
Without a well-defined theme, the image will not be as strong, the message will be fuzzy, and the viewer may be confused or completely disinterested.
First, notice if there is a clear object in the frame. When you first see an image, do you immediately understand what the photographer is focusing on?
The topic in the picture above is not clear. A lot of things, the viewer does not understand where to look.
There are many ways to make an image sharp, including:
— Using a shallow depth of field so that only the object is in focus, possibly with a blurred background;
- Using lighting to highlight an object;
- The object is the largest and most visible thing in the image;
- There is a compositional element leading your eye to the object — perhaps leading lines or the use of framing;
— Simplicity. If there is only one thing in the photo, if the subject stands out against the background.
In the boat image above, simplicity works. Try not to complicate or clutter your images and they will be more powerful. Less — more!
3. Does this photo tell a story?
There is one very important word that we should use more often when writing a review — WHY.
Why did the photographer take this photo?
What does this say to the viewer?
Is there a message or story here that we can read?
Think about the concepts — it could be a story about love, sadness, or peace.
Try not to take the object too literally all the time — the object can be an idea or a feeling, not a thing or a person.
Of course, you need to capture something physical in the picture, but, for example, an empty bench can mean not just an empty bench, but convey a message of loneliness, calmness or peace.
What is the story in the image below?
There is a bench in the frame, but is it the target? Many assumptions can be made, the viewer can add their own interpretation. Such images are good because everyone reads the message in their own way, and therefore the picture resonates in the souls of more people.
What story does the image below tell? Do I need to explain what happened, or do you understand it yourself?
I love the phrase “When you need to explain, it’s too late to explain.”
4. Does the lighting match the mood of the image?
Soft light has lower contrast, helps retain more detail, has less pronounced shadows, and creates less dramatic images.
Hard light has more contrast, can cause loss of detail in shadows, has well-defined hard shadows, enhances textures, and creates images that are more dramatic and impactful.
Light is not right or wrong. But there is an appropriate type of light for a particular subject and the story the image tells.
As you look at the images, keep the following in mind:
— Does lighting increase the success of the image or reduce it?
Can light be better used to highlight the subject in the frame?
Is there a light in the background that distracts the viewer’s eye from the subject?
5. TOO MUCH MEANING
One of the mistakes newbies often make is trying to fit too much into one image. As a result, the object is lost, the viewer does not understand anything.
Ask yourself if there is something in the picture that shouldn’t be there, something that weighs down the composition or the subject. Maybe something that distracts the viewer’s attention from the main object or even cuts the eye.
Is there extra detail in the photo below?
And in this photo, does the car interfere with observing the landscape, or vice versa, does it attract attention to it?
Get into the habit of checking the image. If there is something extra, take another shot, eliminating unnecessary details. Getting closer, zooming in, or changing the angle of the shot is all it takes to simplify the shot.
6. Look at the image upside down
What, what? Yes, you read that right — look at the image upside down.
There is a reason for this — it distracts the brain from the subject and you see only light and tones. When viewing an upside-down image, your eye will immediately move to the area that most attracts the viewer’s attention.
There are four things that naturally attract attention:
- The brightest area of the image (if it is not obvious, squint your eyes and all you will see is bright areas in the form of drops);
— The area with the greatest contrast;
- Sharpest focus (so if you’re shooting at f/16 and the whole image is sharp, you’ll need to make sure the subject is sharp and highlighted in some other way; shoot wide open at f/2.8 or wider to keep the subject sharp, and the rest of the image is blurry);
- Bright colors, especially warm ones: red, orange and yellow.
Therefore, if any of these four elements appear in the background, they will draw the viewer’s eye away from the subject.
When I look at the inverted image of flowers, I notice a lot of light near the vase.
While shooting, if you are not sure that the subject is the focus, turn the camera around and see what catches your eye. It takes seconds. If the focus is not on the main subject, think about what you can do to solve the problem and take another shot.
Sometimes you just need to move around a bit, because you can’t do that in computer post-processing.
When you later view images on a computer, use the same inverted image method. See if there are too bright areas or anything that can be cut off to improve the image and bring more focus to the subject.