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.

Antoine Ego from the car­toon “Rata­touille”

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?


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.