Critique The Community: Architecture Edition with Mike Kelley

In this episode of Critique the Community, we are joined by architectural photographer Mike Kelley.  Mike has been a long time writer for Fstoppers and last year Fstoppers produced the highly proclaimed photography and Photoshop tutorial Where Art Meets Architecture.  Today Mike and I give an extended critique of 20 architectural images submitted through the Fstoppers Community.  If you enjoy this critique and want to learn even more about photographing this genre of photography, Mike Kelley is going to be teaching at the 2015 Fstoppers Workshops down in the Bahamas.  You can learn about Mike's two 2-day workshop classes on Mike's course page as well as watch a video on what exactly will be taught during his classes.

The internet can be a cruel and cut throat place for photographers. For some reason photographers are often extremely negative and cynical when looking at the work of their peers.  Most photographers overwhelmingly say that they would like others to "C&C" their work, yet the conversation can often times become less than inspiring and often down right depressing.  Our hope with this new segment called Critique the Community is that Lee and I can offer a fair yet encouraging commentary on some of the images found in the Fstoppers Community.


The Fstoppers Community Rating System

If you have an Fstoppers account, you are able to create your own profile and portfolio directly within the Fstoppers Community.  Once you have a portfolio uploaded, you can browse images in the community and rate the photos of your peers.  Even though art is usually a fairly subjective matter, we wanted to create a rating system that was as objective and unbiased as possible.  This way if one of your images has been rated 50 times and has received an average rating of 2 stars, you could feel confident that maybe that particular image is not up to par.  Below is a simple chart explaining the Fstoppers Community Rating System. 

1 Star - The Snapshot

1 Star ratings are limited to snap shots only. Snap shots are usually taken to document a time or location but little to no thought has gone into the creation of the image. If an image has been "lit" with external light (besides a direct on camera flash) it is at least a 2 star picture. The majority of 1 star images have had no post production work done to them but do often have an "instagram style" filter added to them. The average person these days snaps 1 star images every single day with their smart phones. Most 1 star images that pop up on sites like ours are images of flowers, pets, landscapes, sunsets, objects around a house, etc. If you read Fstoppers, you should not be sharing 1 star images for any reason. 

2 Stars - Needs Work:

All images, besides maybe 5 star images, always have room for improvement but 2 star images "need work" before they should be included in your portfolio. As photographers we are snapping thousands of images per year but only a few of those images should ever be shared or put into our portfolio. A photographer who has taken a 2 star image has put some thought into the composition, exposure, and post production but for some reason has missed the mark. 2 star images should not be in the portfolio of a full time professional photographer, and amateur photographers should strive for something better. Even complete amateurs who don't understand photography at all are capable of taking 2 star images from time to time. 

3 Stars - Solid:

A 3 star image is an all around good image. The photographer has a solid understanding of the basics; composition, color, focus, subject matter, and post production. A 3 star image is "good" but it's not great. Most part-time professional photographers have mostly 3 star images in their portfolios. Usually a level 3 image would have been rated 4 stars if it had been shot in a better location, or with a better model showing a better expressions, or there was better post production. A photographer capable of taking a 3 star image is capable of taking 4 and 5 star images if they would simply pay more attention to the details. 

4 Stars - Excellent:

4 star images are fantastic. In most cases, 4 star images have a certain style to them that links them directly to their creator. 4 star images usually require planning and attention to extreme detail. It's almost impossible to shoot a 4 star image by getting lucky. 4 star images have almost flawless conception, composition, lighting, subject matter, and post production. If you have any 4 star images in your portfolio you should be very proud of yourself.

5 Stars - World Class:

5 star images are flawless and unforgettable. The amount of time, energy, and talent that goes into the average 5 star image is staggering. In many cases these pictures require a team to produce including a professional retoucher. The concept, lighting, subject, location, and post production on these images has to be perfect. In some cases the jump from 4 to 5 stars may be as simple as changing the unknown model in the picture with a celebrity or bringing in a set designer or stylist to make the image slightly better. Although there are always exceptions, most 5 star images take days, if not weeks or months to produce.


Strengthening Your Own Portfolio

Even with our objective rating system, people are going to disagree with what they like because ultimately art is still a matter of opinion.  However, I believe once an image has been rated over 25 times it will have a rating that is pretty fair and honest (We hope to deter trolls by giving negative Karma points when a vote is more than 1 star away from the community average).  If one of your images in your own portfolio is rated lower than what you personally feel it should be rated, I'd urge you to try to look at the image from an unbiased angle.  Step back, erase your memory of the photoshoot itself, and try to imagine an art buyer, stock agency, potential client or local gallery as they decided if they wanted to invest in your services.  Would your image make the cut?

Lee and I are not the greatest photographers in the world.  There are many many genres of photography that we have not been successful in or in many cases have not even attempted in our careers.  However I believe we have a pretty good idea of what works and what doesn't in terms of commercial viability.  Not every image is meant to sell or book you work, and that is okay!  Snapshots and sentimental images are great and most definitely have a purpose.  Hopefully our insight and critiques can help you decide what is and isn't worth putting in your own public portfolio.  I hope these video critiques can help you see beyond the technical and personal elements that make up an image and begin looking at your own work in a new light.    


Patrick Hall's picture

Patrick Hall is a founder of and a photographer based out of Charleston, South Carolina.

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Patrick, I am a fan of this "Critique the Community."

While I think it's awesome to have a photography community that allow others to rate your photos and critique. But it's even better when you have someone who is well experienced and doing successful (or doing really well in their field of expertise) critique people's work.

Thank you! Would love to see more of this!

Hipster Lee Morris would be an awesome next judge. He could select the highest rated photos of the community and tell us why we're wrong. Between Two PBRs?

I would love to see Hipster Lee Morris go through some Instagram photos and judge them.

Ha, I don't think we can ever persuade him to cut his hair like that again!

Yes! Hipster Lee needs a comeback! Or maybe 'wedding guest that knows everything about photography' Lee Morris could be his next role. I had two of those last weekend: "hey take a picture of this", or "they would probably turn out better if you used a flash in here" while using pocket wizards.

I like the peer rating system of the fstoppers site too, but also feel that if it's possible to script into the site, voters should be required to leave a critique if they leave a 1 or 2 star vote on an image. This would deter troll voting by requiring an explanation for the vote.

I don't think people will really troll because of the anonymity; in fact, I think people are less likely to troll because they cannot receive the satisfaction of showing their public rating. In the end the extreme low and high ratings should average out over time. If we required people to justify their 1 or 2 star ratings I think people would just rate more images a 3 so they could move on to the next image to rate. I don't have time to explain every image I rate so to require that would make the whole process less accessible.

Hey guys, thanks for the videos - I found it really interesting because I'm an amateur architectural shooter.

What would make the vide better is if you used a mouse or other means to indicate on the screen you are talking about.
Some times it's really easy to know what you're talking about, but sometimes... not so much.
I'm a native enlish speaker, but I imagine if you weren't it would be much harder, and even the difference between real (British/Australian) english and your crazy US english might be trying at times (day bed?)

Again I did enjoy the video and hope to see lots more.

Thanks guys, I think your critique of my photo was spot on.

Thank you for the input on my image and I will be going back to make a few changes to it soon. I really enjoy the Critique the community videos and keep it up.

Also a Question for Mike, When shooting building exteriors I see a lot of buildings have trees that are often in places that ruin the composition, which leads to finding another angle to shoot from or shooting with the trees in the way. Any tips for this?

Thanks for the critique (kitchen shot 43:00) ! It was great getting some constructive criticism. This was my first real estate opurtunity I had. Its great to get some feed back this early on. Thanks again guys!

Thanks for the critique of my image! Modern bath at 55:00. Appreciate your insight and I learned where to improve.

I love this video series.. I went straight to rating others photos on the site after catching some earlier videos last week and uploaded photos of my own.. I am a bit disappointed with how inactive the ratings are.. my photos have gotten a decent amount of views, but I really want the ratings and comments.

Oh and please include one of my photos in your next video.. that'd be so cool!

I really enjoyed this critique session. Very helpful information and tips! Thank you.