It's hard to look at our photography with objective eyes. We know how much planning went into the shoot. We know how complicated the shoot was. We know how many hours in Photoshop we spent. The sad truth is, none of that matters. Your image should speak for itself. Let me help you rate your photography fairly.
We've come up with a simple rating system that we have built into the new Fstoppers Community. An image can be rated 1-5 stars and each star rating has a very specific meaning.
1 Star: "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 it is common to "instagram style" filters 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 photographs 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 images 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 with 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.
Now that you know the rating system I want to show you a few examples of images that we believe are rated 1-5. Obviously everyone has their own opinion but your ratings of these pictures should be within about 1 star of ours.
1 Star Image Examples
2 Star Image Examples
3 Star Image Examples
4 Star Image Examples
5 Star Image Examples
In many cases what takes a 4 star image to a 5 star image is a matter of opinion but in this case I'm not sure there is much debate. Julia Kuzmenko created this image and I instantly rated it 5 stars. I'm happy to say that it is also currently the highest rated image in our community site right now. Everything about this picture is flawless.
Here's another flawless fashion shot that I couldn't resist giving 5 stars. Georgi Andinov took this and I think it's incredible. Flawless model, perfect styling, killer post production. I love it and I think it's a world class image.
Here's a shot that Mike Kelley took during the filming of his Art and Architecture tutorial. There is no doubt that what Mike does is world class and he shot this image on the original Canon Rebel and 18-55mm kit lens just to prove a point. Gear doesn't matter, but in this case, lighting and post production does.
It's been argued that it is impossible to take a 5 star image during an event like a wedding. Even though I have shot literally hundreds of weddings over the last 10 years, I don't believe I have ever taken a level 5 image at a wedding but I do believe it can be done. Here is one of my favorite wedding pictures by Cliff Mautner. I personally give this 5 stars and if you want to see more 5 star wedding images, head over to his website.
Here's an interesting artistic shot by Dennis Ramos I gave it 5 stars because I would love to hang this in my home. It's an unforgettable shot to me and Dennis has a very distinct style which is unmistakable. The most interesting thing about this image is that it started off as a level 2 shot. He brought it up to a level 5 in Photoshop.
If there is one thing I hope you take away from this it's that we all started by taking 1 star images. The question now is, what level are you currently shooting at? Even if you are consistently shooting 2 star pictures, how long do you plan to stay at that level? If you shoot often and are honest with yourself, you could move from a snapshot shooter to a level 4 shooter within 6 months. If however you lie to yourself and keep telling yourself how great your work is, you'll never improve.
If you want an unbiased rating of your images join the new Fstoppers Community and upload your pictures today. Once you login, you will also be able to anonymously rate other images in the community as well. I can't guarantee you'll receive the ratings you want for each of your pictures, but you will receive the ratings that you need to see your images with fresh eyes and to improve your work.