Critique the Community Episode 10a - Natural Light Portraits with Dani Diamond

A couple weeks ago, we asked the community to submit their natural light portraits to be critiqued. We had an overwhelming number of over 300 images submitted for feedback and thus will be breaking up this critique into two episodes of 20 images each. For the first episode, we had the honor of having Dani Diamond, a fantastic natural light photographer in New York, help us critique a range of 20 images. Check out the selection of pictures below and add your thoughts to the comments!


If you missed your chance to submit your images for critique, keep an eye out for future submission opportunities for "Critique the 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 snapshots only. Snapshots 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 smartphones. 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 postproduction but for some reason has missed the mark. A 2 star image 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 postproduction. 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 postproduction. 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. A 4 star image usually requires 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 postproduction. 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 postproduction 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, we 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, we would 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?

David Strauss's picture

David Strauss is a wedding photographer based in Charleston, SC.

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Hey, thanks for the notes on my photo of the girl doing yoga!

Dani mentioned in the video he was curious about seeing the un-retouched version, and a number of people have asked about it as well, and I don't mind sharing. Cheers.

It's a superb image, Caleb! 5 star in my book :)

Thank you sir!

Thanks for featuring my photo. Your advice will be put to good use.

Hey thanks for the critique. Mine is the boxer portrait that was too tight of a crop. That is natural light from a window with black screens (negative fill) on both sides and the bottom to make it more direct. Also it is a self portrait so it was a bit tough to pull off. Thanks so much for the advice!

Thank you for the input on the photo guys! I appreciate it! Definitely great to hear from such awesome photographers

I totally agree that 9th image is a four. Can't believe Patrick gave it two stars.

Thank you so much for choosing my photo. It was a pretty good feeling being critiqued by two well known photographers.
It was also very nice to see two very different views of the photo. The photo was a street style fashion photography as per the models request. She wanted a mix of candid shots with posing and headshot. I work a lot with fashion bloggers and thats the style they usually go for including some other set poses. The idea for this shot is more about the mood and idea of a relaxing walk in nyc.. We were also showcasing the sunglasses and her clothes(which this shot is part of a sequence of half body and full body shots posing and casual).
Again, really appreciate the feedback. Thanks guys!

Cool show

Thanks for critique and feature my photo! Feels great to be appreciated by you guys.

Thank you guys for choosing my photo (Jack the street Portrait).
I shot that one on an old analog medium format camera with manual focus (Can be tough on 2.8 medium format). So there was no retouching ;)
Thanks to Patrick for mentioning how I took care about the reflection in the glasses - I mostly shoot only one or two images, that means I take a lot of time composing the image and even taking care about reflections :)
And another yes, there is mostly a story and sometimes a full body shot.

Thanks again guys and I'm looking forward to all upcoming episodes.
I really like how you do your critiques, even my opinion is sometimes a totally different one :)



I am really happy to see my photo within this episode. Hearing your opinions means a lot!

Basically, the photo is about capturing an old Emirati woman working with the palm leaves, as they were used in weaving everything from furniture, to decorations and place-mats.

This craft is ending now in the UAE (Dubai). So it's too hard to photograph an original old citizen doing it, and impossible to do so in studio too.

This photo was taken outside in a natural sun-light, during one of the heritage festivals that UAE organizes every now & then.

I would like to share with you the (Before & After) of the photo so you could have more idea about the lighting and the dodge & burning!

Thanks so much again. We are learning a lot from this community!


Nasser Ali

Very cool work, very artistic!

Thanks so much David, glad you like it :)

Thank you guys for the critique and compliments!

Here is the before/after:

Thanks for your critique of my award winning image, “Reflect”. Your feedback is very much appreciated. “Critique the Community” is a great idea and learning opportunity. Keep up the good work.

Thank you guys so much for your critic. I did all the styling, makeup, and created that headpiece by hand, so it's really great to hear that's what you loved. I've taken into account what you've said about maybe bringing in the frame tighter and showing more of the skin texture. You guys are awesome! Peace