Critique the Community Episode 20: Editorial and Fashion Photography with Clay Cook

For the past month, the Fstoppers team has been working with Clay Cook filming a new original tutorial on Editorial Photography. While we were filming, we used some of our time with Clay to offer feedback to a variety of images submitted by the Fstoppers community. We chose 20 images to critique. Check out our selections below and add your thoughts and ratings to the comments below. If you want to learn more about the new tutorial with Clay Cook, be sure to signup below to receive more information and an early bird discount. 

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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 postproduction 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?

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M L's picture

Total BS, these two yoyo's should be the last people commenting on fashion. On the octopus photo Clay is referencing Albert Watson when this is a total Herb Ritts rip off. Photography educators are the last people you want critiquing fashion...

Patrick Hall's picture

I actually looked up Albert Watson while filming this and totally could see him shooting that image because the style does look very similar. But just now I looked up Herb Ritts and goodness, he shot this EXACT image. IMO Drake actually did a better job than Herb but maybe that's because Herb was shooting on film and the photo looks bad? Here's the image for reference:

Fetching image ...
M L's picture

Herbs photo of Djimon is pretty iconic and Drake wouldn't even have a photo without the reference. Herbs was shot on a RZ 67 and the print looks beautiful in person. Drakes is a more stylized version.

Patrick Hall's picture

I found another version of Herb's photo and I do admit it looks way better than the version I found earlier.

Blake Bonillas's picture

thanks for the input guys!

Patrick Hall's picture

I love these!

Geoffrey Badner's picture

Glad to be chosen for the critique. Thanks for the input! Your comments were interesting to hear/watch. Some of your dislikes would have been better understood if you had seen the whole six shot editorial. Would have also helped to see the tear sheet with the typography to understand why I blew out the background. Regardless... thanks again :)

Patrick Hall's picture

Geoffrey, your work is outstanding! It's always interesting to see people's full portfolio after doing the critique because yours is one of the strongest on Fstoppers. It's funny, I think I was leaning more towards the 4 stars myself and I actually loved most of the things happening in this image.

Geoffrey Badner's picture

Thanks Patrick, that means a lot. I agree with them that, as a stand alone image, it's in that 3-4 zone. The rest of the editorial is here

Eric Snyder's picture

Honored to be chosen as well! Thank you!

michael schmidt's picture

How do you submit a picture for this so I know for the next time.

Patrick Hall's picture

Critique the community isn't planned in advance so you just have to catch the article on the front of when we announce the next one. We usually give everyone 1-2 weeks before we film it.

Eddie Merino's picture

Hey Patrick, How could I find out about the next episode and submit my images to Ep. 21?

Anjanette Arnold's picture

Thank you for choosing my image as part of your critique. Considering I was using 3 speedlights and that studio photography is not my strong suit, I was pleased with critique. My goal was to simply post an image that would catch your eye, and I think I met that goal! Thank you. Here are the rest of the images as part of that editorial. It's a screen shot taken from an e-Magazine of a new local Vegas fashion magazine.