Critique the Community Episode 25: Environmental Portraits

A week and a half ago we asked the community to submit their best environmental portraits to be critiqued by Lee and Patrick. We got some awesome submissions and one lucky entrant won a free Fstoppers tutorial.

Many of the submissions that we're sent to us fit the description of a portrait rather than environmental portrait, which should depict a person in an environment that helps identify a characteristic of their life. In many of the images that were chosen, Lee and Patrick narrowed down the qualifications even further to images that felt a little more editorial rather than just featuring an environment. Check out their thoughts below and let us know in the comments below if you agree with their ratings. 

In every episode of Critique the Community, we are giving away one free Fstoppers tutorial to a randomly chosen submission. This weeks prize goes to Patrick Cavan Brown. Congratulations, we will be in touch with a message to your Fstoppers profile. 

  2. Patrick Hall

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 explanation of the Fstoppers Community Rating System.

One Star: The Snapshot

One 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 two star picture. The majority of one 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 one star images every single day with their smartphones. Most one 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 one star images for any reason.

Two Stars: Needs Work

All images, besides maybe five star images, always have room for improvement, but two 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 two star image has put some thought into the composition, exposure, and post-production, but for some reason has missed the mark. A two 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 two star images from time to time.

Three Stars: Solid

A three 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 three star image is "good," but it's not great. Most part-time professional photographers have mostly three star images in their portfolios. Usually, a level three image would have been rated four stars if it had been shot in a better location, or with a better model showing a better expression, or if there was better post-production. A photographer capable of taking a three star image is capable of taking four and five star images if they would simply pay more attention to the details. 

Four Stars: Excellent

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

Five Stars: World Class

Five star images are flawless and unforgettable. The amount of time, energy, and talent that goes into the average five 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 have to be perfect. In some cases, the jump from four to five 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 five 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 one 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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Dan Lubbers's picture

HELL YEAH patrick cavan brown!!! Psyched for you man. Hope to see you around soon!

PC B's picture

Thanks, Dan!

PC B's picture

The Fog: I have a pest fogger: a propane powered fogger that you are supposed to fill with insecticide, but I fill with mineral oil instead. Works great outside... not recommended inside or in dry outside conditions (open flame). I would zigzag through the woods holding the fogger in between shots.

The Light: (see diagram below) One beautydish with a 1/4 CTO gel hidden behind the tree as a key. Camera left and right are speedlights with 1/4 - 1/2 CTB gels. Behind the subject and way back in the woods is a big 1600 (probably not turned all the way up) with a 1/2 CTB gel.

I shot at dusk to minimize ambient light but still keep the sky from going black.

The Subject: Brad Thor. He is a best-selling thriller writer (war and spies and such). I was commissioned by Politico to shoot him for the 50 Most something of 2017. My idea was "Mystery Author Out Searching for Inspiration".

I shot a pretty terrible and slipshod test shot of myself the night before in order to have something to show Brad (see below). I figured that since it's not a typical environmental portrait I would have to talk him into it, Indeed, he said no. He and his team thought it was "off brand". But as a fan of Bad Thor's (many many hours of book-on-tape during cross-country treks) I felt differently. It took some doing, with a photograph's passion, but I talked him into it. After the shoot he said it was the best portrait experience he's ever had, so yay! High five to Brad Thor. He was freakin' fantastic.

If I had video from the shoot I would deny it exists; I was running around like a mad man in those woods, as it was a one-man show staring me... it usually is. Sweaty and embarrassing, but it's the shot that counts. All in camera, no photoshop besides basic adjustments.

Hen Yaish's picture


Stas F's picture

Lee Morris: "and remember, go ahead and rate all the other entries, it'll be so much more interesting if we can kind of see if we're all on the same page or if Patrick and I are full of shit and we don't deserve to be critiquing any of these at all"

Of course you're full of shit but please don't stop making these, it's my favorite part of youtube

Lee Morris's picture

After the next critique we will have a new “contest” system for entering the critique where it’s super easy and fast to rate every submission. We tried for this last one but there were glitches so we had to postpone.

Then we will see how full of shit I truly am.

Stas F's picture

By glitches you mean it would give rating 3 stars apart from yours? Ok, sure, tweak it a little more to be a heartless, brutal, cruel machine bringing only suffering and pain.

Andrea Re Depaolini's picture

Lee Morris Do you mean only the best (highly rated by the community) shots will make it to the video? I would maintain a balanced mix good shots/bad shots

David Strauss's picture

We will continue to maintain a balance of image quality.

Bert McLendon's picture

I'm convinced that Patrick and Lee are the inspiration for the Penny Arcade cartoon...

Jorge Cevallos's picture