Patrick and Lee Critique the Community Episode 1

Over the weekend I asked our community members if they would like Lee and I to give critiques of some of their work.  The response was huge, so we have picked 20 random images to look over and give our honest opinions and suggestions. I never thought being this brutally honest would actually be quite fun and productive.

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 Criqitue 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.    


If you want to have your work critiqued in future episodes, please leave a link to your image on this post here.  

If you want more examples of how our rating system works, head over to Lee's post How Would You Rate Your Photography?

Patrick Hall's picture

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

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I think your dog might be dead.

Thanks for the CC guys, I absolutely agree with your suggestions.

You guys are awesome. I think this is a great idea and was really enlightening to see what makes a good image!

Agreed with most... but i have to say - that end-of-the-world-wedding-photo is pure 5. Cant believe you gave it less

Damn I didn't make it... that's fair enough I guess.

We may do more of these. All the images in the post asking who wants critiques will go into the mix next time. We didn't expect 20 images to take an hour!

Very cool video!

This was wonderful, I think you guys should do these as often as you can. I'm not really searching for work much as a beginner, mostly making a little money from friends here and there, but I'm ok with knowing my images are 1-3 stars, and I'm excited to improve. The suggestions you made about composition and talent are now things I can think about when I go out and shoot so I can improve.

Browsing through and rating images and I notice that most of the images only have had a few votes. Obviously those people that have their photos in the Popular or Top Rated will get more votes and more of their images viewed. How is the system structured to ensure that a new/novice photographer/member also gets opportunities to have their images viewed and also get votes/feedback ?

Soon forums and groups will be added and you will be able to specifically ask for critiques and ratings in the near future.

Plus I want to say that 4 and 5 start images will be instantly found and rated by people surfing through new pictures. If the thumbnail looks good, it will get clicked on.

Loved the reviews! The band photo at the end of the review was playing non-staged (photojournalistic) with the girl playing wanting to look away from the camera for most shots. It ended up being the image I liked the best from the few taken. The tip jar seemed a bit of out of place and as an audience member had to crop the lower half or include some ugly foreground.

Great reviews overall but was expecting some more detail as indicated by the photo with markup shown in the initial post. Are you considering some more technical points in the future? Eg. with the architecture photo that was processed to make it stand out - thought you might have pointed out how the processing affected the sky around the palm tree trunks on the left (correctable).

Aww man.. So hoping mine would of made it

we will make this a regular thing and we will get to yours soon

Sweet, That's all I can ask for.. lol

1-2-3, and I give a 3, I was 75 % in agreement with the 2 of you. Probably one of the best C&C in Youtube.

Thank you for critiquing my Coral Tulip image, I agree with your assessment and appreciate it...nice eye for light, it was lit with a beauty dish!

That was AWESOME guys… just one thing that is still in my mind tho, who's dog is it? hahaha he's a trooper :P
Oh and Lee's comment about his dad liking that HDR landscape? "that is amazing, how they do that son?" Lee's response "they don't know what they doing dad, That's how" hahahaha… gold

Great Reviews, I think most were right on solid.
One thing that may or may not help is to have genres of different photography. (i.e. state the genre before rating?)
For example, a 3 star in portrait may not be comparable to lets say a 3 star in fashion.
Just because the amount of production that goes into different genres.

Would love to be in round 2 ;) Because doing something that nobody around me does is quite hard because you can't have a peer looking over your stuff ;)

Congrats on the first episode guys! Almost got in, well sort of lol, Lee did mention my Chef work! too bad it didnt make it. :( but hey theres always next time.:) would love to be in round 2.

I didn't agree with a lot of it mostly because I don't think that commercial photography (both in a technical sense and in a "Can this make me money" sens) should be the standard by which photography should be rated, but that's just me.Glad y'all are doing this for the community.

I'm not sure that "commercial photography" was the only standard but we did base our decision on what would sell or what would make someone a professional vs a hobbyist. What do you think the ratings should be based on?

I'm not sure I would have it based on any standard, other than "Do I like this image?" And I don't really think the answer to the question of "Why do I like this image" really needs to be answered or justified (well, unless you're doing critique like this haha) along a scale of what someone else has deemed desirable qualities in an image. Idk. I'm not trying to be an ass about it. I think it's my journalism education speaking. I just don't feel an amazing photo requires a team of assistants, a retoucher, a sexy lady, a glossy commercial concept, or a certain amount of bankability.

I have a photographer friend who shoots a lot of street photography in Singapore. She doesn't have a huge amount of gear. She always goes out by herself to shoot. Her photos on a purely technical level aren't anything that is mindblowing. Pretty standard street photography stuff. But besides all that, there is this emotive quality that I can't really describe. I knows this sounds cliche, but her photos communicate the isolation and loneliness of the city, at least that's what I think. Actually, she's able to capture that aspect of isolation in almost every environment she's in. Her photos have a somewhat sombre quality. But they would get completely brutalized here, because of their lack of surface glamour.

That's just my opinion though, before anybody comments that I'm being a hater. I'm just trying to give my own perspective of what photography means to me as someone who only makes a fraction of their income from photography. (Please don't hit me :P )

I also want to say that I understand why you set the ratings the way they are instead of a total free-for-all. Some sort of structure is good to accommodate photographers of all skill levels. I just wonder if it could become limiting as much as it can promote fairness and consistency within the ratings and critiques of the community.

I am the person who you rated my pictures 1 and 2 stars. The rose close up. And I have to agree with everything you said. BTW it was high noon or close when I took the shot. I am really surprised you also rated the second photo I posted on the site. The firefighter. And still I am not upset. My only complaint is that you were not able to go into detail as to how it could be made better. for example, Lee said, the black and white conversion could have been tweaked for better composition. Ok, how? At the same time I understand that time is a consideration. I am still honored that mine were chosen. Any chance you could go back and give me more in depth? If not I understand. I also look forward to posting more in hopes I can get more honest reviews. Doing a great job, keep it up.

Hey Lee,

I think giving suggestions on how to make it better can often lead down a path of endless possibilities. Let's take the fire fighter image for example because I don't know what can be done with the flower. Without getting into too much detail, I think you should throw a channel mixer adjustment layer on it, switch it to BW, and try making the blacks and whites pop more. I've added an example so you can get an idea (30 second dodge and burn treatment, not perfect).

When you start asking "what could I have done differently?" sometimes you really can't do much differently in this genre. The image isn't as strong because there isn't as much drama going on, and because the girl in the back has a very different reaction than the firefighter. Imagine if both of them had a face of horror....the image would have a ton more emotion and might have more significance. Unfortunately you do not have control of those sorts of things with photo journalism so my tendency is to just accept the photo for what it is and if it doesn't have that level of excitement, emotion, mood, storytelling then, well, it might just not be a portfolio piece despite you doing everything you can. I hope that makes sense.

I just had to laugh when Patrick said,"Your hair is too clean?!" HAHAH!

Well, that was fun! I hope you guys contine with this.

Excellent video idea! Honest and constructive criticism. I'm glad the photographs were a variety of genre and kept the video interesting and not long boring. I learned a lot more than expected. Keep it up Guys!

This was fun...looking forward to the next one!

Pleasantly surprised and happy to see you reviewed my "Godzilla wedding picture" as you put it. Hehe. I appreciate the feedback, always great to have some outside and unbiased input on my work!

And to answer your question, no I didn't have any say over the clothing. In a perfect world, I could have selected the outfits etc. But it wasn't a set up shoot, I had taken a picture from behind as the couple where getting into place and the shot inspired me to edit in a full scene. Interestingly enough, the clothing is the biggest critique I keep getting. So, I can't complain and I'm happy people love the composition at least.

Thanks again! Appreciate the 4 stars from both of you! - Josiah

I finally just got to watching this and I thought it was very fair and well done. I honestly thought you could have been more brutal on some of those photos because the worst thing IMO in any skill or profession is thinking your have little-to-room left for improvement...always strive to do better.

And I have to add one more thing and that is I like the fact that you both acknowledge that we all take cliched photos that we have either cringed at or done a thousand times before for one reason and one reason please the person the photo is for; in many cases an end-client.

Not every photo is going to be a 4-5...sentimental moments are sometimes just that more than they are portfolio building art.