Patrick and Lee Critique the Community Episode 2

Last week Lee and I did our first ever Critique the Community where we looked at 20 images from the Fstoppers Community and gave our honest review of them.  It was such a success that we have decided to do it again.  This week we review 21 new images, rate them on a scale of 1-5, and give advice about how they could be stronger portfolio photographs.  

This week one of our office assistants picked 21 images from the previous post for us to review.  The genres span photography in all sort of genres including food, wedding, portraits, landscapes, conceptual, advertising, and swimwear.  I hope all of our advice and initial opinions on these images can give you a good understanding not only on how we believe images should be ranked within the Fstoppers Community but also on how you can strengthen your own portfolio.  

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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How many beers did Patrick consume before the video shoot? J/K but Patrick looks like he's hanging out, ready for anything. ha ha.

Haha :)

BTW, loving these new series. Good job guys!

@ 15min I am pretty sure that the so called model is actually the amazing Concerts' photographer Adam Elmakias :

The skull woman pictures are called "CATRINAS".
Its a Mexican tradition to paint women this way in All Saints Day or Day of the Dead, in November. Thats why you see a lot of them... All of us Mexican photographers have ay one point shot on.. or more...

According to the painter and art restorer Bertha Sandoval Romero, La Catrina was created by Mexican artists as a metaphor for Mexican high social class before the Revolution. After this skeleton dressed in stylish and colorful clothes, high society ladies dressed to stroll through the old Central Alameda, a symbol of death was made in the conclusion, on 1 and 2 November, of the Day of the Dead.

Well it makes a lot of sense now.

Does this change your rating to a 4 now that you know? It seems that a few of the critiques are based on context. Should context matter?

I do think context can make a difference in how one rates or views a photograph. In this case I'm not sure it does because it seems pretty specific to the Mexican culture which many potential clients might not be aware (like Lee and I were). I think it's fair to say this one is around a 3.5 rating or possibly a 4. Here is Julia's image which has been rated a ton and is getting about a 4.5:

Thank you! It was like some inside joke I wasn't a part of.

WOW! My photo is the first one :) I am really happy that you both give it 4 stars! And thanks so much for this great constructive criticism. BTW, Just to clarify the location for the people who don't know, it is in the capital Abu Dhabi just one hour far away from Dubai, which I am pretty sure you know it! Both Abu Dhabi and Dubai are emirates (cities) in the country called United Arab Emirates. Thanks again you made my day :)

Thanks for the update! Great photo.

Lee. Cant believe you said the waterfall pic is almost like a snap shot. It's a really great image. minimum 4

I must be crazy

Hey guys, thanks for the critique at 20:30. Hit the nail on the head. It's a concept I've been working on and finding the people to work with has been a challenge since I'm so new. I'm still working on getting it perfect and I'm finally working with actual models so once I find a model in my area who's excited about the idea I'll have the perfect 4 for you.

And yes she has huge traps, it's not a photoshop mistake.

Thank you guys sooo so much for the critique! Haha I've never been so nervous watching a video on the internet before. (Mine was the weird water photo)

And yes, the water was photoshopped in, but I did it on location (which you can see in my little bts blog post: I agree, the water does look pretty photoshopy, which is why I submitted it for critique. Maybe separating the water from the legs would have helped? I am glad you said it kind of looks like it belongs on a novel because that's something I would love to work towards.

But anyways, thank you again so much! Lots of things to consider and maybe some day I'll do a retake of the photo when I have some more resources. Thank you!

Thanks for the critique guys! Thanks for giving the Chef 4 stars, was surprised another photo of mine (the sandwich) was also included haha. Id take 3 stars from you guys.

Thanks for Critique second photo;

You guys are awesome! So cool to see my image on here and thank you for the criticism! I've got a long way to go but Fstoppers is definitely helping me move forward.

I really have a good time listening to your very constructive comments. I was watching this with another photographer friends and were doing rating at the same as you. Very funny and a lot of discussion here too ! we want more !!

It is quite interessting to see how different the views are concerning the post production betwen europe and the us ..

How so? Are Europeans less fond of photoshop? I would have to believe in the marketing and advertising world it is still very prevalent. Maybe it's less common in changing the human body shape to reflect the american ideal?

Photoshop is quite hatet in some parts here. Maybe it is the overdose of the super soft blury "Los Angeles Style" skin or the super "dodge and burn" look. But many companys are going anti photoshop (like dove etc). I get most of my work because I don't use photoshop (lol lightroom). I don't know how to say it but many girls are actually pretty anti photoshop. The last shooting I did I spend more time building the set etc in the shop, and then making it look like an ordenary "snapshot" without the high photoshop look. There are hundrets of photogs out there who could make a soft skin and nice shapes, but a person like Kirsty Mitchel with her Wonderland series etc are heros here. I can't say that it is pretty universal but here at the north of germany we have an trend to go to more raw pictures, more grit and sweat so to say ;)

My daughters recent wedding, only just caught the shot, as I had forgotten to change the card and was having to delete some missed shots when I caught the groome's brother about to burst the balloons, I managed to get the camera to my eye and this first shot caught the balloons falling! hope you like :)

So pumped to have my image critiqued! It was the bridal around 42:00. Definitely going to take some of the suggestions into consideration next time. I will probably take this one out of my portfolio after hearing some of the feedback and work on replacing it with something better. That was actually all window light, the big one behind her and one on an adjacent wall (camera left). It's a pretty bright room, and I can't believe I forgot to turn the overhead off. derp!

Thanks for picking one of my photos I totally agree with you guys. For me this was a test project to see if I could create a light painting dress. It took me a lot of time to create. But I definitely would like to create a complete new version with all the critique you guys just gave me ;-) There is also a blue version in my pf but its from the same shoot with the same background. At the time I shot this picture I only had 3 Profoto heads. I could have used my speedlites for her hair but I guess why I didn't use them was because my batteries where empty XD

Love this series!

BTW, I thought it was hilarious you guys were giving the 80's swimsuit photographer such a hard time while Patrick was sitting there in a Van Halen shirt lol. (Not that I disagreed with the critique)

That was fun to watch.

Is there going to be another one soon? The are one of the few long videos I actually watch all the way through :D