Talk about your picture

Try this as an exercise. You’ve got three minutes to tell me about one of your pictures. Talk about your picture and give me some idea of what motivated you. Then for bonus points, say whether you think the image works, and what you might do differently next time.

Intimidating? Impossible? Here’s how.

Before we get started, this is all in the context of offering an image for critique from a group of other photographers. I’ve written before (Critiquing others to improve your photographs and I know WHAT it is but WHY did you take that photo? both on the Nick Prior Photography website) about the value of critique as a way of getting better. Here I want to offer a simple structure to get you talking about your picture before letting other people loose on it.

Actually, before talking about a picture, we need to select one in the first place. For a critique to offer something useful to you, it would be better to choose a photograph where you explicitly set out with something specific in mind. It will be so much easier to talk about. You’ll not learn so much from the the superb accident!

Start with some context

It is sometimes really hard to know what to say when you talk about your picture. That can often be a result of acting intuitively when pressing the shutter release. Take this as an example:

A sample image to illustrate how you talk about your image. Blue flowers on green background at Edinburgh's Botanical Gardens. Shallow depth of field.

Blue flowers** at Edinburgh’s Botanical Gardens (**That’s all I know!)

Where do you start? Nice colours? Actually that’s not a bad place to begin. The objective that afternoon was to photograph colours in the Botanical Gardens, concentrating on complementary and/or adjacent hues. You really could begin by talking about wanting to capture the nearly adjacent blues and greens.

Describe what’s in the picture

Sometimes, when you talk about your picture, just describing out loud what you’ve got in your image is sufficient to indicate where you might go next with it. A quick description would concentrate on the blue flower and green background, possibly naming it, and stop there. But there’s more to it.

There are in fact at least a dozen discrete blue flowers in the frame in varying states of detail and focus. There is rather less green stuff in the background, and none of it is in focus. In fact there is very little of the image that is really sharp – just one or two wispy fronds on the very top of the main blue flower, and a couple of spots on a couple of the others. And nothing else.

It is worth being a little bit forensic about this stage. Itemising what you’ve got is a good first step to get you on the road to examining whether you need more or less of it.

Get a bit technical

But not too much – this isn’t the time to get into f-stops and shutter speeds in detail. In this case I might talk about how I chose a macro lens to get close in to the flowers and exclude as much of the surroundings as possible. I had in the back of my mind the paper thin focus that would arise from this decision, and I wanted to see if I could get the effect of flowers arising from the blurred green depths like blue goldfish in a green pond. Or something.

Did it work?

Well, to some extent I think it did. I was successful in excluding most of anything that wasn’t green or blue, and the blue has enough in focus to be tantalising about what is left blurry.

What would I do another time?

Turn up on a day when the wind wasn’t blowing? Seriously, that was an issue that affected how I approached this picture. The flowers were moving around enough to make framing the shot somewhat haphazard. A tripod would not have made things any better.

So, given the circumstances, less blue, more green? It might have been more effective to isolate more clearly the blue flower. However, part of the reason why the pictures works for me is the hint that there was a mass of blue flowers. So many that I wasn’t able to exclude them all.

What do I want to learn?

So now ask for other people’s opinions. You can expect a range of thoughts ranging from the technical (“use a tripod”, or “how about focus stacking…”) to the naive (“very nice colours”) via more useful territory. In this case, useful would relate back to the main objective of capturing the colours. Enough blue? Sufficiently “in your face”?

You may find you have to be a little provocative when you talk about your picture so your fellow critics feel that have permission to say things that they may otherwise think you’ll find hurtful. Actually, that is possibly the best sort of critique response. Much more useful than the anodyne and content-free “Nice shot”!

This article was originally published on September 9th 2019 on the Nick Prior Photography website 

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