Alriiiigghht, part three already of this mini-series I’m calling Questioning Your Craft! If you’ve missed the first two articles, check out Pt I: In the Field, and PT II: Post Production to check out some of the questions I find useful to ask myself about my images over the course of my workflow, with the hope that they will improve my art as a whole.
In this final article we’re going to go beyond our own editing process (kind of), and look into how we can improve our photography by analyzing the work of others.
For a lot of us, it can be daunting to compare our own work to that of other, more accomplished photographers. It’s easy to feel intimidated by the quality of work, and sink into a feeling that we’ll never be able to achieve the same results. One of the biggest issues I’ve found when comparing my work to that of photographers who I deem to possess skills beyond my own is that it’s hard to know where to even start with the comparison.
It can seem like everything about their image just works, while at the same time you can’t quite even put your finger on what doesn’t work in your own image.
With a set of consistent questions however, we can begin to better assess the work of others and hopefully take something useful from them that we can apply to our own images to make them better!
Questions When Comparing Your Work to the Work of Others
1. Am I viewing this image critically? Or am I basing my judgement on whether I like it or not?
Too often we allow our first impressions to skew our judgement of a particular image. If the image speaks to us immediately, we might judge it as a “good” photo, maybe coming up with some vague justifications as to why. If we don’t like it, we might say it’s a poorly made image and again, concoct some thin justifications for our position.
If our goal is to dissect and learn from an image, our first step has to be approaching it with the right attitude, open to learning what we can from it, whether the image appeals to us or not. Rather than simply striving to label an image as one that works or one that doesn’t, we should recognize that most images consist of many factors, some that work, and some that don’t. Our goal with each analysis should be to be able to pick out the features that work, and the ones that don’t, and then applying what we've found to our own photos.
2. What doesn’t work in this image?
It can often be easier to pick out aspects that don’t work in an image than ones that do. As mentioned in the intro, often great images just seem to come together flawlessly, leaving us grasping at why they affect us the way that they do.
With this in mind, don’t make the mistake of only analyzing images you consider to be perfect. There is a lot to be learned from studying images that don’t quite work, and making note of why that is. Often there are glaring problems that are easy to pick out once you actually stop to think about them.
Once you’ve become adept at picking out areas of improvement in images, move on to attempting to spot intentional choices the photographer made and how they contributed to making the image work.
3. Find an high quality image similar to one of your own that you feel falls short. Where does the difference lie? What does this image have that mine doesn’t?
I often find it easiest to diagnose my own images when I have something against which I can compare them. If I’m working on a photo of a rocky coastline for example, I’ll search through photo websites like 500px to find a similar image (there are more than enough of them for this example), and then begin comparing the similarities and differences.
Note that just because your image may differ in some aspects, doesn’t necessarily mean that that difference detracts from your photo. Cycle through the composition, subject matter, lighting, colour, contrast, and rate the two images against each other on each category. If you rate your composition a 7 and your comparison photo a 9, you’ve identified an area that you could tweak to improve your image next time.
Also keep in mind that it’s common for our minds to trick us into never really believing our work is as good as that of someone else. The same seems to hold true for all artists in every discipline, we always seem to be our harshest critics. Don’t fall too far into this trap and discredit your work entirely, chances are, it’s better than you think (but could probably still be improved).
4. Which aspects of my image support my initial vision?
I talked about thinking through your vision for the image in the previous two articles in this series, and it comes into play again once you’ve completed the image. Even if we’ve been devoted to following through on our image throughout the process, it’s good to come back afterwards and review how well you managed to convey that initial vision through the photograph.
Did the choices you made in the field such as composition and lighting support that vision? How about your treatment of colour, contrast, and creative effects in post production? I find that during the creation of the image, I sometimes lose sight of the initial image in my head. Especially with some distance after the photo has been completed, I’m able to come back with a clear hear and compare the final product to what I initially imagined and see how they stack up against one another.
Sometimes, there might be something missing but it requires a technique that I don’t yet know. Sometimes I’ll realize that the composition or lens choice was wrong for the type of shot I wanted. Realizing these things often doesn’t help for that photo itself, but it teaches me valuable lessons that can be applied in the future.
Well, that’s it for the series on Questioning Your Craft. Be sure to check out the other articles, Pt I, and Pt II if you haven’t already, and let me know some of the questions you ask yourself at any step of your creation process to help keep you focussed and on track. I’d love to hear suggestions that I can apply to my own workflow. Let’s keep striving towards better images, and more engaging visual stories!
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