Join Taz Tally for an in-depth discussion in this video Performing a basic composition critique, part of Exploring Composition in Photography.
- Particularly if you are new to the critique process, you might wanna get started by just performing a basic compositional critique. All right, so to get the hang of this, let's do an abbreviated version. We're gonna look at all four elements, but with simplicity we're just gonna count the number of image elements and look at separations. For asymmetry, we'll just look to make sure that the key elements are either in the center of the image or away from the center. For eye lines, we'll identify, see if we have any eye lines in the image, and then we'll establish the point of view and ask, "Hey, is this a good point of view, "or could something else make it "a little bit more compelling image?" So, all the basic components of the critique, just not looking at all the details.
And remember, always begin with the strengths, and then identify the weaknesses. Now typically, we like to look at more than one image just evaluating and doing a critique on one image for someone, can be somewhat helpful, but it's much more helpful if I look at multiple images. Typically when someone hires me to perform a critique for them, I ask them for a minimum of five images. And of course, if you're looking at a project, then you would have multiple images anyway. And here's a kayak project in Tutka Bay Fjord, where we live. This is my partner Christina, we're out enjoying kayaking in Tutka Bay Fjord.
So let's look at these two images. We could look at more, but, I think we can get the idea just by looking at these two images. And we're gonna count the number of image elements, and then we're gonna look at the separation. Well, let's start with the left hand image. And we count the number of elements. Well, there's the kayak and Christina is one element, then the water, and then we've got the background mountains, and then we've got the sky. So there's four elements in this image. So this image has some real good strengths to it in terms of number of image elements. When we evaluate the right hand image, you know, again, there's some nice image elements here.
Right, the kayak and Christina, she's in mid-stroke which is very nice, but when you count the number of elements here, we've got 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, and maybe even 7. So, at least five elements, maybe up to seven, depending on how you count them. So just in terms of these two criteria, the image on the left is really more sucessful in terms of its composition. Well, let's go to the next element, and that is how well are these image elements separated. Well, again, on the left hand image, both Christina and the kayak are well separated from the water and the mountains back here, the water and the mountains have good contrast, the mountains and the sky have good contrast.
So in turns of overall separation, again, this is a very successful image. On the right hand image, there's some separation here, like between the nice bright colors of Christina and the kayak, the orange and the purple against the darker gray-brown background. But other elements are not quite so well separated, like this kayak and the water are not very well separated, and we've got overlapping here of the paddle with this kayak. So there's really not good separation here, and there's some separation between the rocks and the trees, and there is good separation up here between the trees and the sky, but it's the foreground here, which is where we really focusing our attention, where the separation kind of fails to really engage us.
So, again, the left hand image is going to be the superior of the two in terms of both number of elements and separation. And when we look at asymmetry, let's look at the key elements, where they are in the image, locate them, and see if they are off center, which is how we want them. Again, let's start with the left hand image, and we can see clearly that Christina and the kayak are not smack dab in the middle, all right, they're offset over to the left and down to the left quadrant, in the fourth quadrant. So it's nicely asymmetrical. Plus, the mountains in the background are nicely asymmetrical, as well. We've got the high peak over here, and then down, and then a lower peak on the tops of the trees, So there's nice asymmetry throughout this image, and there's also good foreground, middle ground and background, here.
Over on the right hand image, in terms of asymmetry, well when we look at Christina and the kayak, boy, it's right smack dab in the middle of the image when you go from left to right. It's down a little bit from the center going top to bottom, but just having that right smack dab in the middle makes this a less interesting image in terms of the asymmetry. In terms of moving the eye around the image. So again, that left hand image scores nicely. Then, as we've spoken about many times, asymmetry and eye line, you know, work hand-in-hand. And, here again, when we look at the left hand image, we see there's a nice eye line along the kayak because it's well separated from the water, and there's a beautiful, physical eye line here on the sky, where your eye moves across, and then nice foreground, middle ground, and background.
So, very nice eye lines in this image, it's a simple image, it's interesting to look at. Over on the right hand image, in terms of eye lines, there is a nice eye line, gets started up here in the trees, but then it kinda gets truncated up here. Notice, we compare the eye line here, the eye line is continuous across the image, whereas here, it's truncated. And really, because of the overlap here, and the lack of separation, we don't have a really good foreground, middle ground or background, so there's a little bit of an eye line along the kayak, but again, it's kinda interrupted on the right hand side, so the left hand image is the winner once again in terms of eye lines here.
And then finally, when we look at point of view, we'll establish the point of view and ask, you know, is it appropriate, is it interesting, is it unique? And in this case, and this is not uncommon, the point of view is about the same for both images. They're both shot from kayaks, so it's kayak point of view, which is certainly appropriate for this kind of a shot. One of the questions I would ask is, gee, if we moved the camera a little bit lower and maybe shot up a little bit, to give a little bit more power and prominence to the key figure in the image, all the while being very careful not to cause an intersection between Christina's head and then the nice eye line back here.
So, yeah, they're about the same, and I would ask the question about maybe camera position a little bit. All right, so, there we've finished our simple critique. And even using a simple critique as we have, because we've done it very deliberately and look at all four concepts, we can very clearly see and decide that that left hand image is gonna be the winner here. So even a simple critique can be very powerful.
In this course, photographer and educator Taz Tally details four pillars of effective, impactful composition: simplicity, asymmetry, eye lines, and point of view. Through example images and helpful graphics, the course discusses not only the things you can do to enhance composition when you're shooting, but also improvements you can make using imaging software such as Lightroom.
Throughout the course, Taz issues challenges to help you practice what you've learned. The course concludes with a look at how to critique—and thereby improve— your work.
- Composing for simplicity
- Employing asymmetry or an interesting point of view
- Including eye lines
- Composing in camera
- Cropping for improved compositions
- Enhancing images in Lightroom
- Critiquing your own work