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Beginner’s Guide to Photo Critique| Use This Checklist Before You Upload

By Michael Henson on February 6th 2015

It Happens to Everyone

After passing your latest favorite photo around the social media water cooler and receiving rave reviews and compliments on how, “You must have a great camera!” you decide to up the ante and post it for critique. Practically before you click the submit button, industry pros (and internet trolls) descend like ants on a picnic. After a short period of time, you hang your head and try to put the responses out of your head. The pain of something as personal as a photograph being ripped apart can quickly become overwhelming, I understand! I have been there and I’m sure I’ll be there again…

Before I go any further, realize that this happens to everyone. While there are some steps you can take to ensure that your photos have a level of quality, ultimately, you are the final judge of your photograph. If you are happy with your results, that’s what matters. Don’t allow critique or differences in preference keep you from creating…

In fact, once you finish reading this article (and joining the conversation in the comments),  go directly to your photo library, select a photo based on what is discussed here, and upload it in our critique section! If you are diligent in seeking critique and comments on your creations (and applying what you learn) you will progress MUCH further than you can imagine. So check it out! (You also can win prizes for critiquing other people’s images).

SLR Lounge Great Photo Action Photography


 How Can I Tell If It’s A Great Photo?

The best way to determine if a photo is worthy of public consumption is to run through a checklist as you view photos for processing/selection. Despite the fact that what makes a great photo is generally subjective, I have found that by completing a simple check of some basics before submitting a photo for critique or before posting it online, I can avoid sharing embarrassing flaws.

Beginner’s Guide to Photo Critique Checklist

When I say that these things are basic, I mean REALLY basic. However, whether you are a beginner or an experienced pro, these elements are vital and provide guidelines that will help you present the good photos whenever possible. Also, don’t forget to check out Photography 101! It’s an amazing resource for helping shore up any technical flaws you might have in your approach to actually snapping photographs.


Regardless of your creative style, the subject of your photo is the most important element. It might be something as obvious as a person in a portrait, or it could be as broad as a scene in landscape photography.

SLRLounge What Makes a Great Photo Photo Subject-4

In order for your photo to be successful, the subject must be clear, in-focus, and sharp. (I know, I know, there are instances where creative license leaves your subject blurry…these are just general guidelines/rules. Once you know ‘em, you can break ‘em!) Take time to determine whether or not what you want is in focus and to ensure that your desired level of sharpness exists. If these criteria aren’t met, move on. It might be heartbreaking, but realize that you determine the level of quality you provide. The higher your standards, the more impressive your body of work.

Also, take some time to ensure that there are no elements on your subject that will be distracting to the viewer. Are there weird shadows or distracting clothing elements, etc? Take the time to look in detail for these elements. It might be beneficial to leave a photo alone for a few days and come back to it with fresh eyes to see if anything distracting jumps out at you.


This is incredibly simple to overlook. Make it a point with look closely at the background of every photo you take. Is there a tree limb or fence growing out of someone’s body or head? Are there distracting blobs of light or shadow? A photo-bomb by a scary looking person, place or thing behind your subject? While the subject is the focus of your photo, the elements found surrounding that subject can either enhance or detract from the message you are attempting to convey. Make the effort to study all aspects of each photograph and determine if the background works as-is, needs edited, or is distracting enough to trash the whole image.

SLR Lounge What makes a good photo - tame the background


With the advent of social media that forces a specific crop (I’m looking at you Instagram), there has been some debate regarding what is the best way to crop images. When you begin to delve into the technical aspects of crop sensor cameras vs. full frame or medium format cameras, the proverbial waters can become even more muddy. If there’s one thing you should know about me by now, it’s that I like to keep things simple. Technical knowledge is excellent, but the heart of the teacher in me continually simplifies principles into practical, easy to remember phrases. Phrases such as, “Use whatever crop works best for the image.” Crazy, right?

There are instances where specific crops are called for by clients and, in those cases, you took the job so you have to conform to their requests. But even then, most of the time you have leeway to crop as you see fit. So take the time to make the crop count. Get rid of a distracting element at the edge of the frame. Find some natural framing within the image and crop to that…don’t limit yourself to specific ratios or approaches. That being said, be careful not to crop too much. Too much cropping will inevitably lead to lower image quality, especially if you are trying to create large prints from a heavily cropped image.


The polishing before production…or uploading. Similar to cropping, this is something that can incite great debates among the pros and trolls resulting in disturbances in the Force that keep Obi-Wan awake nights. Ultimately, you have the freedom to do whatever you want with processing. When first starting out, I definitely recommend taking advantage of SLR Lounge’s preset collection. These will allow you to polish your images with minimal extra work on your part. Don’t just apply the preset, upload the image and call it a day though. If you truly want to learn, apply the preset and study the changes it makes your images. Play around with the changes to deepen your understanding of the functions in Lightroom, Photoshop, or editing software of your choice. Doing this will launch you years ahead of the learning curve because you are able to, essentially, look over the shoulder of someone that has mastered their craft.

SLR Lounge What makes a great photo - selection


The last one we will discuss today is perhaps the most important, being selective. Photography is an endeavor that gives you 100% control over what is shown to the public (unless you’re a celebrity). In this modern era of social media, it is easy to forget that we don’t have to constantly blow up our feeds with new pictures and we don’t have to share every picture we take. One of the most difficult things to do is to set standards for your images and then stick by them. Invariably, you will have images that you absolutely love, but that can never share because you missed focus, cropped off a toe, etc. Stick to your standards. Only share your best work and over time you will grow a high quality portfolio that you are proud of.

Ultimately, all of these topics hinge upon a single characteristic, discipline. Maintain your discipline and run through this checklist before sharing your images. You might hate the process at the beginning. I did! But as you progress and take time to look back at your earlier work, you will appreciate having been exacting in your selection process.

Most Importantly…

Get out there and SHOOT! Share your favorites with us on your favorite social media platform, like us on Facebook, and be sure to sign up for email updates to stay up to date on the latest and greatest news, reviews, and photography articles! Also, don’t forget to leave your comments below! I’d love to hear back from you!

CREDITS : Photographs by Michael  have been used with permission for SLR Lounge. Do not copy, modify or re-post this article or images without express permission from SLR Lounge and the artist.

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Michael Henson is a St. Louis based photographer obsessed with everything creative. His photography interests span genres from still life to sports. When he’s not running around with his face to the camera or behind a keyboard writing, you can typically find a guitar in his hands or catch him out enjoying life with his family and friends.

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Q&A Discussions

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  2. Dolores Wiens

    Very helpful article. One question: How can I thank people for their critique. I received several very helpful critiques, but one in particular was very detailed. I’d like so much to thank this gentleman because it will really give punch to the photo. How can I do this?

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    • Michael Henson

      Hi, Dolores! Glad you found the article to be helpful. I think a genuine thank you would be great! Most photographers that have been around a while are more than happy to share their expertise. By thanking the person that helped you, you’ll be showing them that you appreciate their expertise and the time it took for them to provide it.

      Hope this helps!

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  3. Clare Havill

    Thanks for the info, it’s just inspired me to post an image to the critic section.

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  4. Jose Palermo

    Thanks, great article!

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  5. Graham Curran

    I’m going to print this out for reference.

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  6. Frank Calesso

    Whenever I critique a photo, I try to keep my personal opinion out of the critique. I don’t believe anybody cares if I like the photo, I think most photographers are asking “…does this photo make you say wow!…”. I try to be as objective as I can, at times I can’t find any flaws & at other times there are.

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    • Michael Henson

      Agreed! That is one of the most important things to remember when you critique a photo…Thanks for reading and thanks for taking a moment to reply!

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    • Thomas Horton

      If only more people would realize that there is a huge difference between my not liking a photograph and that photograph being bad. Or the reverse where anything I like must be good. :)

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    • Thomas Horton

      Like in many aspects in life, a little humility can go a long way. There are a lot of photographs I take that while I may like them ( because I was attached to the event/experience) a person who was not at the event would not care for at all. That’s just photo-life. :)

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  7. Ralph Hightower

    Great advice. I think there should be a follow up to critiquing a photograph. I’ve been in Toastmasters and for speech evaluations, there is the “sandwich method” which can be applied to photography critiques: 1) start out by saying what you liked about the photo; 2) offer suggestions on how the photo could be improved by offering constructive criticism; 3) end on a positive note to keep them encouraged.

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    • Michael Henson

      Thanks, Ralph. I definitely agree! It’s really easy to see someone asking for critique and to jump right into the areas that need improvement without taking time to acknowledge the good qualities in a photograph. I think your “sandwich” method is the perfect way to approach every critique.

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  8. Rich Taylor


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  9. Bogdan Roman

    very useful checklist

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  10. David Hall

    Enjoyed. The SLR Lounge Preset system is a fantastic post production tool. I use it with every edit.

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  11. Renée Ferguson

    Great reminder, Michael!

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  12. Basit Zargar

    Great one

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