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The Worst Way To Gauge A Photo


The Oohs And Aahs Of Photography—Don’t Be Fooled!

Digital Photo of Model

Sometimes a monochromatic photo is better than full-color.

I see it all the time, “oohs and aahs” when it comes to photography on the Internet, and the sad part of it all, amateur or up-and-coming photographers use this as a gauge for what makes or breaks a great photo. For experienced photographers like myself with “photo editor” experience, we cringe at some of the comments and often with our busy schedules, can’t always comment to provide constructive critiques—and if we do, chances are we’ll be chastised by the popular vote.

There are just too many misleading, uninformed, unprofessional critiques taken for the truth, when in reality, their face value is useless to the photographer, and sometimes model in the photo, but the popularity vote makes them winners. Unfortunately, those wanting to passionately learn photography who see the photo and read the comments, think those photos are in fact what a good photo should look like, when chances are, they are just pictures and not powerful photographs. It’s up to every beginning photographer to learn, not by popularity contests or T&A aspects, but by understanding, what truly makes a great photograph.

If a beginning photographer really wants to learn what makes great photos, they should pick up a magazine at their local newsstand—a real photo editor chose those photos in the publication, usually taken by proven professional photographers, for industry standards required of great photography. Another good source, if you’re into being green and saving trees, are reputable on-line magazines like National Geographic, Time, Sports Illustrated, etc., and if you’re into the T&A type of publications, then check out the “feature” sections in a publication like Maxim. But stay away from the “Hometown Hotties” or similar user submitted sections. Photo editors for top publications have their jobs for a reason, to know what makes a great photo as well as why a photo goes with a certain story.

Ask yourself, why aren’t many top photographers or photo editors participating in popular photography websites? Besides their deadline busy schedules, many professional photographers and photo editors, that once tried to help spread the gospel of photography, just threw their hands up and probably said, “I give up. I’m trying to help someone here and it’s like talking to a wall.”

Picture of Hippo

Anyone can take pictures, like this photo of a hippo I took at the local zoo.

I’m the same way as my email inbox, private message box on Facebook, Twitter mentions, etc., are filled with requests to provide critiques from those often mislead by the more popular “likes” and O’s and A’s of other photographer photos. Then when I do give an honest, constructive critique, someone will chime in and say, “Everyone else likes it, you must be wrong.”

Professional photographers or photo editors are often crucified for giving their “professional” opinions, so before you ask for one, ask yourself, why is this a great photo? Why is it a bad photo? Becoming a better photographer should start with asking yourself these two questions before posting a photo on the Internet. If all photographers did this, there would be less pictures on the Internet and more photographs, there is a difference for labeling an image a picture or a photograph. A photograph not only tells a story or showcases some emotion, but is properly cropped (in camera), composed, exposed and tends to follow most concepts, fundamentals and principals of photography. Pictures are just that, an image my 10-year old daughter can capture with a disposable camera or your typical photos found on Facebook.

Model Photo

Photographs should follow the basics, fundamentals and concepts of photography in general.

I’ve often said, the main difference between a professional photographer and an amateur is that the professional photographer doesn’t show you their bad photos—we all take them! The difference is that the professional knows what makes a photo strong or weak, because we’ve paid our dues, we’ve worked with photo editors, we studied the craft and we’ve practiced the craft until we got it right, in the camera.

My favorite is the popular photographer and modeling community websites often filled with cliquish mayhem themselves—it’s a known fact that photos with scantily clad models, nudity or un-ladylike poses, always have the most “views,” comments and likes. I call it the Sears Roebuck catalog syndrome—for those old enough to know, young boys thumbed through mom and dad’s department store catalogs to see “chicks” in lingerie before the Internet.

Well today, that same audience only has to turn on their computer and thumb through modeling and photography websites and look at the GWCs (guys with cameras) and the wannabe models that think they know what makes a great photo. Yep, these same inexperienced photographers and models think their best photos are the ones with the most views, likes and comments and this isn’t always necessarily true. You cannot judge talent or the greatness of a photo by a just-reached-puberty audience or the smart phone photographers’ popular vote.

There are many elements that make a great photo, besides the talent in the scene. Elements like composition, cropping in the camera, exposure, posing, lighting, mood, etc., and great photographers understand what makes a photograph over a picture. Amateurs want to understand this and it’s possible, if they study the craft and put weight on the credentials of those that comment on their photos, for the value of the photograph itself, not the skin or voluptuousness of the subject.

It’s not uncommon for someone to ask those that know for a constructive critique, which most professionals don’t normally have time to give with their busy schedules, and when they do give those critiques, they’re often hammered by the popularity contest voters and it’s these type of photos that probably belong on a website for “What’s Hot, What’s Not.” If a photographer honestly wants to be a better photographer and “learn” what it takes, it all starts with understanding the basics, fundamentals and concepts of photography on top of knowing the credentials from those that give the oohs and aahs and the value of those accolades.

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  1. Have to completely agree….not nearly at your level but always trying to get better….

    The sites I tried do not allow any negative (or constructive) comments either…

  2. Rolando you have written about a subject of enormous relevance. The substance within your brief article is the reason so many models – and photographers/mua’s and stylist never get off the starting blocks. Simply too much smoke being blown up their nether regions by smoke blowers who haven’t got a clueas to what makes a good image – or a potential model.
    I just wish it could be on the MM front page as a compulsory read.
    Si Stewart – Johannesburg – South Africa

    • Simon, thanks, just help me spread the word! Thanks!

  3. Rolando, you make an excellent point about how a lot of the really popular photos on some of the modeling websites are usually the most poorly done. The other day I found a very popular photo with lots of views and raving comments from “professional photographers” and all it was was a woman in underwear standing in front of a full length mirror with a camera phone.

    For those of us such as myself who are honestly trying to learn posing, studio lighting and Photoshop retouching its almost disheartening to see what passes for a popular photograph these days. As you mentioned earlier I think a lot of these websites are dominated by guys with cameras as opposed to photographers with cameras who actually care about their craft and have a genuine interest in advancing it.

  4. As an amateur photographer I enjoy hearing the good comments, but what I really want is the comments of “how could it be better”. Someone blowing smoke just to make me feel good about my picture is not going to help me become a better photographer.

  5. When I read this article it hit home. Many times I’ve requested an honest critique, knowing something was just “off” with the photo, only to have “nice capture” or “nice photo” as a critique. That certainly didn’t help me to learn to be more proficient behind the lens. Thank you for putting the words on the screen that other should read. By the way, I finally broke down and took my meager attempt at a portfolio to some professionals in a well known camera shop. Their critique? Nothing, not a thing…only “Where do you want to go with these? (meaning what type of photography do you want to specialize in)? Hell, I was looking for guidance! So I’ve just been reading, shooting, and looking at thousands of pictures instead. Hopefully, I’ll learn something the hard way. 🙂

    • Thanks for sharing your story and experiences. Critiques are great if they are “constructive” and not destructive. I’m glad you enjoyed this article and the best advice to any photographer, no matter what experience level, keep shooting and keep improving. Thanks!

  6. For me, it is the difference between a fun tv show and a really artful movie. Both can be entertaining.


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Welcome to (Lens Diaries™), a hybrid photography blog with social flair. The photoblog provides photo tips, photo tutorials and photo diaries by professional photographer, author, writer, speaker and social media consultant, Rolando Gomez.

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