What the Photo Experts Say


I recently was at a few photography club presentations to see what the experts had to say, one, a photography club juried meeting. Images were displayed and a judge critiqued them.

I did not enter my images, I was just there to watch the process. It really got me thinking on how much should you show, like I explored last post. The subject was not mentioned in this particular judging, but it jumped out at me because of a number of points critiqued.


They were reviewing many styles of photography, but the presenters’ specialty in both instances was wildlife photography. There was a noticeable interest in closeup photography too, which I touched on last post. The competition was very interesting and I did learn some things. Some things I questioned though.

Points critiqued were often on focus and clarity. I listened intently, and because I can do macro relatively well, I was thinking critically myself. Generally, it got me thinking, “Where is the interest?”


Is There Interest…

A simple image below. What feeling do you get? Spring, Fall, storybook land?


Well, it is Spring where the geese are nesting. The sun lit a small portion of the forest on a tree clinging to last year’s leaves. The spot of sun was making the scene catch my eye. To me this added a bit of magic, but is there interest?

What would have made the image better? A fawn in the brightly lit clearing? Is that a beaver hut I did not even notice until I loaded the images? See how powerful the sun “tunnel” was to the scene? I missed what could have been the focus of the image.

A swimming beaver crossing that bright spot in the water would have heightened the magic. Of course that requires patience and a very still, quiet photographer. If you saw Playing Tourist or Photos of Substance, you know I am rather impatient, so no beaver for you today.

The more I listen to the experts, the more I was thinking. I find the judge critiques primarily on the technical. I saw soft images with depth and emotion, images making one think or wonder? To me these images were strong even with the flaws. Does the photo below make you want to walk into this forest?


Beaver Home Depot.

In this post, I have numerous technical issues that could be improved. In the first image, the goose is looking off to the left, and has more room on the right side of the photo than the left – the direction the goose is looking. Some images are centered, often a compositional problem, some a tad dark an exposure issue. Some could have used a bump in vibrancy.


One presenter said when shooting wildlife, make sure to focus on the eyes. It is good advice to make that connection with the subject. But…

An image can be more than a standard portrait like above though. I find showing wildlife from behind can make an expressive image, yet the presenter really shunned images that did not show the eyes of the subject. I can imagine more from the image below since it has a pensive feeling.


Having both type of images in this post, I happen to like those from behind. They would not likely win a prize from the judge at this competition though.


One recent talk I attended, the speaker was saying if a bird’s leg was raised, that was “action”. It might make the photo a wee bit more interesting, but is that action?


The goose in this post has a leg raised to stand perfectly still. In my post, Lesser or Greater, that bird also had a leg raised which gives interest in either case, but there was late afternoon light as well. Many thought the place was “peaceful” and I thought finding that feeling made the images successful. I wonder what the presenter would have thought on my Yellowlegs photos?


The same speaker also said photos of eagles flying were not that interesting. I guess that depends on if they are more common a bird to see?


I know how hard it is to get an eagle in flight photo, the one above was almost 3/4 of a mile across the marsh according to a local birder at the reserve, and is why I settle for ducks and geese most times. The goose below had me a bit wary, I thought it was after me, I guess safer than an eagle though. Pooh on the rule of thirds, this goose was coming dead center.


I have been joking that the eagles were a mile away, yet they almost were.

What feeling do you get from the image below? Can it make your imagination wonder?


Happy Easter.

About Garden Walk Garden Talk

I love to photograph, paint, draw, design, garden, travel the world, and pass on a few tips and ideas that I learned through experience as a Master Gardener and architect. I am highly trained in my field and enjoy my work each and every day. I garden in Niagara Falls, NY in zone 6-B. Find me at: http://gardenwalkgardentalk.com
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51 Responses to What the Photo Experts Say

  1. I have written about my concern about guidelines becoming rules then laws (e.g. of thirds) and my concern about some forums where criticism is more to separate the neophytes from the brethren. It concerns me when I read about photography schools teaching hard and fast rules and then in the next semester how to break them. While some are born with a great eye, no-one will ever progress in photography or art if they do not stretch out on their own. There is a vast difference between technique and art. Learning your camera controls and being critiqued on that is one thing, on art something else. Comments about cropping and negative space are easily made and there are a hundred ways to skin that “cat” but do they speak to the photo or the judge?

    • Thank you Victor for your comment. I also believe in ” stretching out on their own”. I do know the rules and could constructively critique photos, my own included, but I have been missing the “art” in many of the images I have been seeing. If the idea was documentary photography, well then maybe the “snapshot” image is OK for saying what a creature is in the photo. I am a veteran of critique in architecture so it is not a huge jump to photography. The artist in me wants more I guess than the competition was willing to give. I am with you also on many ways to skin the cat. If I join this club, I doubt I would enter my images. The group is made up of photographers of varying experience, from pros to those new to photography. It is fun to listen to the critiques though even if I find what they are saying to be different than what I think.

  2. Mike says:

    Reblogged this on This Got My Attention and commented:
    Interesting points. I agree with Victor. Hard and fast rules aren’t helpful in an art. Suggestions and critiques, however, are great to get.

  3. Victor Ho says:

    I’m not one for contests but constantly reassess and reevaluate my stuff. Technically it’s not hard to shoot a decent image with today’s computer algorithms built into lens and computer processor. In fact I am guilty of leaving it on “P” so I can concentrate on composition. That said, there are countless birds shot from behind. Nothing special there except that it’s the shot you took. For that special shot that holds your heart, I liken it to love… when you are in love you know it. So there are a few images that are special. I used to say it would be maybe about 1 in 36 frames of film. I didn’t shoot a lot and never wasted a slide. Nowadays digital lets anyone shoot hundreds of images underwater. Anyone/everyone is an underwater photographer (myself included). Old divers would shoot ten frames per dive (3) and save six for something special. So i know I have a lot of great (technical) images but there are only a few that jump out. In this day my family has been the greatest critics. Sometimes an image will attract them that I otherwise would have discarded. Who can explain why an image reaches someone? Yes, I agree and eagle shot is special. Judging doesn’t take into account how rare and how hard it was to get that shot. It’s about the image without credit for the work it took to get that image. Don’t fret your stuff is really solid, backsides and all.

    • Today’s digital world has made everyone a photographer. This is good and bad at the same time. The dizzying amount of photographs on the web make people numb to sifting through images that are truly good. Like you, I have been photographing since my days with the F2, but I myself have not used my film camera since 2002. The old film camera makes me understand the difficulty that was inherent in taking photographs and why pros were pros. Pros today can be absolutely anybody selling even one image. That is what makes me question judging. I have no idea of the ability or experience of those individuals. Sometimes we see their work and well… judging should take into account difficulty. Not if the image is very poor, but if it is reasonably good, difficulty should matter.

  4. Laurin Lindsey says:

    I only recently found your blog! Thank you so much for sharing your wonderful photos, insights and experiences. I hadn’t realized when I started blogging that I would become so interested in photography : )

  5. Sherrie says:

    I absolutely loved the forest scenes…. They soothed my soul.
    Feeling like I am actually there. Just love this time of year… The bare bones and flesh of the land are really visible this time of year. inspiring to walk this time of year.

    • Oddly, I like the bare forest too. It reminds me of seasons past with the brown grasses and fallen branches. Many think this time of year is limited for photography. In the competition, there were all seasons represented, but I cannot remember an image from this time of year. It just takes looking at things differently.

  6. Annette says:

    Hi Donna, I think if you ask 10 judges you’ll get at least 6 different answers. One thing I’ve found out is that photography is a very personal and often emotional subject. I often look at prize winning images or at those that get the most likes on Facebook and I wonder…but I like your images. So don’t think too much about what others think. It’s also important to develop your own style and feeling as to what feels right. Happy Easter 🙂

    • Since I did not and probably will never enter my images, I will not have to worry what others might think. I already told them if they want to see my photos, they must come to my blog. Here they won’t be seeing HDR and all the other ways to texture a photo. I can do it and have, but posting so often, I don’t have time for all that editing. Many at the competition did do this kind of extreme editing, and many are at just the button pushing stage. Photography is personal to the creator. Thank you and Happy Easter, Annette.

  7. These are excellent points you are making, Donna. As we were saying on the last post, it all depends on the photographer. A talented photographer [:artist] supersedes those rules with imagination and vision. Like your images, my dear! 🙂 Don’t get me wrong, I am not against rules. They are a perfectly good starting point, however the people who judge ought to be able to spot a talent from miles away and put those rules aside.

  8. Your photos are just amazing to me and so thought provoking. I loved the forest pictures, too. Your photos leave room for personal interpretation and imagination.

  9. lucindalines says:

    Judges might be experts, but I believe it boils down to what you like. I happen to really like all of your pictures, and for those of us who have only seen an eagle in the wild once every four or five years, a picture of an eagle in flight is pretty darn awesome. My photography loving daughter was spell bound by that goose with the raised leg.

  10. I love the photos and enjoyed your post. I once spoke to a judge who just looks at the final image and what it tells him. He is not interested in the process or the technicalities that went into the image. He said he had an argument with another judge who disagreed with his decision, saying that there was so much wrong with the technical side of the image he thought should win, that automatically excluded that image. I agree with him. I don’t care about the technical side. The image has to speak to me, bring out an emotional response in me and have a wow factor. That is why I do photography. I don’t want to miss something because I was thinking about all the settings and how to get the best lighting etc.
    We can get too bogged down with all the technical issues that we really can miss what the image is trying to tell us. 🙂

    • I heard that too, that the judges look at the end product only. I find I try to avoid thinking and just do. If I am in the moment, no thinking is allowed. That is how I paint, so it seems normal to me when I photograph. I do find I make mistakes sometimes that way though if I forget to adjust the exposure.

  11. Kevin says:

    So many interesting points made in the post, but I think — in the end — judging is such a subjective process. What one judge loves, another may be critical of. I think that if you enjoy the process, the image, the opportunity to take a photo — then that holds more weight than what any judge can offer. For the record, I liked your photo of the goose from behind, staring across the water. It made me wonder what the bird was thinking during that moment of solitude. Happy Easter.

    • I did like hearing what the judge said even though I had no images in the competition. Even when I disagreed, I learned more. I am glad you liked my backwards goose. I thought the same thing about him. He was in a trance enjoying the day coming to an end.

  12. acuriousgal says:

    I am no where near a professional so I try to photograph what catches my eye. If others don’t find it interesting, not much I can do about it. I also like to play with apps and editing and like to think my images are more pieces of art. I do have pics that are sooc, but I find manipulating pics quite interesting. I guess it’s my love of abstract art. I looove your photos and yes, they speak to me and want me to read on. I think you’re doing everything right….keep on doing what you’re doing…your photos are wonderful

    • Funny thing in the competition, there was no mention of interest in the images. The one talk I attended there was. Her talk on storytelling was all about interest and creating art. Her wildlife work was beautiful too. The other presentation alluded to interest also.

  13. Debra says:

    Happy Easter!
    I think for someone like me (total amateur) ‘focus on the eyes’ of the animal can be a helpful guide or trick. It would sure help me frame the shot. But, I don’t think that it is necessarily a good rule. I love your photos where the animal is looking away or ahead just as much. Looking at an animal’s eyes may make me feel connected as a viewer but the experience doesn’t always have to be about me. It is just as worthwhile a goal to move outside my interest and wonder what is in the animal’s interest.

    • I understand the “need” to connect with the animal subject, but connecting with the viewer is what photography is about in this case. The animal would never care. 😀 If it was photographing people, then connecting with the subject really makes the photograph and ultimately will connect with the viewer too.

  14. Oh me oh my Donna. I would truly put your photos up against anyones. When one has to think so much, something gets lost in the translation (photo) in my humble opinion. Interesting. Margie

  15. My Heartsong says:

    My favourites are the one-legged goose facing forward looking pensive staring to the left, with the blurred sides. There is a real mood here.The goose flying right at us at eye level is a good example of when to break the “rule of thirds”.The Blue-winged teal shows action, a fine display of feathers and isn’t obscured by the grasses.The one with the light in the background,on the water, and on the leaves in the background and on the trunks has my eyes wandering all over the picture.For this reason I disagree that this is a simple image. I still like eagles though I know some want more action, taking off, attacking another or catching prey.Ask 20 people , you will get 20 opinions. I would suggest that you put your photos in to be critiqued, a good judge will always say a few positive things and make a couple of suggestions.That way we learn. They always have their own bias. One thing I try to do now is not get too many branches in the way, sharp focus and that “glint in the eye.”I learned that from people whose work I truly admire. I fail miserably most times but enjoy myself.. that is what is really important. Happy shooting.

    • Thanks for your critique. It is thoughtful and helpful. In architecture critiques, they rarely ever said anything constructive in a good way to most students. This photography club critique did say nice things along with things meant to improve the creator’s work. I am just not sure they took it far enough. I assumed the photographers knew when their photo was not focused well. Maybe they didn’t know when there was too much negative space, but I did disagree many times on what and where the judge said to crop an image.

      My next post has tiny birds with that glint in their eye and lots of action. You yourself know that that is difficult and based on the sun conditions. You know that was a criticism on a few images at the competition. How are you going to get a glint in the eye of an owl in the deep woods unless you Photoshop it in? My gosh, that was nit picking.

  16. Phil Lanoue says:

    Happy Easter!
    I tend to be my own worst critic when it comes to my photos. My delete key is worn down.

  17. alesiablogs says:

    He Has Risen. Happy Easter! I am finally home after a grueling trip across country, but happy to be here~!
    I loved the photo of the backwards goose. You could write a story about him……A picture is worth a thousand words as you have said…..I like the comments on this post also. So many interesting thoughts about judging photography.

  18. I was talking to someone who sometimes is invited to give critiques at camera clubs. He said it’s difficult because he has just a few seconds to spend on each photo. Plus so much is subjective. Is soft focus warm and romantic or is it just a blurry photo? The comments can be helpful to the people like me in the audience.

    • The judge at this meeting did have a bit of time. He just spent more on some than others. I think an experienced photographer can tell the difference when a scene is either romantic or just plain blurry. If a feeling as there, and it will be noticed. Blurry has to be done with intent, not so tentative that it appears to be a mistake. One I saw I was sure they intended the blur. It looked like they introduced motion blur. It scored low and was a nice capture.

  19. Donna-your photos are beautiful and speak a thousand words. I agree with everyone else. Ask ten different artists and you will get ten different opinions. My feeling is that if you feel emotion or passion about the subject when you look into your lens and the final photograph relays the same message then the photography is correct.

  20. Happy Easter. I am sure we will all benefit from your additional photographic insights by seeing your photos.

  21. Happy Easter Donna! I think judges only can see things from their perspective and many are bogged down by narrowed lenses. I like pictures that evoke emotion and that are thought provoking…I agree the images of the birds from behind are interesting. They show another perspective…..I saw go by the rules that you feel are best.

  22. swo8 says:

    You’ve got a lot of interest in those pictures, as they are.

  23. Karen says:

    Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. As we look at a scene from nature, each of us see and appreciate something different. What someone else might find fault with, others will love. 🙂

  24. That first picture of the forest looked rather somber and autumnal, from a storybook perhaps but more likely The Fellowship of the Ring. The second one looked springlike and magical – something more from the Land of Narnia or perhaps the forest of Tolkien’s elves. The light on the light green leaves is very evocative.

  25. A.M.B. says:

    Advice from experts can certainly be helpful, but it seems that apart from a few technical matters, everyone is going to have a different opinion. All of the photographs here are interesting in one way or another. Each gives me something different–a mood, food for thought, a smile, etc. Next time, you should be an expert on the panel!

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