The participants post the images they shot in the DEDPXL Flickr pool and other places and place a hashtag such as #dedpxl01 on it.
Zack and his wife Meghan then record a critique of selected images, offer a grade and comments that explain the grade and maybe why the shot works or how it might be made better. So far the critiques have run for an hour and a half or more, and apparently take about a day, sometimes more, to make.
The assignments are set with at least two stated objectives:
- teaching some aspect of the photographers's art and craft and
- getting people out of their chairs and shooting photographs, instead of reading about shooting photographs on the Internets
Now you have to understand that in the photography world - Zack is very well known.
He's what they call a "rockstar photographer", although his modesty would probably cause him to go all red in the face and deny it.
He has a pretty decent following of disciple photographers at every stage of the photographers career, from beginning rank amateurs through to accomplished professionals working in the field.
When I say a decent following I mean that there are nearly 3000 members of the Flickr group alone, let alone 500px, GPlus etc. Those nearly 3000 members generated 5-6000 images in the first two shoots in the Flickr pool alone. In fact there is now a 2 image per week limit to try and keep the thing manageable.
But despite the obvious impossibility of everyone having an image critiqued in a week or two, or indeed at all , some people have asked "why have non of my shots been chosen for critique".
Now I guess there are two main motivations, the first is attention seeking or affirmation. These people want their images in the crit vid as some sort of affirmation of their photography or themselves or to draw attention to the same. Whatever. Good luck.
The second is that like many of us, especially us amateurs, these photographers desperately want to get better at their photography.
They know that they are not "there" and they need someone who is emotionally detached from their image, the process and experience of shooting the image and is not closely related to them to look at their image dispassionately and assess it with an impartial eye.
Only when they know what is wrong can they fix it.
This is something I keenly understand. And there are so many amateur shooters out there these days, all wanting and needing that same impartial, emotionally detached critique.
All of those people who desperately want crit are probably right - they probably do need it.
But the same thing that makes it impossible for Zack to crit us all is the very solution to the problem.
There are literally thousands of us.
Zack and Meghan can't critique 1000 photos every few weeks.
But we can.
We can crit each other.
Not everyone in the DEDPXL Flickr group is a long time Flickr user and not every long time Flickr user has necessarily participated in the Flickr culture.
So here's the news.
Flickr has a ton of critique groups
Here's a list of some: in the Critique [directory] .
They work something like this:
There are images in the pool. By posting your asking for critique.
If you want to post for critique you have to critique every image in the pool before you.
You provide feedback. I like the .... The .... is too dark, your focus is off... that's great lamp post and you've accented it really well with that tiny figure in the distance...
You cast a vote. Usually Keep or Ditch.
You tag the image with your vote. If your the 3rd person to vote ditch you rage ditch3 if your the seventh person to vote keep, yo vote keep7. You get the idea, its not rocket science.
When the image hits a certain number of keeps or ditches, an admin purges it from the pool.
Often there will be two associated pools - one where people whose image got an overall keep can put their images, "the gallery" and one where people whose image got an overall ditch "the darkroom".
The exact process differs from group to group, but the idea is the same.
Quid pro quo. You crit me, I'll crit you. Both our itches will be scratched.
Now the really interesting thing about this process for me has been how much I improved when I started participating in one of these groups.
A lot of the time I don't really value the crit I get.
A lot of times the people make inane comments - oh you shot that person in the centre frame - haven't heard of the rule of thirds? Well yeah I have, but its not an absolute it's not appropriate for all shots. Get over it.
But despite not liking or taking all of the crit on board I learnt stuff
I learnt a LOT of stuff.
How, if I am getting crit I ignore and mainly don't value, do I learn a lot?
I give crit.
It's been my experience that giving critique is one of the most useful things you can do to improve your photography.
Giving critique forces you to start examining your gut feeling. It's easy to say "meh crap photo", it's often much harder, at least to start with to say " meh that's crap photo because....".
Being forced to provide and verbalise a reason for your judgement forces you to understand what it is that works or does not work for an image and when.
The other part is offering suggestions. Again this forces you to think about how the shot was made and maybe why the exposure settings are what they are and the comp is what it is.
You try to give a suggestion, then you notices.."oh damn if I crop that half a person I lose that ...."
Or "its blurry, not sharp. Oh the shutter speed is 1/30. Hey you need to bump your shutter to 1/60 at least. Oh you're already wide open? Hmmm, and your ISO is 6400? Wow, maybe I need to revise my thoughts. You did really well to get that shot. It's not a keep, because the blurriness works to hard against it, but boy, it's pretty damn good given the conditions."
You do this a few times a week for a few months and pretty soon you'll notice that you start assessing these factors when you are taking your own shots.
And then when you're editing your own shots you notice that that image that looked absolutely killer when you chimped is in reality a really interesting subject in an empty frame. That's not gonna cut it. Fred from the crit group would be all over it - and he'd be right.
And a bit later on, you start making the same assessments as you frame your shots. Those assessments
become an integral part of your shooting.
You start asking active questions of your self. Why am I taking THIS shot? What is it I want to show?
Does my current frame achieve that? What's more important to my frame, the naked lady swinging on the chandelier or the main subjects shoes? What's on the edge of my frame? Will that light cause flare? Will that sign distract?
Those questions, and the ability to analyse your opinion, to understand where it comes from and why you hold it. Why this pic is good and that bad?
That's the value of critique.
You actively learn about images and train yourself to assess them both technically and aesthetically.
It's like when you strike a difficult problem at work or in life and you go and talk about it with someone. Just the act of explaining it is often enough to give you the answer.
Crit is the same. Describing what you see and like and dislike helps you understand what works and what doesn't.
There's only one catch - isn't there always?
It takes time and effort. You have to set aside some time and make the effort to really think about what you're seeing and what is good and bad about it.
But if you want to make better pictures you're going to have to spend some time and effort, and for me, critiquing OTHER people's photos has been some of the best investment I've made in my photography.
I actually enjoyed the act of critique and spend at times hours in a day on it.
I'm not sure how long other people will need to see results. But I am sure the more time you invest the greater the pay off.
And if your shy, self conscious not confident enough to join in.
Read the other crit.
But most importantly perform the crit yourself .
You don't have to publish it.
Just type into into file on your own computer or write it down on paper until your feel you have the confidence.
It doesn't really matter. In the end your crit is maybe useful for the other guy.
But the process of generating that crit - of systematically assessing images and describing their strengths and weaknesses - that's absolute gold for your photographic mind and eye and your own photography.
Seriously, participate. I think you'll notice the difference.
Worked for me.
Might work for you too.