15 Questions To Ask Yourself When Evaluating A Photo

katiebookI’m a big fan of online video, video blogging and the importance of photography in design. But I’m a total amateur when it comes to the technical side of photography and video, such as lighting and cameras. You know that phrase, “know enough to be dangerous”. That pretty much describes me. I’m largely self-taught, and if you watch some of my videos over time I’m sure you can see the evidence that I’m learning as I go!

Luckily I’m going to shortly get some help. I’m teaching part-time this semester at University of Wisconsin, and one of my colleagues at the university, Katie Stern, is an expert at all things photography. I’m hiring her to come to my video studio and help me work with lighting, and I’m really excited to do so!

In the meantime I’ve been reading her book, Photo 1: An Introduction to the Art of Photography (Amazon affiliate link)

(Warning… it’s a textbook and full of beautiful images — i.e., it’s not inexpensive!!) There’s this great section towards the end that kind of sums up all the things you can learn in the book, and I thought it was an interesting set of questions to ask yourself when you are evaluating a photo that you are thinking of using in one of your projects, for example, at a website, book, or whatever else you are designing. Here are the questions that Katie suggests you ask:

  • Describe the photograph. What does it look like? Color, grayscale, areas of each?
  • What is the subject matter in the photograph?
  • Can you tell from which social era it came? What clues give you that information?
  • Does the photograph give you a sense of time (day or night, long exposure or short exposure)? What clues give you that information?
  • What can you discern about the camera’s aperture, shutter speed, and ISO settings when the photograph was made? What visual clues lead you to your conclusions?
  • What was the approximate focal length of the lens? Wide angle? Telephoto? What leads you to your conclusion?
  • What were the lighting conditions when the photograph was made? Do you think flash was used at all? Can you discern the distance, direction, and color temperature of light source(s)?
  • What was the vantage point of the camera when the photograph was made? Was the camera low to the ground, at eye level, overhead, or somewehre in between?
  • Did the photograph have an emotional impact on you when you first saw it? What emotions did the photograph trigger in you?
  • What emotional response do you think the photographer was trying to evoke in a viewer? Did the photgrapher’s intention match your emotional reaction?
  • What concept or idea do you think the photographer was trying to portray with the photograph?
  • Do you think the photographer was successful in translating these thoughts into a visual form? What aspects of the photograph lead you to this conclusion?
  • Considering your thoughts on the lighting, choice of lens, vantage point, aperature, shutter speed, and ISO the photographer used, what could the photographer have done differently to strengthen the message?
  • Do the following elements help or hurt what you perceive as the concept of the photograph?

              Cropping of the photo
              Density (lightness or darkness) in the overall photograph
              Contrast (the range between the lightest and darkest areas of the photo)
              Details (or lack thereof) in shadows and highlights
              Depth of field
              Composition
              Color (if it’s a color image) such as color balance, brightness or dullness of the colors, and how the colors relate to each other within the photograph

  • What changes would you make if you could have made the photograph yourself?

Wow, makes me realize just how much I don’t know!

What do you think? Do you know enough to evaluate photos this thoroughly? How important do you think it is to evaluate the photos you use?

If you are interested in Katie and her book you can find more info on her Amazon author page.

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