How To See Your Photos With A Critical Eye

I love most of my photos. You probably love yours too.

Of course we do! When we capture our moments and our memories, it makes logical sense we’d love our photos.

Have you ever wanted to take your photography to the next level? Have you been unsure how to do that?

Once you’ve learned how to shoot in manual mode, how to see the light, and how to get a great composition what’s next?

I believe the next step is to see your photographs with a critical eye. Not in a beat yourself up because you never get it right way, but in a next time I should think about this way.

When I critique photos in class I focus on three things. These three elements help to create a stronger image.

Emotional Impact

The first step is to look at the Emotional Impact of a photo.

Take a look at my photo and then quickly respond to the questions below.

  • How does this photo make you feel?
  • What do you like or dislike about this photo?
  • What does it remind you of from your own experience?
  • What does this photo make you think of?

Your answers may be different than mine, but a good photo will begin by creating some type of emotional connection to the viewer. You are reminded of something, connected to something, or made to feel a strong emotion. In my everyday photos I like the emotions to be positive, but it’s not just positive emotions behind good images.


This photo makes me feel warm and happy. I want to reach into the frame and give him a big hug. I’m reminded of childhood innocence and that special connection between a mother and her child.


Once you’ve critiqued from an emotional perspective, move forward to composition. Often composition choices help drive the emotional feelings we have about a photo. We’ll look at four specific elements of composition.

Take a look at this photo and quickly respond to the questions below.

  • Does the photo appear balanced?
  • If used, Is the rule of thirds used effectively?
  • Does the angle of view enhance the photo?
  • Does the crop work for the photo?


This photo relies on the use of the rule of thirds, filling the bottom two portions of the thirds with landscape. The horizon would be stronger if it was either lower in the frame or just a tad bit higher as it falls very close to the midline of the frame. The leading lines created by the road, lead the viewer into the frame in an effective way creating balance and movement.

Technical Elements

Now it’s time to get technical. For the technical qualities we can start with a few basics.

  • Is the exposure too dark or too light?
  • Is light used effectively?
  • Does the depth of field enhance the photo?
  • Is the photo in focus?


This photo has strong emotional impact. The technical qualities of the photo could be improved with more light on the subject. The eyes lack a catch light, making them a bit flat and lifeless. The depth of field is very shallow, making the letter to the tooth fairy difficult to read. The low light of the image, impacts the focus of the image. Notice how it falls on his nose rather than his eyes or the finger pointing to the new gap.

So What Now?

Does my critique mean I delete these photos from my collection? Absolutely not. I use the critique to improve my next photos. It helps me to think about those small elements that come together to create an image I love. I’m also reminded that sometimes the emotional impact is enough for me to overlook the technical mess a photo may have.

Did you find one area’s questions harder to answer than another? The area with the most difficult questions is most likely the area where you can grow your photography skills the most! A nice little critique bonus, isn’t it?!

Have you critiqued your own photos in a constructive way? Share in the comments below!