Photography Critique :: Episode 12

November 4, 2009 | • Critique

Welcome to episode 12 of Photography Critique. We take a look at four sites and I do my best to stay on track, make my point, and move on. Trying to take your critique of our critique to heart as best I can! Still can’t stop gabbing though. Hour and 12 on this one. I’m proud of this one. Hope you enjoy it as well!

Some really interesting discussion has formed around our last episode of Photography Critique.  

I’m glad if we can give some pointers here and there but I think we ruffled some feathers and have started a discussion a bit deeper than how to edit your work.  We’ve had a number of people recently stumble across us so I want to go over our own in-house rules for this critique thing that we do.

#1 – We only critique work that has been submitted to us.  We do not do any drive-by critiques. If you send your site to us you know it will possibly end up on this blog and be the topic of a public discussion. If you want to be added to the list just email me your URL. Send it to critique @

#2 – I DO NOT name names in text or give links to the work we critique. The reason we do this is so “John Doe Photography” can submit his work and know that nothing on my blog will show up in a search engine. I ask that all readers cross posting these critiques respect this as well.  Do not give a link to the person’s work AND a link to this blog. This is to keep possible negative critiques out of the reach from perspective clients researching said John Doe photographer.

#3 – Meg and I do this for the community at large and we have fun with it.  We will not get academic with these critiques. At times we have something serious to say or something technical to share but you are going to get the EXACT same critique on this blog as if you came to our house, sat down at our dining room table, and showed us your work. We would offer you a drink and go through your work exactly as we do on this site. Smart ass comments and all.

#4 – Speaking of smart ass comments… We make them. We hope we are not offending anyone but if we think something looks funny then chances are other people are going to come along and think something similar.  If we add a stupid caption to a photo it is because it’s so easy to do. Remember this… You can’t stand around your work and explain it to people as they see it. Once your site goes out in the world you have zero control over what people are going to think of your work. Meg and I are going to give you an off the cuff honest idea of what may be thought of your work.  Like it or love it or leave it.  If we laugh at one of your pictures it may be due to the fact that it is funny.  The rub happens when your intention was to make a serious photo.  We aren’t so jaded and cynical that we make fun of everything but you may not see it until it’s pointed out. 

#5 – I am looking at your site as though I’m a photo editor, art director, or general public client. Would I hire you? Would I love your work? Would I hate it? Would I laugh at it? Would I think it is original or dated or boring? If so, I’ll tell you. But my goal is to not leave you there. If I feel I can speak to the work and give suggestions to make it better then I most certainly will give you my opinion in how I feel it can be made better.  I will do all I can to point out your strengths as well.  I’m not here just to try and bring people down. I do these things in hopes that it helps.

Meg is looking at your work as Meghan “General Public” Arias.  She’s not trained in photography. She’s not a shooter. She’s not an editor. She likes being the detached third party.  That’s not to say she doesn’t know what she’s talking about.  She’s a smart girl and has some interesting opinions on the work.  I should know, she has opinions about mine all the time!  😉

#6 – I’m going to do my best to not make a critique personal.  I’m looking at your photography. Not you. But at 1am I know I’ll make a joke and step on toes. Please know that we aren’t trying to be jerks. We’re dorks.

#7 – Whatever we say here… we would say it to your face.  We don’t hide behind the Internet.   

#8 – Most days… I have to listen to myself because I sure as hell don’t have it figured out and I’m just as guilty of the flaws I’m so quick to point out to others. Have you seen my sites? They suck right now. Suck. The only thing that lets me sleep through the night is I know they suck right now because I’m too busy shooting to be building a web site. Just note that I suck too.   

Rules for you…

#1 – Don’t take it personal.  You have to divorce yourself from your work to get an honest assessment of it. If you don’t you can’t grow. Your family and friends may absolutely love, love, love your photography. Heck, your clients may be head over heals about that selective colored heart over the belly button with no less than 17 actions thrown on top of it. Fine. People are happy with Wal-Mart portraits too but that doesn’t mean they are good. There are higher goals to reach in this craft and that is the point of view I’m coming from. Let Wal-Mart produce the crap. Individual photographers need to push on to better work.

#2 – Understand we are just one tiny voice in a sea of thousands. Take what we say with a grain of salt because you could show your work to another photographer the same day you show it to us and you will get a whole different take on it.  Gather several TRUSTED voices together and then filter it down through your own brain to find out what needs to happen.

#3 – I can’t stress enough that Meg and I do not take ourselves seriously.  We kindly request you do the same.  

#4 – ALWAYS let us know how we can do this better.  Speak up. Talk about it. We are all growing up in this ever changing industry together.  It’s a pretty damn fun place to be. I’m glad you are here and I’m glad to be a part of it. 

How’d we do on this one?

Cheers, Zack 


  • zack said on November 4, 2009

    Whoops. An hour and 23 on this one. Hehe.


  • Kim Siever said on November 4, 2009

    Looks like a baby bird squawking while looking to the sky.

  • Chris said on November 4, 2009

    Hey Zack! Been following the site for a while but this is my first post..

    My wife and I LOVE the critiques. We cant wait to watch this one! We think you guys do a great job. You and Meg are a hootnanny in our book. But we also think the critiques are very beneficial even if you are not the one being critiqued.

    I know for myself it has helped me see what my good traits are but also what I need to work on. I am currently working on getting a solid portfolio going. And once I do I will get it out to you. Thanks again for your work on the critiques!

  • Chris Hansard said on November 4, 2009

    I think the Squeek logo is an Owl with its wing outstretched reaching for a Tootsie Pop…

  • Todd said on November 4, 2009

    Nice critiques – I’m about halfway through watching/listening while I do my daily workflow. The pasta scooper comment by your wife had me dying.

    The 2nd website – it might have looked better 15 years ago, but I can agree that it’s definitely going against all principles of today’s design and layout standards. With a photography website the images are what you want to focus on the most; not so much the site design, anyway. Ease of navigation is important, and less is definitely more. This guy’s images are being hindered o lot by the site’s design and layout. It’s like serving up a gourmet meal in a cardboard big mac container or something.

  • Brian Grissom said on November 4, 2009

    I really can’t wait to get home and watch this. Maybe. I’m a little nervous.

  • zack said on November 4, 2009

    @Todd – “It’s like serving up a gourmet meal in a cardboard big mac container or something.”

    – That’s a great way of putting it!


  • Squeeker said on November 4, 2009

    Hey Zack!

    Thanks for critiquing my stuff! I’ve got a ton of notes here about the projects especially. Thanks for that. =)

    I’ll be shooting you an email with a few questions that I have.

    And as far as the logo goes: it’s a Mousebird. I used to work with them back in my animal trainer days and they are awesome. But an owl is an interesting view. Most people when they see my tattoo which is similar think it’s a stingray. It’s abstract, so I know people will mess it up.

    =) Anyway… thanks again and I’m working on my email now. =)

    ( Squeeker )

  • wn said on November 4, 2009

    REALLY liked to hear your take on Actions. Have resisted most of them so far…and am slowly (and meticulously) building portfolio based ALOT on the themes and suggestions that I’ve heard on Critiques just like this one.

    Thanks again, to you and Meg. for putting yourselves out there for us..and telling it to us….like it really IS.

  • cary norton said on November 4, 2009

    you guys must have been ripped a new one via email/comments…you’re being way too apologetic. but then, don’t listen to me…i’m an asshole.

  • joseph tutlo said on November 4, 2009

    the king of belgium is very upset that you referred to joe mcnally as a king. he is clearly not qualified to carry such a prestigious title.

    cher is very upset at meghan’s derogatory comment about the use of pitch correction. it’s the coolest thing ever yo. get over it.

    target has placed a call to it’s legal department. their cargo pants are indeed sexy.

  • Jay McIntyre said on November 4, 2009

    This was the first critique that I’ve seen, good stuff. I’m really just starting out myself and I recently downloaded a bunch of Camera Raw presets and I hate them all! I’ve ended up using a couple but not without applying my own adjustments on top of them.
    So I guess my question is, at what point does making adjustments become a part of who you are rather than following the crowd?

  • edd carlile said on November 4, 2009

    You did great on this….I really enjoyed how you spoke about technique versus (or complimentary to) content of an image. Compositional information about cutting toes and fingers is always good to be reminded of. (though I grasped that one myself a long time ago)
    I love how you see the strength of the work and encourage the Photog to focus more on that.
    Great critique input on this one….love hearing Megan’s voice…she has fresh eyes for photography.

  • zack said on November 4, 2009

    @joseph – :) Hahahahaha!


  • Michael Young said on November 4, 2009

    By far one of the hardest things I’ve ever done and ever had to go through! But that is why I submitted my stuff for critique…to get away from the family and friends critique and get real. Thanks so much.

  • zack said on November 4, 2009

    @Cary – Yeah, we got emails, comments, and calls on the last one! Seriously.

    @Jay – It’s one thing to make “adjustments” it a whole other thing when you take an image, throw it in the blender, and take a big yellow piss all over it. :) Subtle movements into “technique” are advised until you are a really strong shooter.

    Also – RAW presets are a total shot in the dark. You HAVE to get presets for YOUR model of camera AND the lighting conditions you shot in. I could make preset for something shot in the shade on a D3 and then run that preset on an image shot with flash on a 5d and you won’t even be close to the same result. RAW presets need to be made individually.


  • Sweeney T said on November 4, 2009

    An additional comment about the second photographer’s “products” page: I don’t believe he took any of the photos that are used in those example products. It’s misleading at best to see someone else’s well-executed portraits on the mouse pad, playing cards, etc. Or maybe it’s understood that those are just examples?

  • Marissa Rodriguez said on November 4, 2009

    I really enjoy watching your critiques! They are sooooo helpful and you gave me so much to think about today it’s ridiculous but in a good way! You guys are awesome!

  • zack said on November 4, 2009

    @Sweeney – Good point.

    @Michael – I know holmes. I’ve walked out of critiques in tears because hours upon countless hours of work were obliterated in five minutes. It’s tough but it’s needed.

    Pruning and all of those other metaphors.


  • Leeann said on November 4, 2009

    I don’t think you need to defend yourself in your critiques, Zack. If you submit your site for a critique, you should expect an honest opinion. Granted, it is still your opinion so we can all take it or leave it. But you shouldn’t have to defend your stance.

    That said, I love your critiques, and have used some of your comments as a translation into my own work. Thanks for that.

    – Leeann

  • Josh said on November 4, 2009

    Mirrors Edge is a video game, I would recommend youtubing it or doing a Google Image Search.

    It’s basically a free running game.

  • Alexandra said on November 4, 2009

    I’m loving these critiques!! You guys are awesome. Very interesting and eye opening.

  • Brian Grissom said on November 4, 2009


    I can’t thank you enough for going over my site. You are literally the first photographer to go over my photos and give me an honest look at where I’m at. I’ve got a long way to go but this gives me a ton of ideas and is really going to push me to get out of using so many actions.

    I find that the photos that I like sooc are ones that I don’t use as much junk on, and the ones that I”m indifferent about tend to get the brunt of all the actions (which says quite a bit I guess). I think sometimes I’m still not comfortable where I’m at as a photog so making things look “vintage” or whatever makes me feel like I’m doing something different or better.

    I”ll have more thoughts/questions later. thanks again.

  • NoelS said on November 4, 2009

    Actions = Polishing a turd. I looked at my Photos after your critique and they dont look same anymore. I over use actions and I hope one not to be dependant on them Thanks Zack

  • Frank T said on November 4, 2009

    Do you give the “chosen few” a heads-up prior to the critiques?

    Love this – thx for sharing!

  • Brian Grissom aka T-Pain said on November 4, 2009

    “Actions for photography is like auto-tune for musicians…”


    p.s. Just call me T-Pain :)

  • zack said on November 4, 2009

    @Frank – I do not give the “random few” a heads-up. That would give them a chance to clean the house up a bit before we drop by. :)


  • sam coran said on November 4, 2009

    man, i love this critique series!

    zack, you said, “round circle” while doing the critique out of the turkey’s rear. It reminded me of the bloopers from your one light DVD!



  • Kevin said on November 4, 2009

    Ach, Zack. great critique, but with every issue I become more and more afraid of seeing my own site up there.
    HOWEVER, I’m glad you haven’t done it before now, because I’ve made NUMEROUS changes based partly on some of the guidelines you’ve voiced. At this point, it’s about as done as it’s going to be until I have another epiphany. I’m sort of plateaued right now.
    Also, your guidelines are fantastic to quote to my wife when she tries to make a case for me *not* removing one of her favorite images. ;D

  • Al said on November 4, 2009

    I’ve been down that action road a few times but at the end of the day I restrain it’s use for what they were intended for in the first place, and that is applying frequently used commands to speed up your workflow.

    +1 for Pro Retouch, without a doubt the best action out there (could it really be called an action though?).

  • Evan said on November 4, 2009

    Not sure I understand the film to digital argument/comparison. Maybe I am being insecure because I have had extremely limited experience with film. However isnt that like saying if you can drive a hybrid you should be able to drive a horse and buggy and too? So you can go out there and get it done. Both are modes of transportation but one relies heavily on modern technology and will get you there faster and more efficiently. While the other is slow cumbersome and often requires more resources. thoughts?

  • Evan said on November 4, 2009

    as a side note big props for the critiqued sacrificing their pride for Their/my/our enrichment and taking their licks.

    I don’t know that I am ready to stand before the mirror of honesty.

    I grow with each one of these.

  • Antonio Marcus said on November 4, 2009

    Interesting critique! I’ve just started following this blog. I look forward to more.

  • Squeeker said on November 4, 2009

    @Josh – thanks for pointing that out about Mirrors Edge. I forgot that I wanted to explain what that even was to those who haven’t seen or played the game. =)

  • J.R. said on November 4, 2009

    Love the critiques! Love Meg’s actions for photography is like auto-tune for musicians analogy. Don’t be overly cautious now. There will always be complainers. Keep it real! That’s why we tune in.

  • Matt Lange said on November 4, 2009

    Mini episodes. Don’t get me wrong, these are awesome. But it would be better if you broke into 4 mini episodes with 1 photographer each, instead of 1 REALLY long episode with 4 photographers.

  • matt beaty said on November 4, 2009

    “ummm…. like”


    Somebody says “like” a little too often… been hanging around too many models?

    As always, love hearing what you have to say, especially when i’m not the victim!

  • Al said on November 4, 2009

    I disagree, sometimes there is a flow or connection between the photogs so there has to be one long video.

  • Derek said on November 4, 2009

    I have to say that even before I followed zack, I hated the actions that make B&W look like crappy mud photos. I don’t understand way it has become so popular. I use to shoot B&W film in school a bunch and have a BIG love for traditional looking B&W. Please no more actions for B&W/muddy looking photos.
    Thanks for the video!

  • chi said on November 4, 2009


    love the critiques!!! Its honest and truthful from your pro perspective. That’s a helluva lot better than the critiques i get when i ask friends and family. “oh that’s nice” or “great job”

  • Squeeker said on November 4, 2009

    @chi – I agree with you! That’s why I submitted my stuff to get critiqued from Zack in the first place. Every time I would ask someone I knew to look at my stuff I would get alot of that “it’s nice” or “great job” stuff… nothing actually helpful. Sometimes it might be hard to hear, but I knew it’s what I needed in order to keep progressing! =)

  • matt s. said on November 4, 2009

    What a great crit. Thanks again for doing these. I’ve watched all of them religiously and have learned soooooooo much. Even to the point where I’m calling out what you’re going to say before I hear it. Like moving the turkey a bit and standing taller so you can see the space between it’s head and the wall—makes me feel smart =)

    Thanks for calling out the actions. Sometimes I feel like I’m left behind the times because I don’t really use them too much (or at least enough that viewers could tell)—except for Pro Retouch, which I agree, is ridiculously good.

    Again, thanks for these.

  • A said on November 4, 2009

    Hi Zack.

    This episode was better than the last one.

    Why? I know the subject in the last critique about the similar-taken photos was important to clarify – and to inform. And I totally agree, copypasting is wrong – unless it’s for educational and not commercial/i-made-this-stuff.

    I agreed with you the first time you mentioned it, but the time spent on kinda rubbing it in was overkill.

    Case being; Yeah, I agree, but not worth using so much time on clarifying.

    If the last episode made you guys tone it “down” a litte – don’t. Be hard, be honest and continue.

    Anywho. Great critique.


  • Michael Sharman said on November 4, 2009

    Thanks for another critique guys, amazing that you find the time to do this for the community. Very helpful :)

  • linda kuo said on November 4, 2009

    You can critique me all you want, but when you call my house vinyl, that’s where I draw the line. It’s wood. My husband is livid!

    Thanks so much for your critique. Lots of it was stuff that I inherently knew but couldn’t quite articulate what I felt was missing. I needed to hear it from someone who I revere and whose opinion means something. You were spot on. Yes I strain to test shoot the models. Yes those are office parking lots. It’s what Im doing for the moment to make some cash so that we can paint our vinyl house.

    Photographing the models doesn’t speak to me but it doesn’t mean it can’t (new at doing it) if I take a step back and re assess how I’m approaching it. it’s easier following animals and kids who have an inherent free flowing uninhibited energy about them that allows me to just observe, anticipate and feel.

    Im much more intuitive than technical and my comfort zone is in that subject matter. But I need to get comfortable with the uncomfortable.

    As one of your peeps said, my photos don’t look the same after your critique. My own standards limit me. I feel deflated but not discouraged! Value your time invested and critical detailed feedback that was given. Meg you deliver your input and observations with validity and clarity.

    Grateful to have been chosen. So valuable. Thanks again


  • Brian Grissom said on November 4, 2009


    Ok, so I have listened to your critique again and have a few questions.

    First of all, love the honesty, actions (at least the way I have used them in the past) are on their way out. I really get the idea that I need to shoot more clean color pictures first and then once I get a grasp on that then slowly add technique. That’s cool. I can and will start doing that. like right now.

    My question is with b/w. As you know (and I have shown) there are like 328,427 different types of b/w conversions/actions/presets out there and honestly I would love to get one I like, and stick completely with it. But what do you look for in a good b/w picture? What, for you, makes you stop and look with b/w? People say they like the “traditional b/w”, but what does that even mean? I have 72 presets that say “traditional b/w”. Am I over thinking this?

    I just feel like b/w has the biggest opportunity for failure but, also can be breathtaking if done well.

    Thank you so much for your thoughts. It wasn’t easy, but well worth it.


  • David Burke said on November 4, 2009

    Meg “This is like a Saturday Night Live Sketch” Ya I was Rolling on the floor laughing here. That was awesome! You two need a tv show. Great stuff.


  • Jason Grubb said on November 4, 2009

    We seriously plan great pizza and beer for when we get to watch new critiques

  • Al said on November 4, 2009

    Brian – a good BW conversion should be as simple as dropping your saturation and increasing your black levels to an acceptable level (in LR use the option key when dragging the slider). No need to use a preset or action as Zack says he action will be different everytime you apply it to a different image.

  • tim tab said on November 4, 2009

    dude, I love it!!! you guys are hilarious as well as astute observers and communicators!! thanks for doing this!
    It reminds me to be all the more critical of my own work and a little slap in the face to remember to keep things as fresh as possible!

  • Dan Kwholski said on November 4, 2009

    This critique was a rib tickler. Most of the critiques I totally agree with. You did, however, lose me on a couple of things.

    You used kid gloves on the guy that was at your workshop and “new” to photography. The guy used his own family shots and a guy with the same Reebok (logos being a BASIC no-no for portraits)shirt in several different photos which was never mentioned. Gotta keep him wanting to come back to the next workshop, so take it easy on him was my thought.

    I think the shot of the rear of the turkey, the window (which was only part of it and not a whole square) and the lamp (with the wire coming down which you never mentioned and could have been PS’d out) was terrible. Yet you loved it. The shot of the front of the black goat and the rear of a light goat was a neat shot that you dismissed until Meg took control of the mouse. A true testament to the eye of the beholder.

    In the end I come back here for more because there is always something to learn…even if I disagree sometimes.

    Thank you guys for all you do, your insight is invaluable.

  • Allen Ross Thomas said on November 4, 2009

    I like my critiques like I like my chicken – Spicy!

  • Chris said on November 5, 2009

    Hey guys! That was a great critique as always. My wife and I were kinda bummed out for you guys because you sounded kinda put out about the response you had from the last episode. I’m sure most enjoyed the last one as usual. I know we did!

    We always love the critiques. Easy for me to say right? I havent been critiqued yet. But I think your opinions need to be honest (sometimes brutally) so that the artist being critiqued and others watching with similar portfolios/mind sets/skill sets can get that cold splash of truth.

    Anyways, just saying thanks for another great show!

  • Brian Grissom said on November 5, 2009

    @Al – Thanks for the input. I”ll start doing that in Lightroom and see what I get. And you/Zack are completely right about the actions looking different on EVERY picture. It’s kind of crazy, and time consuming, which is kind of counter-intuitive, which is crazy.

  • zack said on November 5, 2009

    @Evan – Re: film/digital. I see it more like piano/synthesizer instead of horse/car.

  • Brian Grissom said on November 5, 2009


    “It is used to disguise inaccuracies and mistakes..” (from Wikipedia)

    Meghan, your analogy was amazing. Good show.

  • Hugo V. said on November 5, 2009

    Meghan and Zack, I love what you guys are doing it’s a great insigt and eye opener. Zack I truly enjoy your thoughts on camera tipping… give them a rope their falling off the earth.. get’s me laughing every time. Please keep doing these It does truly help us focus. Speaking from an amateur photog here. Cheers

    Hugo (Montreal Canada)

  • Graeme. said on November 5, 2009

    Took me 3 hours to get through this thing on my crappy iphone connection. Worth every minute.

  • Thomas TC said on November 5, 2009

    Ha! The comments are nearly as funny as the video it self. Good stuff.

    Zack and Meg – allow me to do a bit of critique, even if you didn’t ask for it….

    This is as somebody who’ve seen (or re-seen) more or less all the critique episodes over the last couple of weeks; which to begin with isn’t recommended, but hey, I did it.

    It starts to get a little repetitive. The basic messages are good, but nobody, needs to hear it that may times (if they didn’t get it the first time, they probably never will): KISS, Focus, don’t show if you don’t have it, consider your target.

    It still needs to be said – but for the (hopefully huge horde of) repeat visitors, it’s kind of old news – we know what you are going to say.

    You asked, in one of the comments, of you should be more Simon and less .. (can’t remember who).. nice. I think that level is find. Stay civil.

    But I love it when you use the material available, to discuss photography. That will be new and fresh, as long as the material is new and fresh. I love it when you go through a bunch of shots really fast going “seen this before… ” and then stop and explain why you like one particular photo.

  • Laura said on November 5, 2009

    Yes. More of the same.

    I absolutely do not believe everyone has to go major in photography or photojournalism in college to be a photographer, but I did do that and one of the most valuable things in that environment was BRUTAL peer and teacher critiques.

    Now that I teach photography in high school, I’ve tried to ease my students into that as well…constructive (positive and negative) criticism is required and they have to build tough skin. I’ve learned myself how difficult it is to verbalize what they could do better without crushing their spirits. Or even to find words to express why something is not as good as it could be, so props to you guys figuring out how to express this stuff.

    Also, my students aren’t allowed to do anything in photoshop other than newspaper industry standards (aka what you could do in the traditional dark room). I’m only 25 but started out exclusively with film and that was a valuable foundation.

    Wow…sorry for the diatribe. Thanks again Zack, we are all students.

  • David said on November 5, 2009

    @Brian and @Al (and anyone else interested in b/w) – I disagree with the statement “a good BW conversion should be as simple as dropping your saturation and increasing your black levels to an acceptable level”

    Good BW conversion requires more than that. Simply desaturating a photo can make you lose out on a lot of the potential richness that’s there in the color image. Here’s the example I like to use (forgive me for going back to basics, but this might be helpful for some people):

    Let’s forget about digital for a moment, and talk about film. Imagine shooting a bowl of apples with color film. Some of the apples in the bowl are nice and red and some are lovely green. In color, you can get this across wonderfully. You don’t need to do much to show the difference in the apples.

    Now imagine you’re using black and white film. You develop the film and discover that, even though the apples are different colors, they reflect similar amounts of light, so the apples have very similar tonal values. There’s not very much of a difference between them in black and white. They all just look like slightly different shades of gray. You can’t tell that there was a variety of different colored apples. This is roughly the equivalent of desaturating a color image in photoshop.

    So what do you do about it when shooting b/w film? You put a color filter on the lens, even though you’re shooting in black and white.

    Let’s say you put a red filter on the lens. This allows red light to pass through, while blocking other colors of light. So the light reflected off the red apples will reach the film and appear nice and bright, while most of the light reflecting off the green apples will be blocked, making them appear very dark. The difference between the apples will be clear in the black and white photo.

    The opposite would happen if you put a green filter on the lens: the green apples would be bright in your final image, while the red apples would be dark.

    Color filters are also useful when you shoot landscapes with black and white film. A red or yellow filter will block some blue light from reaching your film, which makes the sky nice and dark, and then the clouds really stand out.

    When shooting black/white film, these decisions need to be made at the time of shooting. But these same decisions can be made after-the-fact when converting a color image to b/w digitally. Instead of thinking “black and white means desaturated,” think of it as though you get a chance to reshoot the moment with b/w film, and you can decide what color filter you want to put on your lens to emphasize different parts of the photo.

    Look at the colors in your photo, and think about what you want to stand out when it’s converted to black and white. Then apply a “Black and White” adjustment filter in Photoshop and notice that it has presets called “Red Filter,” “Blue Filter,” “Green Filter,” etc. Apply these presets and see what happens to your photo.

    Notice for example that blue filters will make people’s skin dark, and show all their freckles. A red filter will do the opposite, making a person’s skin very light.

    If you’re shooting a couple sitting on the grass, a green filter will make the grass look white, while a red filter will make the grass look almost black.

    These adjustments can be fine tuned until you get an image that’s really great.

    Simply desaturating and adjusting levels can sometimes do the trick and make a nice photo. But if you really want control over your conversions, the “black and white” adjustment layer is the way to go. Play with the presets, and fiddle with the sliders to change the attributes of the filter. You’ll see that you have a lot of control and can make some impressive b/w images.

  • Tuffer said on November 5, 2009

    Love these critiques. As everyone said, my own photos (and website) never look the same after watching. I was afraid you’d go soft after the last one, but I was happy to see you stayed who you are and struck the right balance.

    I did think you hit on actions a little hard. After seeing the whole Rogue Art website, your lecture applied for too many actions on OK photos. But at first when you started in on it, it was just over his slideshow and IMHO, only 1 or 2 of those were over actioned. He actually did a great job with using actions as they should be used and creating photos you’d see commercially. Plus I felt it was named “Rogue Art” which implied he may take the photos a step beyond just photography. He obviously had the skills to do heavily manipulated photos really well because there were good examples up front. But those were hurt by the more “click-action-and-move-on” photos deeper in the website which gave an excuse to dismiss all the manipulated photos when some were actually well executed.

    Remember – for every terrible autotuned britney song, there is a full Kanye album of autotune genius (yes he’s an ass, but the album was brilliant).

    I am both crossing my fingers that you critique mine next and hoping to god you don’t :) And thats good.

  • Rob W. said on November 5, 2009

    Hey, guys…

    Thanks so much for starting these up again. I’ve gone through a recent dry spell in my photography — just a lack of inspiration or direction in what I want to do with my work, and these are always a nice kick in the ass to get me going back in the right direction.


  • Victor said on November 5, 2009

    NoelS, on November 4th, 2009 at 1:58 pm Said:

    Actions = Polishing a turd.

    Well, NoelS, you can’t polish a turd. Actions are more like putting glitter all over the turd. If done well, we might not notice the turd.

  • Joseph Yarrow said on November 5, 2009

    Great thing about these critiques is that even if you’re not critiquing my work, it feels like you are, because I’m not just watching for pure titillation, I’m watching to learn, as if it were directed at me.
    Ain’t gonna stop me asking for some critique though! =)

  • zack said on November 5, 2009

    @Tuffer – I have to disagree. I couldn’t see the photography for the actions. The technique killed the content for me.

    They are pretty good photographers over all but just way too heavy handed over all on the post production.

    Re: B&W conversions – Most of the time I do the desaturate and pump contrast a bit. That typically gets me where I want to go. If I have very strong colors in the original image, esp reds, then I go into the B&W conversion panel in the develop module in LR and start tweaking individual color channels until I get what I want. If not in LR I use that technique David mentions.

    @David – That is an excellent comment.

    @Thomas – Good point.

    @Laura – Teach ’em well!!!


  • Tim said on November 5, 2009

    Still loving all the critique, Zack. I think repetition is important when you’re using these critiques as instruction. The only ones learning this stuff with a single mention are those watching their own sites being critiqued.

    The long form is essential to the style of your critique. It allows the ‘compare and contrast’ format that , though they may have made eighth grade term papers so wonderful to write, help highlight why two similar things could differ in impact, message, etc.

    I tell my clients we will see actions in 20 years like we soft focus portraits from the 80’s. That resonates with most people.

  • zack said on November 5, 2009

    Amen Tim. Add to that star filters and custom vignette shapes!!! :)


  • zack said on November 5, 2009

    Amen Tim. Add to that star filters and custom vignette shapes!!! :)


  • Brian Grissom said on November 6, 2009

    Thanks for all the b/w help. I tried a few of those techniques last night and I think because I’ve never spent a ton of time with the manual b/w conversions it’s kind of new to me, but they are getting there.

    @Tuffer that kind of was the point of the whole “rogue art” thing(taking things a little further than just clean photos) but I am definitely seeing Zack’s point about taking an amazing picture first, and then putting technique on it. Some of the actions I still really like, I just need to dial them down a bit(or alot). I guess I was thinking this too. All(well most, I don’t know everyone) the photogs aroung me are the traditional looking photogs. Which are great, but I think in trying to differentiate myself stylistically I hurt myself photographically and got lazy.

    This is great. Thank you all so much for your input and help. Oh and by the way, I sat down to edit some pictures last night, yeah, I felt like all of them were junk. Looking at things with new eyes is kind of discouraging, but a necessity.

  • Les Doerfler said on November 6, 2009

    @Brian…I think you really have taken the spirit of the critique in the right way and have resisted the knee jerk auto defensive posture. Kudos to you for that!

    I think it’s cool to be rogue with your photography but you are not really rogue if your rogue comes from someone’s canned collection of their rogue.

    If you can define your vision of rogue and work up your recipe for rogue and then apply it consistently to your photos, you will be miles ahead.

    The key is consistency.

    Nothing is more jarring then going through a gallery and it’s like here’s the bleach shot, here’s the sepia shot, here’s the cyanotype (sp?) shot etc etc.

    When you apply your rogue consistently to your work, then you will have style, your style.

    You seem like a pretty cool guy so I wish you great success in working this stuff out.

    Just remember that with great rogue comes great responsibility.

  • Mark said on November 6, 2009

    “…Just remember that with great rogue comes great responsibility.”

    Ha Ha Ha!!! I love it!!! 😀

  • Brian Grissom said on November 6, 2009

    @Les – Thank you so much for taking the time to write out your thoughts. I think you hit the nail on the head. It completely makes sense the way you put it(queue light bulb). Those same thoughts have been running through my head lately but I really couldn’t work everything out. I kept asking myself, “if the only thing different from my pictures are an action, then if everyone is using the same action, I’m not really different at all.” I need to spend some time really fleshing out my vision as a photographer (w/o actions) and then go from there. I also think consistency is something that not only would benefit me, but it would let clients know what they are getting into when they hire me.

    And I agree with Mark. LOVE the quote!!

    thanks again.

  • Andy Pennebaker said on November 6, 2009

    You are giving critique at a very high level, and I appreciate that a lot. You are a gift to the photography community.

  • JP said on November 6, 2009

    I very much appreciated another great critique episode. Thanks for continuuing to put the time into this Zack and Meg.

  • Schona Kessler said on November 7, 2009

    Holy cow guys that was long! I love your critiques but this one just kept dragging on and on. lol. I am always going back to my website and looking at it after each new video you guys do. Thanks for taking your time and doing these for us all. I really do enjoy them…just wish they were a bit more to the point and not so time consuming. :)

  • Thomas TC said on November 7, 2009

    Just want to give thanks here…

    I’m doing an experiment right now, as a way of getting constructive critique. I’ve printed about twenty different business cards (, of what I consider to be my best photos (see link).

    The goal of the cards is to use them to promote my business in two ways.

    1. Give a stack of them to the subjects on the card (i.e. the wedding couple), so that they will show and give to friends. People put photos of people they know on their fridge.

    2. Give them to potential customers, or people who may meet potential customers. I want them on peoples fridges. Not in a pocket or a wallet.

    So I give this stack of photos to people when ever I get a chance – “could you help me and be part of an experiment – I need you opinion. Which of these cards would you stick on your fridge?” People love to give their opinion.

    First of all the results have been very positive – and quite surprising. I always try to guess (in my head) which cards they will select, and they never do.

    The bad part (for me) is that, people do not want the photo’s that says what I want. I want to do portraits. People will not stick other peoples portraits on their fridge. So I have to find something between a portrait and a artsy model (they want that), that people will want. Still working on that part. May I’ll have to change my tag line from “photographer” to “portrait photographer”…

    Anyway, just an idea that that I though I would share – another way of getting feedback on your work.

  • Michael Young said on November 7, 2009

    OK, I’ve rebuilt and retooled the site. It’s not earth shattering or ground breaking but it attempts to address the major concerns of the critique.

    If you want to see the history of my attempts at this site over the last couple of years, then check out my lastest blog entry I think this is why they say that photographers “generally” should never be their own web designers…no different that dentists, doctors and lawyers…


  • Ari said on November 7, 2009

    You guys seemed a bit worn from the comments of the last critique. However the photographers always seem to be happy and every site I’ve visited after the critique has looked so much better.

    These are great as it’s often a pain to get photographers to critique work, beyond “That’s good.” or “That’s bad.”

  • Chrisdavid42 said on November 7, 2009

    Ok, I just watched the previous episode this week, followed by reading all the comments, followed by watching this episode and reading the comments to date. So here is the opinion of a wanna-be, can’t afford photography school, doing-his-damnedest-to-learn-to-be-a-photographer guy. I have followed your blog and FB since just before the transform video. It was your tutorial on white seamless that first brought me to your blog.

    When I first got to your blog I thought you were just another snooty photographer with a how-to page now and then, BUT then I started watching your critiques, and reading your comments, and seeing that you truly care about the photography community. Not just about hanging out with Chase and Joe, and David Hobby etc, etc, but about photographers like myself and others who really would like to someday make something of their passion or hobby or career, or whatever it is for them ‘at this moment’. I have to say that I really appreciate the time you take to do these critiques and to respond to the comments even though you have your own business to take care of.

    You and Meg sounded like you were recovering from a stomach punch in this critique. The honest relaxed candor that made me anticipate each episode as it came out seemed to be gone (although you recovered some as the time went by).
    Here are my thoughts:
    1. I disagree with the comment that you repeat the basic principles too much. Every time I hear them I try to make a mental or written note, so that when I look though the lens or when I sort my pictures afterwards, the voice of ZA is running in my head and saying “don’t cut off finger tips, keep the head in a clean spot, the pictures have to load quick, don’t put up what you haven’t got, don’t tilt the camera unless its necessary (I don’t think Dustin Diaz agrees with you on this point :) ), that’s a clunker, take that one out, etc”. Don’t let that give you a big head, yours is just one of many voices in my head. The point I am making is that the people who think you are being repetitive probably aren’t the people who need to hear what you are saying.
    2. I know that you need to remember that real people took the pictures and designed the websites, but, at the same time, I get your sense of humor. A husband and wife sitting down and giving an opinion about something are generally going to give a very honest and opinionated critique, and that is what I want to hear. Its also obvious that you both come from artistic backgrounds and so do know what you are talking about.
    3. You have been given an opportunity to influence people. Keep the critiques going. Keep the blog going, keep teaching. It is a unique and special thing to be given the opportunity to influence and teach others so don’t take it lightly. Keep the content coming. Be confident in what you know and relax again.

  • Peter Heintz said on November 8, 2009

    Zack and Meg: Great work on the critiques and love your sense of humour.
    For b/w white conversions I use a product package in LR from Niksoftware. The silverfx program is really good. I can highly recommend it !

    / Peter

  • ryan said on November 8, 2009

    photoshop actions are powerful stuff, and like anything with power they can be used for good or evil 😉

    actions today are like fonts 20 years ago. suddenly people had access to “easy creativity” and so you saw newsletters wit 23 different fonts used. today actions provide that same “easy creativity.”

    now, I have used and continue to use actions. I think the trick, like most post-production is to apply a gentle hand, ie use sparingly and lightly.

    i see many photographers (over) using actions because it is an easy way to try and salvage a bad photo. this works only a small percentage of the time; usually the result is compounded badness.

    the inverse conundrum of this argument is that an action only clutters and detracts from a quality photo, ie good photography stands on its own.

    btw zack, i love the critiques and learn a lot from each one. like schona said, i review my own site(s) after each episode and make adjustments where necessary. thanks zack and meg

  • zack said on November 9, 2009

    @chrisdavid – Thank you. We are glad to serve the community. Thanks for your kind words man.


  • John C said on November 9, 2009

    OMG, this is awesome and so funny! Va-j-j haha keep it up guys, loving it!

  • Brian Grissom said on November 9, 2009

    @Peter – you are one of many people that have recommended the NikSoftware for b/w’s. I’ve been asking around on other forums and other photogs and quite a few of them use the niksoftware and love it.

    @ryan – Very well said.

  • Alisa Greig said on November 10, 2009

    Aloha Zach! I love and look forward to your critiques with your wife, you guys crack me up :) Your blog introduced me to the Help Portrait campaign and look forward to serving in that way and others. As a twitter follower, I see that we share the same birthday–for that, you are even cooler :) thanks for all you do! mahalo, alisa

  • Rob Davis said on November 10, 2009

    Thanks for the show.
    I must say, I watched this episode with the same type of tightly, squeezed smile that I save for home videos of kids falling over! It was funny in places but my sympathy goes out to those involved.
    But the reason I love your critiques so much is that, in amongst the the violence and disaster, there are some great lessons to be learned.
    Thank you both for taking the time to do this and I’m looking forward to the next one. /Rob

  • Karla Pitts said on November 10, 2009

    Zack, thanks to you and Meg for another informative and entertaining critique. I am particularly intrigued by your comments on actions. You discourage the overuse of actions, which makes sense. I am wondering about your recommendation for Totally Rad Photoshop Actions. Help me to understand how these actions are different from others out there. Their website looks particularly helpful with tutorials and such, but my untrained eye has difficulty distinguishing the actions from others I’ve seen.

    Thanks in advance for your help!

  • Jake Orness said on November 10, 2009

    Loved this round. I’ve been stalking your site for some time. You’re critiques are raw, funny and hit home. I’ve changed my site a few times since I saw the first critique and am planning another revision now as soon as I hit some down time. I beat myself up over anything I shoot due to your honest feedback to others. It’s made me a better photographer, and helped me make a career change at a time when many are struggling.

    Sometime back in the spring I sent you my site to get critiqued along with some goals. While you haven’t gotten to my site I have already reached the main goal of being the corporate photographer for the company I’ve worked for for close to 10 years. Thanks.

    Your comments on actions hit home. I have a few I’ve created or downloaded and find myself using them when I’m not happy with what I shot- always start heavy and then back them off. I consider them a crutch and avoid them, but am often drawn to them- especially when they garner the strongest responses from co-workers and our marketing department.

    tl:dr- love the critiques, they make me better, actions are a crutch but “wow” non-photographers.

  • Eli said on November 11, 2009

    Ok…so I made it through about five minutes before I couldn’t listen to any more. Get some decent sound recording equipment, practice what you’re going to say beforehand, whatever you have to do. The current state of these videos is really bad.

    Decent site though.

  • marcia said on November 12, 2009

    i think this is one of my favorite critiques you’ve done so far, because it really has sparked up the internal dialogue that i’ve been having with myself of “who am i as a photographer?” and “am i expressing who i am as a photographer…or am i following what the industry tells me i should be?” i absolutely love these critiques, because they’re always so much more thought provoking than saying “this is a good picture, this is a bad picture”.

    you discuss subjects that EVERY photographer should ask themselves!!!

    many thanks to you and meg!!

  • zack said on November 12, 2009

    @Eli – Sorry the audio sucks for you. It is what it is for this kind of thing for us.


  • Ari said on November 12, 2009

    I think the quality and off the cuff response is perfect. I enjoy hearing the ice clink in the glass. This is the way sites often get looked at.

  • KCV said on November 14, 2009

    hi zack,

    you mentioned a photographer Jeremy, what is his last name?

  • Jan Ruzgar said on November 15, 2009

    Hi Zack,

    I have watched all of your critiques and I look forward to each new one that comes. I think you and Meg are spot on and complement each other well. I am a great admirer of your work and I believe that someone of your photographic talent has every right to critique in whatever way you see fir.

    Please do keep up the good work – all the best to both of you!!!

  • Squeeker said on November 16, 2009

    @Zack – I’ve gotten alot of feedback from people who have watched your critique and I addressed them all and my opinion on what you had to say about my stuff on my newest blog: “Aftermath of a Critique” I’d love to hear your thoughts on it too! =)

  • Brian Grissom said on November 16, 2009


    He mentioned Jeremy Cowart. He is amazing. Definitely check him out.

  • zack said on November 16, 2009

    @KCV – Ummmm… without listening to it all the way through at the moment I may have mentioned Jeremy Cowart. Maybe.

    I’ll have to listen through again at some point.

  • Brian Grissom said on November 16, 2009

    I finally was able to revamp the website these last few days. Thanks so much for all your help Zack. I’m looking at things quite differently now.

    Also, I just have to say I’m super excited. I just got the OneLight DVD in the mail today!

    Keep up the amazing work.

  • Al Overdrive said on November 16, 2009

    Hi Zack,

    I’d love for you to do a crit of my site for edition 13… how do I ask, beg or bribe you to pick me?

    If it helps I’m an editorial photographer in the UK who is mostly known for my work with rock bands and tattooed people. I’d be really interested to see how or what you think I should do to improve my current portfoliofor my art and for my clients.


  • Randall Douglas said on November 16, 2009

    “You strike out on your own, or you follow everybody else” — “I’m old school and grouchy”

    Those two quotes sum up what I like about your critiques (groucy in moderation not directed at the person but at easy solutions like actions or bad locations, of course). You use both these (above) ideas, and are using them here in this blogcast to instruct and inspire and generally I’m digging it.

    I liked what Meg had to add this time (she’s soaking it up and forming her own more feminine ideas about the photograph), and generally agreed with what she had to say about the shots of animals at the end (particularly the two different colored animals cropped to form a separate whole).

  • David Burridge said on November 17, 2009

    Thanks Zack and Meg for still doing these—know you’re busy with work and little ones. I continue to enjoy them and learn.

    Praise to Brian and the others for handling the critiques so well.

  • Marc said on November 17, 2009

    Great critique Zack (and Meg)! I couldn’t agree with you more about film. It doesn’t matter the tool you use, you should be able to get good results if you use film or digital. This critique was one of the main factors that pushed me to start an all-film photoblog to push my technique.

    And if you want, you can check out my regular photoblog too.

  • Thomas said on November 17, 2009

    Darn, every time I watch these I learn something…
    I still have multiple images of the same subject on my site but I’m working on getting more content. Thanks for being inspiring.

  • Bill said on November 18, 2009

    Thank you so much for doing these. I can’t tell you how much I pulled from watching this post. Somebody above said that “it felt as if you were critiquing them as well.” I felt the same way. I kept opening my own website and and saying, “Nope, that sucks. Gone!”
    Very well done.

  • Irina Tyx said on November 19, 2009

    I’m just starting to really think seriously about photography and all the stuff that comes with it and I’m so glad I chanced upon your website. Your critiques are outrageously right on… and all the other stuff you have here is great. I’ll be reading/listening to your blog for hours!

  • William Massey said on November 22, 2009

    I’ve been going through all of these and really enjoying all your constructive criticism. Even though it’s not my work being critiqued, the points are so universal that they’re very helpful. Thanks for doing this! I can’t wait for the next one!

  • Rachel said on November 22, 2009

    Really good critiques! I’d love to be critiqued someday. But right now I need more photos in my portfolio! Haha

  • Oud said on November 22, 2009

    Thanks Zack and Meg you guys are so much fun. I enjoy watching your critique. I just start photography and learn and laugh so much from watching your show.

  • Shane said on November 23, 2009

    Feel free to critique me…just started my photography business a bit over a year ago and have been shooting for about 3 years. I love your honesty and need some direction as I know my site is all over the place as far as genres and I need an outside opinion…just email and let me know if you pick…
    great work by the way Zack!


  • Ian said on November 23, 2009

    I get it. Actions are like the new millenium cokin filters.

    I have a starburst, prism, and others from my old film days. I quickly discovered they are cheesy and bring. Tacky even. All I use (and ever needed) is my ND grad and occasionally, tobacco grad.


  • Alyssa said on November 25, 2009

    Thank you, thank you, thank you for calling out actions for what they are. It’s so refreshing to have a loud voice in the photo community be honest on this level.
    Keep the honesty coming and STOP apologizing for being truthful.

  • Al Overdrive said on December 13, 2009

    Watching this latest video (again) has got me thinking more about my site again, so I’ve just uploadeded the most recent version and hope it is of some interest

    ( )


  • Stuart Carter said on December 22, 2009

    Wow! This is the first critique I’ve watched – harsh but very fair… it’s fascinating what I can learn about my own work from what you’re saying to others. Places where I’m doing the right thing, and places where I’m doing the wrong thing.

    Thanks for giving up your time to record these excellent critiques!

    Thanks also for mentioning Jeremy Cowart – someone I had not come across before, but truly inspiring stuff.

  • melissa Cornell said on January 4, 2010

    If you freaking can’t work a SLR,
    dont go calling yourself a photographer because you can work a camera you can put on autodrive.
    Also, dont cover crap with edits. If you cant get the picture the first time, Dont share it!
    Ok im done.

  • Marisa said on January 7, 2010

    This is my first time watching…I laughed my ass off. I don’t know if this is because your hilarious or because you so just summed me up. Great stuff!

  • john hildebrand said on January 9, 2010

    some cool stuff here for sure

  • Elma said on January 14, 2010

    Love it, love you guys. You’re both so ‘real’. Certainly people I could hang with in real life – but in cyberspace I will just stalk :)
    Very informative and valuable information here. I know it takes a great deal of time on your part but it’s truly appreciated. Thanks for doing this. 40 year old Canadian mom of 4 with a small photog biz – in case you do a fan cross section or something :)

  • Jan Ruzgar said on January 22, 2010

    Hi Zack, When will be the nest episode…. been waiting ages!!!

  • Pam Rauber said on January 24, 2010

    Zack and Meg, I have just finished the 12th Episode. Your critiques are candid, open and honest. I appreciate that. I gained much from your point of view, primarily on “everybody does this, do for the client but don’t post”.

    My daughter, Anna, and I have signed up for your One Light Wkshp the last of April recommended by Melissa Jill. Melissa kindly shared an answer to a question I asked with a followup to do your Workshop.
    Looking forward to it.

    BTW, I sent this Critique Forum to our Meetup Group in Decatur. (175 +) If you find a sudden onslaught of views, you’ll know why.

  • Jan Ruzgar said on February 20, 2010

    Are you doing any more critiques Zack?

  • Angela W said on March 2, 2010

    I just came across this site the other day. Thanks a million for your insight and these critiques – they’re hugely informative. I have no idea how you stay up so late (early) though and remain coherent enough to give the critiques. The only disadvantage I can see is that now I realize I have maybe 4 photos left in the portfolio! Ack!

    Questions for anyone around here now… I have a 2-light strobe set-up coming soon (finally getting some real lights!). If I were to get a 3rd I’d probably go the studio light route. Any thoughts on brands? Also, I need a better lens – pics not as sharp as I’d like and I have a prime 55mm and a 28-70 from the kit (this is the lens that’s not as good). I can tell the difference between the two. I have a Canon – any next lens purchase suggestions?


  • kai neunert said on March 31, 2010

    hey zack… your and your wifes videos. lerned a lot. i would love to see more critiques. even from my side that would be great…..

    greets from munich

  • Brian Carey said on April 13, 2010

    Hey Zack I appreciate your candid critique! I was wondering if you ever get the chance would you look at my site and Flckr stream. I’m in the process of getting some new gear (just got a 5d2 and 24 – 70L) and I’m trying to improve my technique but my photography is all over the place.
    You will probably never have time, thanks either way!

  • Amber said on April 16, 2010

    I *love* watching these episodes…plan on doing any more?!

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