Photography Critique :: Episode 13 (parts 1 & 2)

May 10, 2010 | • Critique

Photography critique returns and this time with a special guest!

Our good friend and fellow photographer, David Jackson, was in town this week for a job. We had he and his studio manager, Trevor, over for dinner along with our studio manager, Dan, and we wrangled them all into a critique.  Good food. Good beer. Photography! That should be our new motto for this.

This episode runs about an hour and twenty-two minutes so I’ve split it into two parts but I’m releasing them together. Scroll down for part two. Yes, I say the same things too many times. Yes we have fun. Yes it was late. It was all the stuff you come to expect from these things. :)

If you are new to our critique series here are some things to know.

• You can subscribe to this show via iTunes using this link.

• These are the rules of critique we go by.

• You can find previous episodes listed here.

• My non photographer wife, Meghan, and I do these because we love it and if we can’t have some fun and laughs with it then that would be boring.

• I ramble on and on and on about things at times while Meg tries to keep me on track. Also note that we hit record, do our thing, and upload. I don’t edit these for content once they are recorded because I simply don’t have the time.

• If you want to get in on some critique just email your web address to critique @ zackarias [dot] com.

And here is part two…

At some point in this critique I make a comment along the lines of, “Yes, it is a photograph but it isn’t ‘photography’.” AS soon as that came out of my mouth I knew it may spark some discussion.

Where is that line drawn? I’m not the expert but my philosophy is this; if you are shooting pictures that are absolutely no different then what is expected by a big box store photo studio is it “photography”? Do you enter this industry simply to live inside of a very narrowly defined box or are you trying to put a personal spin on the craft? There are plenty of times I have to work inside of those narrowly defined rules because that is what is expected or needed for the job. Sometimes my job means I’m a skilled technician of the camera instead of a photographer. Most of what we do is derivative of the work others have done for decades before us but the goal is to push ourselves, our craft, and our vision beyond that. We don’t always succeed but if it was easy who would want to do this? The goal of my comment is to make us all question what we do and what we show as our work.

Feel free to discuss in the comments.

Oh… And apologies to all of you who ride Harley Davidsons while wearing khakis and polo shirts. :)

Cheers, Zack


  • Brian Hirschy said on May 10, 2010

    One of the more entertaining critique(s) you’ve done.

    Lot’s of great advice. The thing that I actually found myself nodding my head at was what Trevor (Snackers) pointed out towards the end of the post

    “If you’re website sucks, I’m leaving.”

    Truer words have not be spoken.

  • Brian Hirschy said on May 10, 2010

    You should do a two minute beer critique before the actually photo critique – just to go w/ the new motto

  • Darren said on May 10, 2010

    I think the same way. There are so many ‘photographers’ out there that read a book and copy / paste. It’s a debbie downer sometimes.

    I feel that copy / pasting a technique is great for training but not when you are promoting yourself as a photographer for hire.

    Maybe someone likes a look you give, but make sure it is your look and not someone elses. I actually have a similar debate with many other photographers along the lines of digital images. Where do you draw the line of an image that has been edited to the end of time? Is it really a photograph anymore? To me it is like cutting up a painting, photographing it and then telling people you just painted a picture…

    dunno, lotta frustration with the unlimitations and the lack of variety.

  • norton said on May 10, 2010

    “all of you who ride Harley Davidsons while wearing khakis and polo shirts.”
    ROFL just imagining it oh gawd is hilarious.

    Missed these critiques Zack.

    thanks for keeping them coming 😉

  • mike said on May 10, 2010

    “No cash for klunkers!” Thats a quarter in the Pun Jar!

    Thanks again for these critiques Zack, et. al., they are really helpful.

  • Colin said on May 10, 2010

    My interpretation of “Yes, it is a photograph but it isn’t ‘photography’.” was simply that there is no creativity/art in taking that team photo.

  • Amber said on May 10, 2010

    Over already? Dang! I wish this was like Hulu and there were just 18 new episodes I hadn’t seen yet. 😉 Learn something new every time!

    Enjoyed it :) thanks (to all four of you!) for doing another one!! :)

  • Heinz Schmidt said on May 10, 2010


    Loving it. Welcome back.

    Keep’em coming and stay the hell away from my website.


  • Scott M Eide said on May 10, 2010

    That is a perfect quote Zack – “Yes, it is a photograph but it isn’t ‘photography’.”

  • matt shumate said on May 10, 2010

    Christmas in May!

    Seeing a new crit video makes my day! I tell everyone who asks me how to get better to go here and watch these critiques. The people who have watched it have come back to thank me for sharing my “secret.”

    Watching theses critiques is one of the things that helped me more than anything to improve as a photographer.

    Thank you.

  • Malachi said on May 10, 2010

    These critiques are some of the most entertaining blog entries out there. I’m sure there are many people out there that are learning as much as I am while I watch these and was very excited to see another one hit the blog! Would you ever consider adding a critique for a website that you love? These critiques do a glorious job in teaching from the negative stand point of ‘What’s wrong with this website/portfolio’. I wonder if there is something to be learned from the examples of excellence out there…

  • william lee said on May 10, 2010

    I am a big fan of yours and look at you as a mentor as well but disagree with your statement, “Yes, it is a photograph but it isn’t photography”. For me, photography has been a journey and a continued learning process. My photography 10 years ago is a whole lot different from my photography now but I still think what I did 10 years ago was still photography. Not my best work, not always the most creative (most creative I was at that time), but I still consider it photography. Think it is difficult to determine what somebody else was thinking or what their motive was when they were taking a photo. Their are photographers who shoot for the money and their stuff makes vogue and their are also photographers who don’t shoot for the money and just the love but their stuff may be basketball team shots. Who are we to really determine their love, passion, and creativity. It may not appeal to us, may not inspire us, but that doesn’t mean it is not photography. Just my thoughts…

  • zack said on May 10, 2010

    William Lee – I can’t say that I disagree with you at all. That’s a great way of looking at it.


  • Noel Hannan said on May 10, 2010

    Great critique and a very good question. There is only one answer; ‘The Emperor’s New Clothes’.

    Photography is an art form and as such is different thins to different people. I see some photographs in high fashion magazines and I think they are mediocre, I see others in a local paper and they are excellent, and vice versa the next week, and others will think different and see the photos different as well. And thats okay, in fact that is what gives the artform the edge. Thats is what makes me go out and take another photograph. But one thing… it IS all photography.

    all the best, Noel

  • singh said on May 10, 2010

    FYI this season’s Gucci campaign was shot by Mert and Marcus and D&G by Steven Klein, not exactly ‘some art director’s niece’. While I accept that it is incredibly hard for non established photographers to get a foot into big fashion shoots it is incredibly naive to think they don’t care about the quality of the work for the sake of nepotism.

  • zack said on May 10, 2010

    Singh – I totally agree with you but I’ve heard many stories about folks who get the jobs based on who they know and nothing about what they know… That’s nothing new for any industry is it though. But yes, on the high end of the food chain there are some incredible photographers doing great work and they land the jobs on that work not on who they are related to.


  • JJ said on May 10, 2010

    What a great session of critiques, a nice mix of humour and fun, with good advise, I am just a hobby photographer having fun what has gone from a hobby to a passion and a constant drive to make shots I am more happy with, I dont see myself ever trying to setup a website and trying to do any form of commercial photography but I got a lot out of these critiques.

    Have been following your posts for a while and thanks for the inspiration


  • Michael Sebastian said on May 10, 2010

    Meghan, I nearly wept when I found out your father is, like, 5 years older than I am.

    Welcome back to critique-land. I’ve pined for you all.

  • Philip Jared said on May 10, 2010

    Now, I’m by all means the FNG on these comment forums. I’m still a new guy to the place. One thing I think we should think about in relation to the Sports Photos. What was he signed on for? Is it a school looking for the entire team? A school doesn’t want you to go out on a limb and make a group of guys to look like the “bad bunch”. The school wants something that can be thrown onto Grandmas picture stand and no worries. Where as some parents may be a little more giving. With exception to some photographers, a lot of people are fighting tooth and nail for gigs right now and if that’s what they want from you, you gotta do it. If you can show the parents something else and they’re like “WOW! YEAH! That’s what we want!” Then go for it. Good luck sweet talking the entire board of directors for a school. There’s exceptions I bet but for the vast majority. Schools want safe not edgy. What I’m trying to say is you gotta work within parameters that you get. If someone gets the chance and can run with it, THEN you have to by all means go all out. Show what you’re made of. Although, if you got a client that says hey I need this and this only. Then do it. Try and swing some fun with it, but ones gotta pay the bills.

  • Wilfredo said on May 11, 2010 nailed it ..again.

  • TC said on May 11, 2010

    Hi Zack,

    Thanks for another set of eye opening reviews.

    I’m kind of thinking about submitting my site for review, but … I’m kind of in a different place then most of the site you (and your amazing team) review.

    I’ve started to back out of the “going pro” scene. I found I lost to much of my freedom to shoot what I wanted. I don’t want critique as much I would like your through on this balance issue between freedom and making a buck.

  • singh said on May 11, 2010

    zack – agreed

    btw, you guys had me laughing out loud at 3am here, my roommates think im crazy

  • Moira Law said on May 11, 2010

    hi Zack,
    I know.. you aren’t interested in hearing complaints, but I can’t help it. I’m very disappointed. I have so much to learn and you have so much to share, but since you introduced first, your wife and then, a whole gang of others, the quality of your critique and the ratio of critique to horsing around has just dropped through the floor. I recall in an earlier critique, your comments on a wedding job that was really not very good, and you were so respectful and humane about your comments. Where did that go? It’s not helpful just to say … ah.. no! about a shot. Helpful would be why it’s not good… specifically why, not vaguely why. You used to explain so clearly and in such detail. And what happened to all that encouragement you used to give? Please go back to doing these alone, and making some effort to be concise. I concede that your recent critiques are much more entertaining than previous ones, if you enjoy laughing at people’s mistakes, but are you trying to entertain us, or teach us something? (Yes, both are possible, but right now the one is interfering with the other.) You seem to be trying to appeal to the late night party crowd rather than to serious artists (and yes, some of us are both, I know it.) I realize this is a minority view, but personally, I just want to learn from you how to take better pictures.

  • Gary-D said on May 11, 2010

    I have to say I kind of agree with Moira. I have really enjoyed this series of critiques but found myself cringing now and then listening to the latest.

    I found the words of wisdom, hand on the shoulder style you employed in previous episodes far more enjoyable to listen to.

    A couple of Newcastle Brown too many and crowd diluted your message.

    Don’t get me wrong, love to hear what you have to say on these, just felt this one lost the, “Here’s what you could have done” factor. You seem a warm, compassionate guy.

    Hope my opinion dosen’t piss you off Zack

  • zack said on May 11, 2010

    I ALWAYS need critique and welcome it. Thanks for the honesty.

  • Mike said on May 11, 2010

    RE: “Yes, it is a photograph but it isn’t photography.”

    Way, way, (and a few more ways) back when – I was a ski instructor. As I was passing my certification (and bored out of my pants re-learning how to do snowplow well enough to teach and critique it), the course instructor made a comment that stuck with me.

    He said, everyone is coming to you to learn how to be an extreme skier – but you have to remember that it is all relative. To the beginner, doing the snowplow down the bunny hill IS extreme skiing.

    The moment someone starts really trying to see through the lens instead of just taking snaps – they are doing photography.

    Oh sure, it’s probably not pro-level photograpy. Hell, it’s probably not even good photography. I know mine isn’t… yet.

    But it IS photography – as long as you are pushing your personal limits and trying new things.

    That being said, the beginner skier is usually self-aware enough not to try and snowplow down Mortician’s Cliff. The beginner photographer doesn’t always seem to understand that they are still on the bunny hill…

    And I should also say that I agree with you in principle. At any level we are prone to “going through the motions” sometimes. I’ve taken a lot of photographs, and done far too little photography.

    I need to remind myself to get outside my comfort zone more often.

  • leah a. said on May 11, 2010

    Your pizza analogies got me thinking… I don’t want to be “pizza hut” but I also don’t want to be so out there (i.e.; grits and rabbit pizza) that very few people want to hire me. Would you say there is a fine line between keeping your passion and creative vision alive, while also satisfying the client’s needs? For awhile I had this idea that shooting for money would make me a “sell-out”. I worked at jobs I hated to pay my bills.
    Now that I have begun to pursue photography as a way to generate income I am much happier, even when it requires just being a skilled technician of the camera. At the end of the day I am still getting paid to click the shutter. On the other side of that, I don’t ever want to lose that vision and passion that drew me into photography in the first place. It all seems like such a precarious balancing act!

  • Mike said on May 11, 2010


    Love your work and find your story incredibly inspirational and a great example and beacon for all of trying to find our way, but…

    I am going to agree with Moira. While there is some very useful information being presented, a lot of it just seems to be overshadowed by the joking around. Totally not against joking around and fun is fun, but there is a difference between laughing “with” someone and laughting “at” someone, and, for my dollar, that line is increasingly being blurred in these. To be blunt, some of the critique is starting to seem just a bit mean-spirited.

    Don’t get me wrong. You threw down your rules of the road and I wholeheartedly agree with them. I couldn’t agree more that you have to divorce yourself from your work if you are going to be able to take criticism effectively. But, to Moira’s point, the point of the criticism (I would think) should be to arm the photographer with the tools and the knowledge to improve…not, simply to say, as Meghan at one pointed blurted out “that is a terrible photograph.” It very well may be…why? What is wrong with it? What could or should the photographer done differently?

    Hey, just one guy’s opinion which you should absolutely feel free to disregard. Take my advice or not, I still you think you are awesome and I love your work. But (and this isn’t meant to sting, although I concede that it might) these series of critiques seem to have stopped being a way for you to share the inspirational gift that is you, and seem to almost me a bit of a celebration of Zack the internet celebration…humor is funniest when there is more than a small shred of truth, and this critique series is starting to sound like it is being given by Zack Arias, “suckcessful commercial photographer” and not by the Zack that we all find so inspirational and a model for hope and aspiration in our own lives and photography careers.

    Sorry if that last bit stung. Wasn’t trying to do anything other than call it like I see it…still got love for ya.

  • zack said on May 11, 2010

    You two make great points and they are taken to heart. Thank you.


  • Brian Carey said on May 11, 2010

    Thanks for the review!
    All the Best!

  • Tim said on May 11, 2010


    When you were telling Redaisy that her portraits were not really portraits, you kinda lost me.

    To me the definition of a portriat is a photo of someone but that it focuses on the eyes. So yes, some of her photos technically were not portraits. However there were some that fit this description but yet you still said they were not.

    So here is my question. Can you define your idea of a portrait, or give us a little more insight to what you are talking about? I am not trying to criticize I am just trying to figure this out as a newbie photographer who likes taking portraits…I want to make sure I am doing it right! Also I hear a lot of comments about cutting off arms, wrists, heads and so forth. What is the standard rule for extremities and where they are cut off?



  • zack said on May 11, 2010

    Tim :: Defining a portrait is easy and hard. A portrait is a… well, it’s a portrait of a person. No, they don’t have to look into the camera. They don’t even have to be facing the camera but you should be able to see it and know. That “knowing” the person in the crit was missing. That’s where it can go philosophical instead of academic.

    On the heady side of this think of it this way… There needs to be a connection from the viewer to the subject. You as the photographer are the medium between the subject and viewer and you have to make that transfer with a camera. If your viewer can’t connect to the subject then you didn’t transfer interest or emotion. You use your camera and your own people skills to get that connection made. It isn’t an easy job. That’s why having the foundational elements down and keeping it simple is a great place to start. If you go conceptual with a portrait session then you really need to know what you are doing or else you lose the viewer.

    The rule on cutting people is don’t crop at a joint. Don’t cut off fingers, cut at the wrist, elbow, toes, ankle, knees. That’s the “rule”. There are times that rule can be thrown right out the window but you are doing so for a reason and there is something so strong and so powerful about the image that you don’t mind that the image is cut in an uncomfortable spot.


  • JL said on May 11, 2010

    I would rather see a dude in khakis being himself on a bike before I would that same guy pretending to be someone he is not decked out in leathers and a Bandana over half his face like a wanna be hells angel.

    Enjoyed the guest – Thanks for your time you! Keep em coming.

  • j_logan said on May 11, 2010


    Zack, mostly comments “muddy” on a BW shot or a Toned photo and I’m unable to notice it.

    How can you say that a photo has a “Muddy” tones?

    And what is the workaround for “muddy” tones.

  • TonyJ said on May 11, 2010

    These critique series have inspired me more than any other education in recent memory. Thanks!

  • Roman 'skiver' said on May 12, 2010

    Zack, I don’t usually respond although I come here all the time. I have a strong opinion this time though:

    Keep the late night humour/sarcasm/irony/pi**-taking please!!!

    There are so many boring sites that repeat the same banal cliches about composition and bukeh and exposure values in a nicey-nicey yaaaawn politically-correct non-ofensive way…

    I’m a nervous aspiring newbie. You (sometimes) have a sharp edge – it’s the cutting that makes me come back, not the polite advice to newbies. My critics out there aren’t going to be polite to me (or anyone) – it’s good that you say what springs to mind. I find newbie-friendly advice patronizing – please be harsh!

  • zack said on May 12, 2010

    Roman – Thanks for that. While we may need to tone things down from time to time please note that we won’t change who we are. We can’t. Esp at 1am. :)


  • Zack – Thanks!!!! We think you should start your own network series for these Critiques. We were literally ecstatic when we found this new critique. Grabbed a six pack and watched last night!

  • chi said on May 12, 2010

    thanks to the people who submit their sites to zack for critiquing. Many are learning from it.

  • Chris_H said on May 12, 2010

    Awesome stuff Zack!

    I can understand some of the problems a few folks have over the “group critiques” and the laughing or joking around, but honestly it made me think of how someone who might be interested in hiring me might look and think about my website/portfolio.

    I’m kind of undecided about where I want to focus my attention and what corner of the market I want to be in, and I haven’t really thought too much about how others will approach my work. You guys kind of gave me a glimpse of what others might think or say about something I have in my portfolio yet you did it with good intentions and gave helpful advice. So thanks for taking the time to do these and I can’t wait for the next one.

  • Mauricio Arias said on May 13, 2010

    I’m waiting for you to criticize me.

  • Dennis Murray said on May 13, 2010

    13B really spoke to me. I’ve been working in Youth Sports (Action) for years and have always realized that the portraits outsell me probably 5-1.

    I’ve had a vision for doing editorial feature-style portraits of youth athletes (not the machine gun style shoot the whole team in a minute) and have been trying to figure out how to get it going.

    I just have no interest in doing the big shoots with herding hundreds of kids.

    I think it’s going to be a summer of portraits, of whoever I can find.

    Thanks – I’ve enjoyed digesting all 13 episodes this week.

  • Michelle said on May 13, 2010

    Zack, Thank you for the critique session. I first heard of you when Dane Sander’s featured you on his podcast. I thought you were so real, humble and down to earth. Yet, I could tell that you have a larger than life vision for photography. Your drive to get better and inspire others is very appealing and I have followed you since. I check in often to get up to speed on the ZArias World! I listened the critique sessions with you and Meghan and found myself wanting to gobble up every piece of your advice with a big ole spoon. I absolutely looked forward to more, more, more.

    But, Zack I have to agree with Moira. She actually hit the nail on the head in my opinion. In this critique, I thought that you and your camp were more interested in making fun and tearing the work down for a cheap laugh. I felt sorry for the people who were the brunt of the late night jokes. I’m sorry Zack. In the beginning, your critique sessions provided real world insights from someone that we look up to. Please continue to be the Rock Star Photog that I think that you are. Just give the fledglings a little slack with your harshest critiques. Words cut like a two edged sword. Who would ever dare to be your next victim? Not me. I be ‘fraid!

    But, hey that is just my opinion and of course might not matter ‘one hill o’ beans’ cuz You are The Rock Star and I’m not!

    ZArias Big Fan,

  • Nasir said on May 14, 2010

    Zack – thanks for picking my site to critique. It was actually my photography that I wanted feedback on because the site isn’t finished. I just wanted a place that people could go to see what my work was like so I figured a simple slideshow would serve that purpose for now.

    My goal of making a living from my photography is potentially 3 years away so I appreciated your feedback on my work and I think I’m going in the right direction.

    Is it okay if I put a quote from you on my site, you know, like they do on movie posters? Just kidding! 😛

    Please don’t make us wait too long until the next critique. I’ve learnt a lot from them.


  • chrisdavid42 said on May 15, 2010

    This comment is meant as a contribution to the ongoing discussion, and not as criticism or dis-agreement with anyone.

    First, my opinion about art vs. commercialism:
    Art has always existed at a cross-roads between commerce and human expression. Artists who wish to benefit from their art will always be subject to the aesthetic of those who are willing to commission, or pay, for that work. On the other side of the coin are the artists who reject all control in pursuit of a “pure unadulterated expression of their vision.” I recently read of a photographer from eastern Europe who was discovered in his sixties or seventies. He spent much of his life in poverty and two decades in a mental hospital. I don’t want to be that guy.
    I believe a key element of art is the interaction between artist, medium, and subject. Though at times this may not be conveyed successfully to the viewer, an arguably necessary component of “successful” art, the joy of the creation of art, in my mind, is as important as the result.

    Zack consistently pushes his listeners and readers to strive for excellence and individual vision in their work, and I agree. And, I have been encouraged by his message. However, I must respond to a couple comments, including the comment about getting a side job rather than producing mediocre work, or as in one of Zack’s repeated quotes “competing with Wal-mart.”

    I also take issue with Zack’s comment that an image can be a photograph, but not photography. I agree completely with the sentiment that there is way too much mediocrity in the industry and in the media. I cringe at most of the photos our local paper runs, especially after years of reading Zack’s blog and Strobist and knowing that 5 more minutes of effort could have improved those pictures.
    And yet, that tolerance for mediocrity is the what will allow me to build a small portrait business and get the experience that you can’t get from blogs, or shooting your kids and neighbors, and pay for the equipment that I can’t pay for out of my household budget.

    As a photographer, I find incredible joy from making images of people. I find joy from growing in my craft technically, or, to say it differently, interacting with my camera and equipment. I find great joy form interacting with people and creating a photo with them, not of them. My goal is to someday have the skill that allows my images to show the world “my experience” or “what I see in my subjects.”
    However, I am still producing mediocre images, because of where I am at technically in my photographic journey. But, my skills are improving, and I am seeing more and more improvement in my images.
    I have recently had the opportunity to do two evenings of “event portraits.” Setting up in a corner at a community event and doing a hundred mini-portrait sessions over the course of two hours. The blogs and videos very much informed that experience, but having to shoot successfully under pressure is something that you can only learn from experience. And I loved every minute of it, every compromise, every success, every time that I had to sacrifice composition to a technical detail, every time I was able to show them a picture that was better than they expected; even the failures when I couldn’t overcome technical difficulties, or connect with my subjects. Every second of that was PHOTOGRAPHY. Even if it doesn’t translate yet on my website, it was photography. Even if I spend two years competing with Walmart for customers. It was photography because it was a labor of love for the craft; even if the viewer cannot see it. Someday it will be GOOD PHOTOGRAPHY and the viewer will see it. And that is my problem with Zack’s criticism, you can’t always ascertain the process from the product. however, I think we could agree it is a communication failure, the failure on the photographers part to successfully communicate his/her vision.

    Perhaps where I take issue is that I perceived an insult to the process, and I see the process as inseparable from the product. (Honestly, what is really tweaking me is that I really identify with the first person you critiqued. One of the first things you read from her e-mail was that she had been doing this for one year. I look at what I was doing after a year and think “wow. I didn’t have the guts to put together a website after a year.”)

    Zack commented in earlier critiques that kid sports photography may be boring, but he will buy it because it is his kid. I totally get what he means here, it is like watching a movie where somebody’s dad dies in the first scene, you are emotionally connected to the movie whether it is poorly scripted and produced or not. Same thing with the pictures, you buy them even if they make you cringe. However, I think that the answer is not to berate the photographers for making lifeless images, the answer is to stop buying the images. Vote with your wallet, pay a more envisioned photographer to make images of your kid in his softball uniform. Keep encouraging and educating photographers and the over level of the industry will rise.

    In summary, thanks for taking the time to read my rant. Your critiques are successful because they are thought provoking. I love listening to them. I listened to your critique on Tuesday and have been arguing the ideas in my head all week. I absolutely loved your talk at Photocamp Utah; it inspired me. I will continue to cull my best images for my portfolio, and I will continue to shoot whatever people will pay me to shoot (or let me shoot for free), and i will likely display some of that in my portfolio, if that is what my customers want and are paying me for.

    enough said.

  • zack said on May 16, 2010

    Wow. ChrisDavid… That was amazing. Thank you so much for taking the time to type that out. Seriously. Thank you for that. You have a lot of wisdom to share.


  • Cat said on May 17, 2010

    Fabulous forum for aspiring photographers to get professional advise. I appreciate that. This is my first visit but looking at the comments tells me this is somewhat different from your previous critiques. That is good to hear since I was hoping for a professional critique without the personal cuts. I wanted to hear how to do the shot better, not “who wears that?”


  • saajid said on May 17, 2010

    more more more !!!

  • Christian said on May 17, 2010


    I want to preface this comment by saying how much I admire you, your work and the service you provide to folks like myself. I can’t begin to express my gratitude for how much you’ve taught and inspired me in my own photography journey from both an artistic and business standpoint. I’m a huge fan, and I will continue to be a fan after today.

    Okay, here we go. I’m the guy that turned Ayla (Reddaisy girl) onto you a few weeks back. WARNING – Lame sports analogy to follow: Today I feel like a guy who’s kid is an aspiring young Little League player that’s been playing ball for only a year. One day I happen to be fortunate enough to catch Babe freakin’ Ruth after a game. No way!! The luck of the gods is surely with me! So of course I strongly encourage my kid (who wants to be a professional ball player more than anything) to go up and talk with the Babe. “Mr Ruth, what do I need to do in order to become a professional baseball player” the child inquires after sheepishly walking up to the Bambino. “Well, let’s see you play some ball youngster”, the Babe replies. At this point, to my horror I watch as the Babe proceeds to point and laugh with his buddies as my kid tries his best, albeit imperfectly to field a ground ball or hit a pitch. “I hope you’re a better student in school than you are a ball player kid!”, The Babe yells. The child is crushed and subsequently runs home and burns his baseball bat and glove (or takes down her photography website) as a result.

    (Note: Ayla isn’t my daughter. She’s a friend that I met last year. Just so there’s no confusion.)

    Yes, it’s an imperfect analogy. But I hope it makes a bit of sense. Yes, I know that Ayla said that she wants to quit her job and go pro. And I’m not disagreeing with any of the technical criticism that you delivered at all. I’m just suggesting that you save the more harsh criticism for those who truly deserve it. Those who are knowingly copying other peoples work for example. I’m not asking you to stop being who you are. I’m just asking you to remember your roots and be mindful of who you’re giving advice to and where they’re at in this journey.

    I can’t believe that my first ever comment on your fantastic blog is one where I’m making comments like the ones above. Ugh! Please understand that I hold you in very high regard, which is what prompted me to recommend Ayla to your site, your excellent DVD series, and why I will continue doing so with others in the future.

  • zack said on May 17, 2010

    Christian – Thanks for the metaphor. I love sports metaphors even though I don’t like sports.

    I get what you are saying but what if Babe, after having some chuckles, walked up and gave the kid some solid advice and pointed out some strengths?

    You gotta have some thick skin to enter any kind of creative industry. I’ve walked away from critiques of my work with tears running down my face. I know what it’s like to want to leave the industry because of it but you have to push through it. You have to grow. Sometimes you are pruned in order to grow. If Ayla wants this full time she has to grow. If you aren’t surrounded by mentors then these sort of pruning can be difficult but needed.


  • Christian said on May 17, 2010

    It’s strange because I don’t like sports either (except for skateboarding because I’m a skater).

    Yes, if Babe gave the kid solid advice and pointed out strengths and weaknesses that were appropriate for where they were at, it would indeed be valuable! So I’m not making a case that you shouldn’t critique beginners. You should indeed! I was only taking issue with the tone of the critique.

    Think skin indeed! The reply you just wrote to me sounds almost exactly like what I wrote to Ayla several hours ago. :) We are on the same page there.

    Thanks for listening and for your reply Zack. Again, I appreciate what you’re doing here a great deal. Keep up the great work.

  • Julie said on May 17, 2010

    Hey Zack, I just wanted to chime in here as well. I have not had the chance to watch all of the critiques just yet but this last one did seem a little over the top with the joking around. I see Christian’s point as well and I completely agree with it.

    You had some solid advice in there, but it was difficult to hear over the group laughing and joking. We all start somewhere and I thought it was cool that she would ask for a critique even though she just got started a year ago. I hope that she continues to improve on her photography and is able to hear the good things you had to say through the other jokes and laughter that came across.

    I really enjoyed when you would tell people why things weren’t good and how to improve them over what is happening now. Hoping to hear more of that great stuff as I finish listening to the others.

    You have a lot of awesome advice and your DVD is the best I have seen on the subject. Just wanted to put in my two cents about the late night beer drinking critiquing…not my favorite.

  • Ryan Edick said on May 17, 2010

    Hey Zack,

    Long time observer first time commenter! I really should be more active in the discussion field, hence the comment, ha. I watch your critiques whenever I have a spare moment and I happened to catch this one by chance. The reason for my comment here is to hopefully add a bit more to the critique of redaisy (Ayla’s site). The encouragement you ended with telling her to focus on the specific areas of interest to her was excellent and I hope she continues to pursue photography if it is something she really enjoys! The deep importance of photography for a military Family is perhaps something only a military Family could truly understand and there is a need for people who will focus on them. My advice to Ayla would be to get involved with an organization such as Operation: Love Reunited ( This organization matches you with military families that are either scheduled for deployment soon or are having a reunion. It is on a volunteer basis but this could be an excellent way for Ayla (or any photographer!) to hone their skills as well as build a great portfolio of portraits, kids and specifically military family. I understand her goal is to become self sufficient with her photography so this would have to be an extra aspect of her business and more a way to build the portfolio which will hopefully lead to bringing in clients!

    Just to be clear, I’m not associated with Op:Love in any way other than having been a volunteer photographer for them, I think they are a great organization and a way that could be mutually beneficial for military Families as well as Ayla! Hopefully she will see this or perhaps Christian or Zack could forward the link if you feel it worthwhile.

    All the best, keep rockin on.

  • Dennis said on May 21, 2010

    you have a problem with people caling themselves photojournalist/fine art photographer. I agree. What bugs me even more though, is when photographers which abviously work alone, start writing ‘plural’. “We love taking your…” etc.
    What’s your take on this? Is it a US thing? or is it equally annoying across the pond?

  • Tom Legrady said on May 22, 2010


    I’m terribly disappointed, not just with the brutality of the critique, but also other signs of not being prepared for the session.

    We’re no longer in an Anglo-French-Spanish continent. There are a wide assortment of names out there, many I can’t easily pronounce. Check the letter beforehand and learn to pronounce the name. You can always find some resource to get a hint. If that was an international corporation inviting you to shoot a $100,000 project, you’d damn well figure out how to pronounce the name, wouldn’t you?

    Be professional, not alcoholic.

  • steph said on May 22, 2010


    Just because I’ve read 2+ comments about toning it down, I had to jump on and say “please DON’T ‘tone it down’ any more”. I love the joking around, the real comments (we all think it, you just say it), and the great advice which, while not necessarily delivered with all the gentleness of a preschool teacher, never fails to make me think. If I wanted watch a dry how-to-be-a-pho/to/gra/pher tutorial, there are certainly an abundance of those videos available on the web or dvd from all kinds of people I have and haven’t hear of; if I wanted to “learn” from a gentle, non-critical “critique” that gave me warm fuzzies, there are a plethora of mwac photography groups and forums I could find those at. But… I forgot where I was going with this. You, Meg, and co. are freaking funny – I love watching, I learn stuff, I grow a little… don’t cater to the haters. Be yourselves.

  • moritz said on May 23, 2010

    Hmmm… reading through the comments I am really wondering how, after everything has been said, and the OP has reacted to it, people really feel the urge to say the same things once more. Anyway, I think one thing hasn’t been said enough, so here goes:

    I am learning a great deal from ZA’s critiques of other people’s websites. For me it’s a soft way of learning because I don’t have to put my own mediocre images out there. Other people – like the five photographers in this episode do take the risk of having themselves critizised in public and I would like to thank them for daring to do so and giving me an opportunity to learn, even if it is from their mistakes.

  • Steve Perks said on May 23, 2010

    If you want to put your work up for critique to Zack, you would do well to remember the scene from The Blues Brothers, where they are playing a country joint and there are beer bottles smashing off of the wire cage.

    A gig is a gig when you are putting food on the table, but in this gig there are other bands in the audience and they are throwing Newcastle Brown bottles which don’t smash so easy.
    They hurt like hell when they make contact.

    You learn to adapt real quick…

    ‘Stand by your man…’

    Learn to bang a beer tray on your head and absorb the spirit of it all.

    Oh, and never try to argue with a man that drinks Newcastle Brown!

    (website URL witheld!)

  • Felipe said on May 23, 2010

    Wow, people really take things way too seriously…
    “signs of not being prepared for the session” because of pronunciation of some dude’s name? Seriously?

    Zack, you should give disappointed commenters their money back.

  • Les Doerfler said on May 23, 2010

    Felipe nails it.

  • Erin said on May 24, 2010

    Hey Zack, still loving the critiques.

    I have to point out that not all photojournalists are laying their lives on the line. I was a photojournalist before doing portraits. I covered local news and national politics. I may have been in a tiny bit of danger during the handful of drug busts I covered, but my husband never worried about my returning home!

    Still, it does bother me to see people using that term who don’t know what it means! It means working 60 hours a week for minimum wage and angry phone calls 😉

  • jijo said on May 29, 2010

    if you use only one microphone for a bunch of people, you should place it so its the same distance to everybody. the one guy laughing directly into the mic a couple times almost made my ears bleed, while one guy in the back was barely hearable.

  • zack said on May 29, 2010

    Yeah. Sorry about the audio on this one.

  • Emily said on May 31, 2010

    if you use only one microphone for a bunch of people, you should place it so its the same distance to everybody. the one guy laughing directly into the mic a couple times almost made my ears bleed, while one guy in the back was barely hearable.

  • Amy said on June 4, 2010

    Wow, people really take things way too seriously…
    “signs of not being prepared for the session” because of pronunciation of some dude’s name? Seriously?

    Zack, you should give disappointed commenters their money back.

  • maski said on June 15, 2010

    i’ve just spend three days watching your creativelive workshop…and i loved it…. i’m sorry i took the time to watch 4-5 of these cretenique videos…. :( …. just spoild it for me…. in this video i herd a CONSTRUCTIVE CRITIQUE after 12:42 min….. the misuZ and you are just having fun talking smack to people…. so sad….

  • jill said on June 23, 2010

    i also watched your creativelive workshop. seriously you are amazing.

    just a note to everyone who has their panties in a bunch. a critique contains criticism. this is a very rare opportunity to listen to a world renowned photographer go through websites and tell you exactly what he thinks.

    the truth hurts, but how else are you supposed to learn?

    thanks zack. keep it up.

  • Greg said on July 6, 2010

    Just finished watching the latest critique, yeah… a little behind on my blog reading. Really got a kick out of the khaki, polo shirt wearing Harley rider.

  • Kimberly said on August 10, 2010

    Thank you so much for doing these critiques. I have learned more from them about how to edit my photos than from any other resource. That alone has made them invaluable. Thanks again.

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