Photography Critique :: Episode 15

February 17, 2013 | Shop Talk • Critique


We are back with a brand new episode of Photography Critique! We go for a little over an hour on this one. We try to keep it short and sweet but at the same time we want to spend time on the work we are critiquing. Stick with this one till the end. There’s a photo at the end of the critique that ties a lot of what say together.

I think we’ll be back to doing these more often! If you want to submit your work you can do so by emailing us a link at critique @ zackarias [dot] com. That’s Zack with a K. Do not just email us photos. Send us a link to your site, flickr, 500px, facebook, etc. 




  • Drunk Husband said on February 17, 2013

    There’s always next time :(

  • Ioannis Tsouloulis said on February 17, 2013

    Hi there Zack!
    Enjoying your episode of “Photographers Critique”
    I wonder if you would find the time to take a look at my website!
    The folders have dutch titles but I guess its about the pictures.
    Would love to hear your and Meg’s opinion!
    Love your work and would really appreciate your opinion!
    Ioannis Tsouloulis!

  • Alton Strickland said on February 17, 2013

    Enjoyed the straight on critiques. Some guilt here by similarity. Mostly mediocre. Thanks for being real.

  • Marc said on February 17, 2013

    Brutal! :) . But kuddos for all those who dare to ask Meg & Zack to critique their sites and photo’s. I for sure am still not ready for that. But I learned a lot of all these critique sessions, not only about photography but also about how a website should look to be appealing.
    Thanks to all those daring photographers and to Meg & Zack making this critiques happening again.



  • Max Almonte said on February 17, 2013

    Ahhhhhhhgggh! Mannnnnnnnnn! I been waiting for you guys to go back to this so i can submit. Wellp next time i guess.

  • Kate H said on February 17, 2013

    I LOVED this segment…. extremely educational and definitely got me thinking more about my style of photography and how I need to present it. I learned today that I too am a cliche violator… so I will definitely be working on fixing that in my future shoots. Thanks again Zack and Meg .. this was awesome !

  • Christine Hartsfield said on February 17, 2013

    Zack, please please choose us to tear apart! I mean, um, “critique”. I know everyone says how much it would mean to them but we would be SO GRATEFUL! We have been following you for years – really. You did a video years ago that talked about your experience in the business that was incredibly moving to us. It hit so close to home. Anyway, it has been so encouraging to us to watch how your business has grown. We love the way you tell it like it is. You are refreshingly transparent. No pretense. Please tell us your perspective on “how it is” for us. Please!

  • Simon said on February 18, 2013

    Very happy to see you’re back online !!!

  • Clive Litchfield said on February 18, 2013

    Well that woke me up for sure.

  • Jonathan Connolly said on February 18, 2013

    I am dying laughing over here at you two bouncing off each other with your comments. You have got to do more of these.

  • Michael said on February 18, 2013

    Give up your day job. Just do these every day for the rest of your life. How to make money with this? Not sure. But they are fantastic!

  • Ed said on February 18, 2013

    Thanks Zack and Meg. Great stuff…lots to think about. Lots of changes for me to work on this week (and every week after that) on what I’m presenting online (and yeah, I have a musician that hired me to shoot around a caboose…and with the walking guitar case). Looking forward to a few more of these critiques – if you’re ever in Denver, I’ll even buy the beer.

  • JR said on February 18, 2013

    What are the odds you would bring up owls at the end. I was looking out my back door yesterday and there was an owl sitting on a tree. It was the first time I have ever seen an owl in the wild so I wanted to take a picture (I wasn’t taking a photograph I was snapping a picture) I’d never put it on a site because I don’t want to shoot birds (and it was just a crappy bird picture and I knew it) but it did go on my FB because it was cool to see. To many people told me how great a picture it was (and it wasn’t)……That’s the problem today there are to many clueless people telling others how great the photos are! I love your critiques, and I love it more that I have started to see the same things you see before you bring them up.

  • Richard Haick said on February 18, 2013

    Holy balls! I need to up my game. I gotta get out of this rut or mediocrity.

  • Jason said on February 18, 2013

    Hey Zack
    *really* glad you’re doing critiques again – really enjoy – and learn – from them.
    And Meg, thanks to you to for “encouraging” your smack talkin’ man and for your own, officially opinionated, smack talk.
    Cheers both of you.

  • Isolder said on February 18, 2013


    This is the first of your critiques that I have watched. It’s nice hearing you talk smack and I would prefer additional input on how you would see photos improved. Meg seems to try to get you to speak towards that a little, but more would be nice.

    Things like mentioning the tree background being full background or lower perspective are all very helfpul.

  • Richard said on February 18, 2013

    Mr Arias.

    First, kudos to those who are brave enough to submit their work – I don’t have a website yet but if I did I don’t know whether I’d be able to do it.

    It’s not that your comments are unfeeling or off the mark – just the opposite – but I’d think I’d find it hard to disassociate myself as a person from my work; I think all our images are taken because we identify with something and try and capture it and the feeling with have and share that with others.

    Secondly, as I said above your comments are spot-on and you take the time to give usable feedback. And sometimes we need someone to tell us what is good or bad about an image just because we identify with it.

  • Andrew Richardson said on February 18, 2013

    One thing I noticed that y’all didn’t say, is that several of the sites had downloads available for their “portfolio” images. IMO opinion that’s a big no-no, especially for the ones of kids. Why are you giving away free high-res downloads of your portfolio?

  • Tim said on February 18, 2013

    Great post you two. I just want to point out something that I have noticed over the past few years following you Zack and Meg. I appreciate the critiques and I think they are great. I have learned a lot about many things photo related. However you two always introduce Meg as someone who doesn’t really know that much about photography because she isn’t a “pro.” Let me just say this, Meg you probably could take better photos than the majority of people you critique. Also your married to an opinionated professional photographer who shares those opinions with you. You Ma’am are much more than you think(or at least lead the viewers on to think). I would value Meg’s opinions on my personal photos as much as Zack’s, quite possibly more. Meg you might not know the in’s and out’s of shutter speeds, and f stops, I don’t know. However you know a lot about what good lighting looks like and solid composition. So please, do not downplay your role in the critiques because you are very very good at reading photography.

  • Samuel Pettersson said on February 18, 2013

    I love your critiques, and would love( and fear ) to get one myself. My site is in swedish though, but it’s pretty basic. You start up on the blog, then there is an “about”-page(=om), a contact page. Im more interested in getting critique for my work than my writing though so dont think the writing in Swedish would be that important, for me at least. Anyways, love what you do, I”m a fan.

  • Norman Stevens said on February 19, 2013

    Fantastic post, interesting and very informative, love photography and love interesting critiques

  • Jason said on February 19, 2013

    Uh oh. I think I should have gone back through some of your past critiques before sending you an email. Referring to myself as a “fine art landscape photographer” is a sign that I didn’t finish part 2 of Critique #13. But if that’s the only mistake I get caught making, I’ll worry that you’re not paying attention.

  • Meg said on February 19, 2013


    You, sir, just made my effin’ WEEK!

    Thank you very very much.

  • tuko said on February 20, 2013

    LMFAO love the full video nothing makes a rock n roll guitar players like those flowers in the courner jejejejejeje

  • Todd said on February 20, 2013

    Zack and Meg,

    Really enjoyed this post. I think the obvious fact that our industry is less technically skilled on the basics and good lighting is all too obvious. A digital Rebel and a set of photoshop actions has taken the place of learning a craft and perfecting it. Not sure how this gets corrected but I thank you for the attempt to inform and teach all of us.


  • Bill said on February 20, 2013

    People actually paid for some of that photography? Get a conscience people. If you are going to charge money then you better be able to deliver. Those who think that digital has made it easier for more people to be “photographers” are missing the boat. Digital has allowed the gene pool to dilute and made it acceptable. There is a responsibility to the client, customer, bride, family, etc. recipient of your work. Just because you can be mediocre does not mean you should be. Back with film it was expensive to be mediocre, now it is easy and accepted I guess? Great job saying like it is Zack and Meg.

    Thank goodness for Jesse’s images at the end of the episode. See what can be done and should be done, especially if you have the cojones to charge $$$.

    o’ beer thirty for me.

  • Craig said on February 20, 2013

    I only watched the first 20 minutes or so and turned it off. It’s great that you’re taking time to review other photographers’ work and sharing your insights. But, when I listen to a critique, I like to hear not only what’s wrong, but what’s right as well. It’s especially useful if the critique includes hints or suggestions about how to correct the problem areas. It’s fine to share what you don’t like, but take a stand and also explain the good.

    I believe the goal of a successful critique should be about education, not entertaiment at the expense of the subject.

  • Zack said on February 20, 2013

    I agree Craig and try to point out the good as well. Sometimes I focus on a larger issue at hand. Meg and I refuse to put a formula on these though. They are from the hip, unedited, and straight forward. Some episodes focus on one thing more than another. If you watch the whole thing you’ll see it get wrapped up. Then again, you don’t have to watch any of it. It’s free so you get what you pay for. :)


  • Henri said on February 20, 2013

    Thanks, there is always something what you can learn by watching these episodes…

  • Ed Gill said on February 21, 2013

    Finally some honest critique. Heavy dose of reality to: “so you wanna be a pro”. Best take-away for me was, don’t quite my day job (oops too late) and Rock and Rock Confidential “The Hall of Douchebags.” I haven’t laughed so hard in years, it actually brought tears to my eyes.

    Cheers from behind Rosa’s Cantina

    Ed, drying in El Paso.

  • Zack said on February 21, 2013

    @Ed – I love El Paso!


  • Ziqi Zhang said on February 21, 2013

    Your critiques are very very helpful! it’s a bitter medicine, but I guess those patients (and anyone what to be outstanding in photography) need it =)


    Ziqi Photography

  • kc said on February 21, 2013

    I cannot tell you how much I have learned from these critiques! If these critiques were bundled into a DVD, or better yet, a digital download at cost, I would purchase them. The plethora and usefulness of information provided in these critiques is such that it has shaved off months to years from my learning curve. Especially those parts of the curve where you end up at the wrong dead ends. And for that I say thank you to both Zack and Meg, and the photographers who submit their work so we can all learn from it.

  • Ed Gill said on February 21, 2013


    If you’re in El Paso, Mi casa es su casa. Shoot me an e-mail and I can get you details. I even stock REAL BEER (11 years in Germany ruined by taste for yellow waste water).
    I’ll be in Atlanta this June, would love to check out your studio and say hi.


  • Whitney Gray said on February 22, 2013

    What a blast of fresh air to finally hear honesty. Seriously. THANK YOU.

  • Doug said on February 22, 2013

    as I am about to embark on creating my own website dedicated to photography this was timely and appropriate, really gave me food for thought, on what I need to do and not do. Hope to be bear the brunt of similar review and critique , i think as painful as it can be, we can learn and move forward.

  • Greg James said on February 22, 2013

    Hi Zack. I took a few….hundred body blows on this last video about my website. I agreed with every one of them and I’ve done what you suggested. The old site has been nuked and the new site is up and running. It’s smaller, more focussed on the images and I hope on the next critique you wouldn’t mind looking at the actual photos this time now that the navigation of the site isn’t such a pain in the neck. I’m still working on it and I know it’s not perfect. I do still need to populate the first full screen slideshow with lots more images so that people don’t have to click on anything to see photographs if they don’t want to. The gallery itself is on a random placing of images which I can’t quite figure out. I want to be able to choose the order of the images eventually. What do you think?!

    Thank you for all your comments. My site felt like an extension of my brain and by simplifying the site, I’ve focussed my brain too! Now I just need some honest opinions on the work itself.

  • lainer said on February 22, 2013

    “We will talk smack to your face…” LOL! I laughed my ass off. Love it. You guys remind me of “The Dawn and Drew Show” in your bantering.

  • Edd Carlile said on February 22, 2013

    Was so glad to see this up when I stopped by. Wonderful to hear both you guys talking about photography and the impact that it has, and that it can have if presented right.
    My ears perked up a bit towards the end there Zack when you mentioned at the end of a life having 50 great images that rise above all others that you ever made and those babies are yours, they are in essence a legacy of sorts. On the heels of that you spoke of creating images of those that die and that our images may be the “signature” to the ceremony for the family and then friends to celebrate the end of a life. Those two themes came together for me when I shot my wife’s uncle at his home and three months later cancer snatched him away. At his funeral I gave out copies of this image to the remaining 3 brothers and their families, the enormous grief and joy this image created put it as the first of my personal fifty. They saw him again as he had been in life. My image made a huge impact on the family, it gave them a focus for remembrance. I am humbled that I could do that for them. This is the image:

  • Giuseppe said on February 22, 2013

    I live in a very old town in Italy (Pavia) and there are a plenty of brick walls here. When you said “when you see a brick wall you have to run away” you scared me! That means taht I can’t take pictures in my town! :)
    Ok, seriously, you two are great.

  • luis said on February 23, 2013

    Zack, when are you going to start answering questions on your tumblr again?

  • David Davis said on February 27, 2013


    Good Job.
    You offered up a lot of good shooting ideas.
    Your critique is educational for any level of photographer.

  • MikeB said on February 28, 2013

    So I watch the latest critique…love them all…and the very next day my girlfriend shows me her friend’s brand new engagement photos. Every cliche you mentioned was in there! The best one though…furniture and antique luggage on a train track IN THE SAME PHOTO!!!…I kid you not!

  • Luciana Justice said on March 1, 2013

    I cant’ believe I sent my site …. mom. drinking wine. should be doing laundry.

  • Ryoichi said on March 9, 2013

    Love your critiques. I’m always learn a lot during your videos. Hope to see them more often. Have a great time with your family.

  • Mark H said on March 11, 2013

    Love this session. Major thanks to those offering their sites and work up for review – not only do they learn from the experience but we all do. Heck even when it’s stuff I know I always find myself going back to my site and fixing a few things that sounded good at the time.

    Had to chuckle at your VSCO comments. VSCOcity seems to be the big edit trent lately – although I think if you really want a shot to look like a certain type of film – get a film camera and shoot it that way. :-) But they are fun to experiment with from time to time.

    Really loved the wrap up on this episode with the final review – really brings everything back from contrasts the difference on the earlier sites/work.

  • Kevin said on March 13, 2013

    I was surprised to see that it was an hour long and even more surprised that watched the whole thing (supposed to be workin’ here). I just couldn’t stop – great stuff. Look forward to the next one. – Kevin

  • Yirmiyahu Vann said on March 22, 2013

    Check us out next time:

    We are in the Middle East!

  • Jeremy said on March 25, 2013

    Zack… stupid question alert: Does your hatred of SmugMug extend to Zenfolio. (I hate the former, too… but do use the latter.) Should we all just man up and get real sites?

  • Zack said on March 25, 2013


  • Jeremy said on March 25, 2013

    Cool. (Truth be known, I just can’t stand saying “SmugMug”. It really makes me want to slap someone.) Thanks for doing these, it takes me 3 hours to watch, because I keep rushing to my site and making changes.

  • Trent said on April 12, 2013

    I love your workshops and the amount of time, effort, and especially the honesty about yourself that you put into teaching other photographers. The contrast between the tone of your formal instruction and the tone here, though, is pretty stark. There, you are clearly devoting yourself to being helpful; here, you seem to be about 60% trying to help, and 40% just entertaining yourself.

    The problem isn’t that you’re having fun, it’s that in the process you’re setting people up for failure. For example, the shot of the guitar player with the interesting up-lighting and the cool moon in the background, what are the odds that the photographer was in a position to do anything about those flowers being there? Very low, right? And given that he’s trying to get the player at an interesting angle, the up-lighting, and the moon in the background between those trees, what are the odds he could reposition or reframe in a way that would eliminate the potted plants from the shot? Very low.

    So, instead of critiquing the guy for the plants being in the shot, recognize the constraints he’s working within. “I can see what you were going for, and it’s pretty well executed. What jumps out at me as separating this photo from something that a client might pay for is those potted plants, which just don’t belong there because they distract from the story, which is ‘Rock n Roll!!’ Unfortunately for you, there doesn’t seem to have been any way to get the shot without including them. And that happens to every photographer all the time, when they leave the studio. Sometimes a sale-able or fine art shot is tantalizingly close, but ultimately just not quite there to get. So, I wouldn’t put this picture in your portfolio, but you did pretty well with what was possible.”

    Also, throughout the critiques, you emphasize avoiding cliches — avoid taking the same shot a million other people have taken: never take a portrait with a brick wall, train tracks, or balloons in a field. Then you get to that birds-in-mist-with-motion-blur shot, and you completely change your tune. Birds-in-mist-with-motion-blur is about as cliche as it gets in wildlife photography. That particular shot isn’t good because it’s not cliche; it’s good because it’s a particularly artful and interesting execution of that cliche.

    Photography is like literature at this point: there is *nothing* that hasn’t been done a million times before.

    Giving people the idea that they’ve got to go out and get something completely new is just a prescription for failure and giving up. What we’re all trying to do — just like novelists — is put a fresh twist on the familiar; show things from a slightly different viewpoint; execute the story (photographic or literary) particularly well.

    Your white background portraits are a good example. Thousands of people have shot millions of them. If you took the advice you’re giving here, you would crumple up your white background and burn it, and never take a picture against blown white seamless again.

    But that would be a mistake. People take that style of shot so much because it is (or can be) photographically pleasing. And you do it particularly well. Your executions of it are, somehow, recognizable as yours.

    *That’s* the goal — developing a style and eye that’s recognizably your own. And it’s a realistic one. Not easy, but realistic.

  • Amber Pierce said on April 21, 2013

    I thought I’d only watch a little but I ended up watching the whole thing. I’m glad Meghan has a voice in these and often identifies exactly what needs to be said.

  • Isaac White said on August 23, 2013

    I thought these critiques were dead! I love watching these, and have longed to have my work ripped apart by you guys. I want to learn and will be following up with emails shortly!

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