Photography Critique :: Episode 7

March 25, 2009 | • Critique

After taking a break for a week or so I’m glad to bring you episode 7 of Photography Critique. Today we look at the work of Melissa, David, and Josh. These are three photographers who all have a very solid skill set and are needing to find their vision before they really start taking ground in the photo industry.

Meg was not able to make it for this episode. Her due date is coming up quickly and she needs all the rest she can get right now. By the time I was ready to get going on this critique last night she was zonked out on the couch. She has watched the episode and gives her approval of it. She will be back for the next episode!

If you want to get on the list of work to be critiqued just send me a link at critique @ zacKarias [dot] com.

Cheers, Zack


  • LluisGerard said on March 25, 2009

    Great! :) I’m working on my web portfolio and these critiques are improving myself, thanks a lot.

  • luis [lggphoto] said on March 25, 2009

    congrats zack on the baby!!!!!

  • Julia said on March 25, 2009

    Oh goodness. I think by the time I’m done watching all these, I’ll have a portfolio of 1 image. 😉

  • Justin said on March 25, 2009

    Another great set of critiques Zack.

    Something I’ve been thinking about a lot is the “who are you as a photographer” comment heard throughout these critiques. I remember a talk Joe McNally did where he mentioned taking a path “as a photographic generalist” since he never really specialized. His thought was that the act of photography was so rewarding on its own that he just wanted to shoot whatever he could, no matter the context. I identify with that, but I also identify with what you say about narrowing your focus.

    My question then becomes what’s the real motivation for narrowing focus? Is it to be able to market yourself more clearly? Is it to be able to better define who you are as an artist (and is that even the point of what we do)? So many people will ask “what are you trying to say as a photographer,” but what if what you have to say is “I love photography?” You could argue that’s the difference between a hobbyist and an artist, but I’m not convinced that’s always the case.

    Thanks again for these and keep ’em coming!

  • Keith said on March 25, 2009

    kudos to everyone brave enough to submit there websites, and Zack and Meg for taking the time to critique.

  • joseph tutlo said on March 25, 2009


    you often mention a sense of identification (or lack of) in a photographer.

    …i just read justin’s comment, and i’m kinda mirroring.

    i’m going to assume that most of these people are recently venturing this career so they would like to attract any and all clients as opposed to limiting to a set of perspective buyers. so how do you do it? how do you make yourself appealing to a broad range of people without seeming aimless in your vision?

    i know that personally i would like to shoot nothing but high end commercialish editorials with the occasional celebrity portrait. but for now i need to appeal to the parents and families and other types of work thats easier to find.

    i noticed that you have separate sites for usedfilm and zack arias. is that to separate the focus of the work? is it a plan you’d suggest?

    basically, how do you do you pay the bills with smaller clients and still let the big clients know that you mean business?


  • Colin said on March 25, 2009

    Just wanted to add my two bits on David’s portfolio. The “THOUGHTFUL IMAGERY” overlay on the pictures is neat but in many pictures it chops off heads.

    I’m also curious to hear Zack’s thoughts on generalization. I enjoy photography (I pay the bills with software) but I have little desire to specialize. I’d rather acquire some skill in all the various forms than be able to really nail down corporate tie shots. Granted, people have a specific task in mind (my wedding, my product spread, etc.) so they want someone good at that. I would say that it is a difference for hobbyist vs. professional, not artist. You can be a paid or not and still make art.

    I’m sure Beethoven would have troubles writing Stairway to Heaven (never mind the electric guitar not being in the 18th/19th centuries) but he also didn’t write compositions *just* for violin or *just* for piano.

  • James Christerson said on March 25, 2009

    1. I completely agree on materity photography…


    p.s. We give you grace… your wife is pregnant, and you are incredibly busy… .

  • Anne Collins said on March 25, 2009

    Just wondering … is it possible that the first photographer’s fashion section comes from a workshop?

  • Caitlin said on March 25, 2009

    In regards to a comment made towards Josh’s portfolio – [I don’t remember the exact phrasing of what was said, so forgive me if I’ve misquoted] I would like to point out that just because he is a recent graduate of SCAD, does not mean completely that he should/is/or should focus on commercial work. [Again, I don’t remember exactly what Zack’s comment was towards this]
    I think that’s a common misconception of those in SCAD. I’m currently in my last quarter there and there are more of us doing fine art and documentary styled work than commercial or fashion work. I think because it’s primarily a design school and happens to have a campus in Atlanta, does not mean that everyone in the photo department is churning out commercial work.
    That’s my two cents :) [But I do enjoy watching these critique videos!]

  • Christina Montemurro said on March 25, 2009

    Thanks Justin and Joseph for asking what I’ve been thinking about a lot.

    It’s also hard to narrow your focus when you love everything! I love people, but I also love landscapes. I don’t want to abandon either one, although I realize I have a lot to learn in both areas.

  • Dylan said on March 25, 2009

    Hi Zack,

    I’ve been watching these wherever I can, and I’m constantly realising how much I really need to hone my vision, concentrate on something, and create a good portfolio.

    Recently I’ve been getting out to shoot more, with more people, and doing my best to share those experiences via my blog.

    It seems really difficult for me to create original work, and original commentary with so many photographers out there, and so many sources of inspiration.

    I’m wondering how long it took you to create your own distinct vision, and just how you manage to keep your head clear to shoot what you are driven to shoot?

    I don’t know how clear that is, but I’d love you hear your thoughts.

    Best wishes,

  • Paul said on March 25, 2009

    Great stuff again…

    I’m also interested in hearing thoughts on how to be a “portrait generalist”. I’ve shot maternity, newborns, children, families and art. How do you cover it all without looking aimless.

    On the other hand, it has made me think about what I like doing best and wondering if the market exists in my area to just focus on one aspect…

  • dF said on March 25, 2009

    thanks for your time Zack!

  • Anne Collins said on March 25, 2009

    you bring up a Great point on watermarking

    I’ve been watermarking the heck out of my stuff so far. You helped me realize I’m hurting myself more than the damage that would be done if someone down the road decided to steal an image.

    Your episodes are also helping me focus on what my style is and what I should showcase. I’ve had the problem of showing too much, less is more! I’ve also been interested in doing more than what I currently do (right now I mostly do babies and child work). But I don’t want to fall into the Jack of All Trades, Master of None pit. I think I’ll work on mastering what I currently do and then slowly build from there into someday possibly doing seniors and/or event work.

  • zack said on March 25, 2009

    Great questions about generalization! I’ll tackle them more specifically in the next critique.


  • Colin said on March 25, 2009

    Coincidently, on the topic of generalization, is what Jarvis just posted:

    “…you are getting hired by people for your creative vision and your ability to execute. You’re a professional. You’re not a monkey with a trigger finger and a D90.”

    So the point, it would seem, is to have a portfolio that shows you have creative vision in whatever area you’re trying to do and/or be hired to do.

  • jodi said on March 25, 2009

    so glad to know that i am not the only one who doesn’t get maternity photography. thanks so much for all the great info.

  • Rhonda said on March 25, 2009

    Thanks for another great critique!

    I totally agree about the hand heart maternity picture–SO overdone. Glad to hear someone else say it. :)

  • Sam Coran said on March 25, 2009

    Hi Zack,

    THanks for all the ideas you’ve shared.

    I’ve built my portfolio based on your critiques.

    Hope to see more of these. (^_^)


  • Tony said on March 25, 2009

    I think Melissa Marie’s Senior portraits look so much different b/c the “fashion” shots are likely from a workshop or something where she had help is setting up the lights.

    I’d probably practice those techniques a little before posting the two together on the same site!

    Nice critique.

  • Tim Linden said on March 25, 2009

    LOL I agree with the heart over belly button thing.. My wife asked me to take that of her when she was pregnant =P

  • Kevin said on March 25, 2009

    Great work as usual. Your razor-sharp eye is helping me think more critically about my own work. hopefully I’ll have a tighter edit up by the time you make it round to my site. Take your time, for sure.

    One thing that’s struck me with my recent analysis of work, is not just “who are you as a photographer,” but, “who are you selling to?”
    To elaborate, the senior and maternity sections of recent sites you’ve critiqued are at odds with the fashion and beauty sections, strictly because different people, completely different people, will be paying for each. On one end is an art buyer, and on the other is… a mom. The art buyer wants to see one thing, and the mom wants something totally different.
    I know photographers are artists and it’s sort of gratifying to ask the “who am i” question, but i think it’s more valuable for the bottom line, to ask “who is my market,” or, more mercenarily, “who am i more likely to get to open up their wallet”.
    I mentioned my site. It’s not anywhere near done. Don’t go there yet, expecting something that I’d be showing clients with any expectation of landing a gig. 😉 I mention it mainly as a case-in-point; I have a landscape section and it doesn’t belong. I’d rather do assignment work and nobody’s going to hire me to go shoot a sunset, unless that sun is setting behind a particularly relevant foreground. I might be able to keep my 1 or 2 best landscapes in a pictorial section, but as a category, i recognize that it has to go (not least for the reason that others do the landscape better than I).

  • Gary said on March 25, 2009

    These things are like crack, I find myself checking everyday to see if a new one is up.

    Come on though, star of the show having a nap? the old “havin a baby” excuse, have to say I’m disappointed.

    Seriously, love learning from these ,invaluable tips in these, I’m at the stage where even seeing what impresses a serious photographer is really useful but do the next one at a more godly hour so we get to hear from Meg, k.

    All the best.

  • Tyler Green said on March 25, 2009

    I just want to praise you and your awesomeness.

    I’ve learned so much about my work and how I want to represent myself as a photographer. I can’t thank you enough.

    I now have your voice inside my head screaming, “that a clunker?”

  • meg said on March 25, 2009

    I’m behind on building my own website now, but I’m sure it’s been more than worthwile enjoying your critiques. It’s really refreshing to see someone who actually points out the distracting patches of light, the cropped fingers etc… though I agree with Julia, my portfolio’s diminishing fast!!

    The first thought I had about Melissa’s portfolio has already been said twice. The glaring difference between her other portfolio’s (in particular the seniors) and the fashion portfolio in lighting and poses, and the fact the fashion one seems to show different models and yet in the same location says to me “workshop images” though I could be wrong…

  • Melissa Marie Photography said on March 26, 2009

    Hello everyone this is Melissa from the first website

    None of my photos are from a workshop I lit everything by myself. The senior portraits were before I got my strobes and the catalog looking wedding photos actually were for a catalog.

    The different models in the same location is usually because the designer I’m working with wants to shoot 2 or 3 different models because she has a few garments she wants to show. I just wanted to clear all that up for everyone! & I really appreciate the critique Zack! I replied to your email.


  • Max said on March 26, 2009

    Hey Zack – sorry to bug you here, but check your e-mail: there’s a registration issue over at the OLW forum.

    (and if you’re moderating these, you can just not post this one to the blog comments…)

  • Jeff said on March 26, 2009

    Once again a great bit of advice for us all. Thanks again.

  • Anne Collins said on March 26, 2009

    Then I hope you take what we’ve said as a compliment to the improvements you’ve made! Your newer pictures rock. Out with the old, in the with new … keep it up!

  • Michael said on March 26, 2009

    Zack, I’m loving your critique series. lots if information.

    Thank you

  • Heather said on March 27, 2009

    It’s worth mentioning that the “photo every maternity photographer has ever taken” of the heart over the belly is alarmingly similar to the ASL sign for “vagina”, by about a half inch in the thumb. As in, “yes indeedy, that’s where what’s in here is going to come out of shortly” vagina.
    I adamantly refuse – REFUSE – to do this shot not only for the cliche but for that reason, and I tell my clients every single time that’s why. And every single one so far has agreed with me: no vaginas in the prints.

  • PhiliP White said on March 27, 2009

    Kevin (23) said:
    “who am i more likely to get to open up their wallet”
    That comment made me sick. Who are you? a whore?

  • zack said on March 27, 2009

    @Philip – Kevin was getting down to the very core of the matter. His comment should not make you sick because it is so very true. If you are in this industry to pay your bills AND pay your bills while doing something you love then you have to ask that question.

    Professional photographers survive only when someone opens their wallet to us. We have to know who our client is and how to communicate to them. If we can do that well and deliver the goods they are wanting, then they open their wallet and pay for it because they see the value of what we do.


  • Gary Chartier said on March 27, 2009

    Just a Bad Day! My Canon 50D was stolen last night. Back to using my old Canon Rebel XTI. I guess no one will be opening their wallets for me anytime soon….

    This Sucks!!!

  • David Burridge said on March 27, 2009

    Sorry about your camera Gary, that does suck.

  • catalina said on March 28, 2009

    hi Zack!
    hope you are having an amazing time in Dubai! just saw in twitter you arrived!
    once again, as i rebuild my website, i continue to learn and take something from each episode (i miss Meg!) and am trying to apply it to me and my photography identity.
    thanks and i’m looking forward to making some time tomorrow and watching episode 8 which you posted earlier in the week.

  • Sean McCormack said on March 30, 2009

    While it does suck, your ability to shoot isn’t, or shouldn’t be dependent on the camera you use. There’s plenty of award winning images shot with the XTi.

    I see you’ve just twittered that you had a good teaching day, despite the weather.
    Enjoy yourself. I’m loving these critiques. And learning that I do need to sort out my mess of a website.
    Ahem.. I’ve nearly 100 live shots in one album… haha..
    No brick walls in the promo gallery, but still some from the same sessions… er and Music playing :)

  • Misty S said on March 30, 2009

    THANK YOU!!! So I have a new goal revamp my site… I’ve already started to line up new models that are willing to do what I want! lol

    What I really want to know is the copy cat photographer you were speaking of???

  • Gary Chartier said on March 31, 2009

    @Sean (39) Thanks… I was feeling really upset that day.. I had a $600.00 shoot yesterday with XTI. My client and I were both excited with results… I’m feeling much better now….. Thanks for the comment… I sometimes get into a funk!!!

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