Hyper Critical of Your Work?

Often times we are very critical of our own work, so critical that we throw out very good images (I do anyway). By shooting from the hip or in burst mode while walking through a crowd, the unexpected results are often more pleasing and inspiring. Why is this? Is it because we, in essence, did not make the image, but rather our camera did most of the work? Is this style of shooting more random and therefore unwelcoming of our hyper critical self-judgment?

Try looking at your work as if it were not your own. The first step is changing your mindset and forgetting about the time and constraints that went into the process of capturing the image before you. The next step is thinking through the photographic guidelines that make for good images.

12 Guidelines:

1.) Simplification, 2.) Frame within a frame, 3.) The Rule of Thirds, 4.) Angle of View (Worms Eye, Birds Eye, Point of Reference, Macro/Close Up), 5.) Truncation, 6.) Elongation, 7.) Balance (Symmetry & Asymmetry),
8.) Curve & Line, 9.) Shape, 10.) Repetition (Pattern & Texture).

11.) Color
Color has more to do with design and composition. When it comes to color, remember that the question is not just how saturated or muted you might like it to appear, but also what color might do for mood, and how combinations of analogous, complementary, few, or multiple colors can affect your shot.

12.) Juxtaposition
Juxtaposition is a creative concept versus a camera technique, and is often used to instigate an emotional response. The term describes the pairing of opposite elements to create a new relationship, or draw attention to the disparate nature of the scene.


If your image uses three or more of these guidelines in a creative way the next step is filtering your image(s). Pin them up on the wall in an area free of clutter. Revisit these images over the course of the next week or two and remove the images in question. Keep only the images you return to routinely feeling strong about. Chances are you’ve made the right decision and these last images are ready for submission and review by others.

What is your process of selection like? How do you decide? I’d love to hear about your process. Share your images, lets start a discussion about your work.

~ John Trefethen

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One Response to “Hyper Critical of Your Work?”

  1. randal says:

    Great article. I have always wondered why I appreciate my own “random” photos over the planned ones and I was interested in your comment about the camera doing most of the work for us in those situations. Andy Warhol was famous for this sort of technique, he once said ” The reason i’m painting this way is that I want to be a machine, and I feel that whatever I do and do machine-like is what I want to do”. He preferred to screen print, or have others do his screen printing for him, because it took his personality and his self out of the process.

    I am drawn to this article because it is something that has, for lack of a better word, plagued my art career. I call it the “my s#@t don’t stink” syndrome. If you spend enough time around the foul smell, you grow immune to it and can’t tell the difference between craft and crap. Paying attention to the principles of design, as you have already mention, helps in the decision making process. What I also like to do is just put the pieces away for a while, do not look at them for a day or so, then break them out and try to pick “the one” as quick as possible on instinct. When you have studied the principals well, all the elements that make a good photo will naturally show themselves to you and make the decision a lot easier. It also helps to have truly honest friends!