To be fair, I think we must define a few words. When you look up the meaning of “critique”, the first definition is “to criticize”. Now, I don’t know about you, but when I was growing up and someone criticized me, I was left in tears. It’s one of those words that has so many negative emotions associated with it. The very next definition is one that I like: “to consider the merits and demerits and judge accordingly”. The definition of “merits” is “praiseworthy quality; character or conduct deserving reward; achievement; individual significance or justification”. Obviously, “demerits” is the opposite of “merits”.
The key phrase to me is “judge accordingly’. If your toddler brings you a crayon drawing she has done of a horse running around in front of your house, you don’t tell her the house is crooked and she didn’t centre it in the page. Instead, you sit with her and draw and you talk about what you are doing in your very best little girl voice. She is a sponge and she will soak up every bit of what you tell her. I think it is important to look at the subject matter and the artist’s level of experience before making any judgment. But, first and foremost, be kind. Highlight the positive, make suggestions and choose your words carefully. I think most people will feel attacked if you start any comment with phrases like “you shouldn’t have” or “it would be better if”. And remember, the written word can be misunderstood. I could say something in jest, but since you aren’t hearing the voice in my head, it could be taken completely wrong. (the voices in my head will be discussed in another segment).
Now, let me clarify that I feel that I am by no means anyone in a position to analyze any one else’s work based on any “photography rules”. I think I break most of those rules myself. But I do know what I like and what I don’t like. Let’s say you post a photo that features the close up view of a tarantula’s face. You have it centred perfectly in the frame, every hair on its itsy bitsy head can be seen and counted, and your reflection is visible in each and every one of it little black beady eyes. It’s an awesome shot! But the best thing I can say is “eeeeeeewwwwww”. Now is that a helpful critique? No, but it is useful to know that I don’t like spiders just in case you don’t want me hanging out with you. My sister had a book she got out when she decided she wanted me out of her room. It featured a spider centerfold!
OK, all kidding aside, I feel that a photograph should tell a story when we look at it and the best way to approach a critique is to determine what the story is and ask the question, “Could it have been told any differently?”. Our goal should be to support one another and help each other grow.
For a more technical answer to how to critique, link to http://www.pixiq.com/article/doing-a-photo-critique