Our September speaker was Mark Stevens from the Portland Camera Club. His participation in that photo club and other photographic organizations has challenged him as a photographer and helped him to develop new skills. Mark says he started with photography as a way to relax, to slow down, and to see the world in a new ways. After he retired in 2007, he started to experiment with new techniques, different cameras, and digital software. Since then he has produced a wide variety of amazing images: landscapes, architecture, street photography, and more which you can see on his web site mstevensphotography.net.

Mark also got involved in photographic competitions by submitting his work to be judged and scored by other photographers. He used the feedback he got from them to improve his photography, so much so, that in 2013 he was named a Platinum Medalist during the Professional Photographers of America’s International Photographic Competition. In 2014 and 2015 he won that same award while also being named photographer of the year by the New Hampshire Professional Photographers Association.

For this year’s International Photographic Competition, 43 jurors from across the United States judged some 5,200 entries against a standard of excellence and awarded the platinum level honor to just 69 photographers, and Mark was one of them this year, and for the past two years.

What Mark’s achievements tell us is that not only is he one of the best photographers out there, he also knows the difference between a good photograph and a great one. At the meeting, Mark talked about how to critique photographs so that during this year in the photo club we can give each other the kind of feedback that will help us improve as photographers and  make better photographs.

Because of the length of this presentation, club members did not present their photographs at this meeting.

Notes on Mark’s talk by George Soules

  • Take a breath and enjoy the image — it’s someone’s hard work
  • Use the “sandwich” to say something nice – something critical – make suggestions
  • Evaluate based on 1) Light 2) Composition 3) Emotion
  • Don’t use words like but, however, and no offense
  • Don’t be harsh

As an example of the sandwich, you might say about a picture of a little girl: “I like how the girl is lit from behind and how the colors in the background compliment her clothing. Her expression makes me feel happy. I find the bright area on the left distracting because it draws my eye away from the subject. I would try cropping from the left to remove the bright area. I also think a tighter crop would make a stronger composition and put more emphasis on the child.”

What you don’t want to say is, “it’s a nice picture, but I find that bright area distracting.”

Say what you like about the photo. But before you speak, look at the lighting and composition, and how the picture makes you feel – the emotion it evokes. You might not like the picture, but maybe it’s well lit, so say that.

It’s okay to say what you think is wrong with the picture, but also say why, and then follow with a suggestion for how you might improve it. Maybe you think the picture is boring, just a picture of a flower. Instead of saying it’s boring – that would be harsh — you could say “It’s nicely composed and makes good use of depth of field.” Then follow with “The light is kind of flat and so there’s not much contrast. I think it would be more interesting if the photographer had gotten closer, or maybe gotten down on the ground and tried shooting the petals from below. I would suggest that next time the photographer try shooting from a lot of different heights and angles, and maybe try this shot early in the morning or in the later afternoon when the light is more interesting.”