See How can we do photo critiques? and Should Photo Critiques be allowed? for previous discussion. It's generally been the consensus in the past that this is outside the charter of the site.

But our main problem right now is lack of questions. And a good portion of the questions we get are "16-92mm f/3.2 vs 14-87mm f/3.9 which to buy?" — which I think we also really only tolerate because there's not much coming in. I'd much rather have the photo-critique questions than many more of those!

I'd like to open the door to more questions about how to make a good photo, and specifically encourage people to post examples as part of the question.

Unlike a photo critique, I think they should focus on a specific concern, rather than open "what do you think of my photo". I think What is a point of interest in a photograph and where is it lacking in this candle picture? is a great example of this. More questions like this would be great for the site, and really help us grow.

Right now, the site already says that specific questions like this are allowed, but we've tended to interpret that as meaning specific technical issues. How can we expand that and make it not just allowed but encouraged?

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    So, just to be clear, you're suggesting that we encourage questions that focus on what specific creative thing can be fixed in a picture?
    – rfusca
    Mar 6, 2012 at 16:14
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    @rfusca: I mostly want to raise the discussion. I don't think we want people to post photos with wide-open "so, what do you think?" or even "does this work for you?" questions, but I would like to see it go beyond asking for fixes too.
    – mattdm
    Mar 6, 2012 at 16:39
  • Everybody knows that the 14-87 isn't worth much! .... now seriously instead: +1 I agree with @mattdm.
    – Francesco
    Oct 27, 2012 at 15:10

6 Answers 6


My opinion is that the door was never closed, only guarded.

We do allow critique, but it needs to focused.

As a community, we have avoided questions that are general critique because it isn't a good fit for the Q&A system. A critique is necessarily subjective, and usually doesn't lend itself to really being answered. However, if the focus is on a specific portion of the image it may certainly be possible to ask a question that is answerable.

Concerning the example:

This seems to be a good example of an on-topic critique question. It has a specific purpose which isn't overtly subjective.

  • There's a new Graphic Design Critique proposal, could photo critiques go there perhaps?
    – Zizouz212
    Jul 14, 2015 at 16:30
  • @Zizouz212 Looks like that's no longer live, so I guess not :)
    – mattdm
    Jan 12, 2017 at 15:23

My only problem is this:

When we encouraged critical comments on PotW entries it went badly...really, really bad. Lost at least a few really good members badly.

When you start asking, generally, what is creatively wrong with a picture that somebody likes, we open the door for all sorts of stupid comments like "I don't think you should take pictures of cats" .

I'm fine with addressing the creative side, but I still think the question needs to address something specific the photog wants addressed. If he comes in for composition help, he doesn't need to hear a criticism of his subject choice.

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    +1 for no pictures of cats
    – dpollitt
    Mar 6, 2012 at 17:43
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    @dpollitt — sounds like a challenge! mwhahahah.
    – mattdm
    Mar 7, 2012 at 2:52
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    I don’t get it (and admittedly I wasn’t here when critique on POTW was encouraged). My POTW got comments that could be viewed as critical. It seems to me that you’re blurring the responsibilities of the question asker and the answerer. Specific questions are great, but people already do give opinion (sometimes off-topic) in their answers. If it’s inappropriate they can be flagged/down voted/edited by the community which is what already happens on other questions. Why are creative questions different?
    – forsvarir
    Mar 7, 2012 at 13:27
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    @forsvarir Because there's a difference between something that is bad/offensive and the mods need to take care of, versus something that is just bad/stupid. Voting can take care of it for sure, but I don't think we should set ourselves up for trouble. Again, I'm not saying "no creative questions", but just that like all other questions on the site, there needs to be a focus for it.
    – rfusca
    Mar 7, 2012 at 16:05

I think that sort of question ought to be welcome, particularly when it's in the form of:

I received the following critique, and I can't figure out for the life of me what the heck they're talking about.

I mean, it's nice to talk in abstractions about compositional "rules", lighting ratios, "correct" exposure, and so forth, but it can be very difficult to develop a concrete understanding. It's not so much the questions that we have to keep an eye on, but the answers.

And sometimes the critique can be very technical. This question, for instance, dealt with more than just artistic and technical criticism of the image as a photograph, but with the technical requirements of stock photography as well (bleed allowances, composing for typical layout crops and so on).

  • I would +1, because I do agree that something like the example you gave should be allowed, but the 'particularly' gets me. I don't want to encourage 'general critique' at all.
    – rfusca
    Mar 6, 2012 at 23:05
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    @rfusca — the alternative scenario I was thinking of was the "I've done everything right... why is it still so wrong" question, not the "like me and my pics on Facebook" sort of thing. Again, it's the difference between theoretical abstractions (book learnin') and art. "Manual" questions are a much bigger turn-off to me; you can pick that stuff up without ever picking up a camera.
    – user2719
    Mar 6, 2012 at 23:30
  • I'm think that'd be fine, so long as they can't point out at least one thing that isn't fine to us. At that point, it essentially becomes what @chills and I are talking about - critique with a focus. The problem is, so many people think their stuff isn't "me and my pics on Facebook" and we need to make sure we're not the ones sorting that out on the main page of the Q&A site.
    – rfusca
    Mar 7, 2012 at 8:18

Totally agree. Looking at a good picture and understanding what can make it better is very helpful. This is not a rate my photo Flickr group :) But yet photos are a great learning tool for photographers :D


Technical critiques should be allowed, definitely, because they are really nothing more than a question with an example attached. Technical could mean something about exposure or focus, or something about following composition rules, for example.

I'd say any subjective critique should not be allowed, which I think basically just comes down to "do you like this?" and "critique my photo" questions.

More than anything, I think it comes down to how the critique/question is asked. "Critique my photo, please" is a bad choice because there's no clear way to answer that correctly. But a better question/request for critique could be helpful and productive: "why doesn't my photo have the impact I imagined? I tried to recreate 'x' and create 'y' mood, but it fell short -- what did I do wrong?" I suspect the resulting discussion would be interesting, cite resources, provide insight, and be very worthwhile. How do we encourage well-written questions?

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    But, if we allow that composition rules are more like guidelines than actual rules, doesn't that make all such questions subjective? Where would you draw that line?
    – mattdm
    Mar 7, 2012 at 2:48
  • I'd say if the question is explicitly asking about a compositional rule, it's ok. "I'm told this follows the rule of thirds; what does that means?" is a valid question with a clear answer. Anisha's recent question about candles/focus falls into this category. But if it's just fishing with "does this follow any composition rules" it's not a good question. Mar 7, 2012 at 12:30
  • I disagree. You're asking about a specific rule/idea: a central point of interest. Mar 8, 2012 at 12:14

Great answers and comments so far.

It's often suggested if you want to improve your photography, you should study the masters (photographs and artwork in general). Learn to read and interpret art and photographs. Assisting in that could be very useful and appropriate.

I'd welcome limited and focused critique along the lines of what Stan and Dan said. Even better, and safer, might be to post up some famous photographs and ask questions about them - why are they so well regarded, is it the composition, the light, the emotion. Deconstructing (if that's the right word) some of these photos could be interesting and educational.

  • @Anisha - not my downvote, but on meta, downvotes just mean "I disagree". (notice that they don't affect reputation)
    – mattdm
    Mar 7, 2012 at 11:17
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    @Anisha Kaul: There's been much discussion on the main meta site around commenting on downvotes. For me, I wouldn't expect every downvote to get a comment (particularly on meta) in much the same way that I wouldn't expect people to explain their upvotes. The suggestion that people comment is apparently there now for lower rep users: meta.stackexchange.com/questions/135/…
    – forsvarir
    Mar 7, 2012 at 12:56
  • @MikeW: I'm not sure about the idea of posting famous photographs (where would we stand on copyright for example) I'm also not sure they lend themselves to searchable questions. I guess an alternative that might work would be 'why is this photo recognised for it's good composition'... or maybe that would lead to a lot of duplicates...
    – forsvarir
    Mar 7, 2012 at 13:04
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    I'm opposed to this idea of posting famous photos because it sounds like you're just saying "critique my photo" which won't get any legitimate answer. Mar 7, 2012 at 15:26
  • @AnishaKaul: The discussion about downvotes and comments on the main site is here, although maybe things are a bit different on Meta. Note that Stack Exchange founder Jeff Atwood weighed in on that, so it's not just a personal opinion.
    – mattdm
    Mar 7, 2012 at 18:56
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    @AnishaKaul: also, please don't use the back-quotes for quoting people. That's supposed to be for mono-spaced text for filenames and computer code. For quoting someone, use italics and double-quotes. " Thanks! (This one is just my personal opinion, but it's also the intention of Markdown.)
    – mattdm
    Mar 7, 2012 at 18:58
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    Yes, I see the questions I gave as examples might be vague and argumentative. My point was that Ansel Adams, Henri Cartier-Bresson and Robert Capra must have done something right, compositionally, technically, or other, and their images could serve as good examples. Or Rembrandt or Caravaggio for lighting. No risk of offending them either :)
    – MikeW Mod
    Mar 7, 2012 at 19:21
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    "No risk of offending them either :)" Good thing, that, since Carravaggio was apparently rather quick with a sword when offended.
    – user2719
    Mar 8, 2012 at 17:22

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