Critique the Community Episode 10b: Natural Light Portraits

Due to the incredible amount of submissions, we decided to film a second edition of Natural Light Portraits! This time, Lee and I sat down in the Fstoppers studio and critiqued an additional 20 Natural Light Portraits. Check out the pictures we selected and feel free to add your thoughts in the comments!

A couple weeks ago, we asked the community to submit their natural light portraits to be critiqued. We had an overwhelming number of over 300 images submitted for feedback and thus, will be breaking up this critique into two episodes of 20 images each. In our first episode, we had the honor of having Dani Diamond, a professional natural light photographer in New York, help us critique a range of 20 images.

If you missed your chance to submit your images for critique, keep an eye out for future submission opportunities for "Critique the Community."

The Fstoppers Community Rating System

If you have an Fstoppers account, you are able to create your own profile and portfolio directly within the Fstoppers Community. Once you have a portfolio uploaded, you can browse images in the community and rate the photos of your peers. Even though art is usually a fairly subjective matter, we wanted to create a rating system that was as objective and unbiased as possible. This way, if one of your images has been rated 50 times and has received an average rating of 2 stars, you could feel confident that maybe that particular image is not up to par. Below is a simple explanation of the Fstoppers Community Rating System.

One Star: The Snapshot

One star ratings are limited to snapshots only. Snapshots are usually taken to document a time or location, but little to no thought has gone into the creation of the image. If an image has been "lit" with external light (besides a direct on-camera flash), it is at least a two star picture. The majority of one star images have had no post-production work done to them, but do often have an "Instagram style" filter added to them. The average person these days snaps one star images every single day with their smartphones. Most one star images that pop up on sites like ours are images of flowers, pets, landscapes, sunsets, objects around a house, etc. If you read Fstoppers, you should not be sharing one star images for any reason.

Two Stars: Needs Work

All images, besides maybe five star images, always have room for improvement, but two star images "need work" before they should be included in your portfolio. As photographers, we are snapping thousands of images per year, but only a few of those images should ever be shared or put into our portfolio. A photographer who has taken a two star image has put some thought into the composition, exposure, and post-production, but for some reason has missed the mark. A two star image should not be in the portfolio of a full-time professional photographer and amateur photographers should strive for something better. Even complete amateurs who don't understand photography at all are capable of taking two star images from time to time.

Three Stars: Solid

A three star image is an all-around good image. The photographer has a solid understanding of the basics: composition, color, focus, subject matter, and post-production. A three star image is "good," but it's not great. Most part-time professional photographers have mostly three star images in their portfolios. Usually, a level three image would have been rated four stars if it had been shot in a better location, or with a better model showing a better expression, or if there was better post-production. A photographer capable of taking a three star image is capable of taking four and five star images if they would simply pay more attention to the details. 

Four Stars: Excellent

Four star images are fantastic. In most cases, four star images have a certain style to them that links them directly to their creator. A four star image usually requires planning and attention to extreme detail. It's almost impossible to shoot a four star image by getting lucky. Four star images have almost flawless conception, composition, lighting, subject matter, and post-production. If you have any 4 four star images in your portfolio, you should be very proud of yourself.

Five Stars: World Class

Five star images are flawless and unforgettable. The amount of time, energy, and talent that goes into the average five star image is staggering. In many cases, these pictures require a team to produce, including a professional retoucher. The concept, lighting, subject, location, and post-production on these images has to be perfect. In some cases, the jump from four to five stars may be as simple as changing the unknown model in the picture with a celebrity or bringing in a set designer or stylist to make the image slightly better. Although there are always exceptions, most five star images take days, if not weeks, or months to produce.

Strengthening Your Own Portfolio

Even with our objective rating system, people are going to disagree with what they like because ultimately, art is still a matter of opinion. However, we believe once an image has been rated over 25 times, it will have a rating that is pretty fair and honest (we hope to deter trolls by giving negative Karma points when a vote is more than one star away from the community average). If one of your images in your own portfolio is rated lower than what you personally feel it should be rated, we would urge you to try to look at the image from an unbiased angle. Step back, erase your memory of the photoshoot itself, and try to imagine an art buyer, stock agency, potential client, or local gallery as they decided if they wanted to invest in your services. Would your image make the cut?

David Strauss's picture

David Strauss is a wedding photographer based in Charleston, SC.

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Thank you for the critique guys :-)

"First Fall" is just a liiiiiittle too similar to Lisa Holloway's iconic photo. And by little, I mean A LOT.

I thought the same thing when I saw it.

Thank you very much for the critique! :) Look forward to making a lot of adjustments to my work.

Thanks for the critique. Would have like to have gotten more things to improve on rather making fun of the photo. The only thing I got out of it was I need to work on the subjects expression...definitely got that :)

I just watched this episode and my take away was the expression was pretty much the only thing wrong with it but that is a big over sight. The background and lighting looks great and youve def nailed the cinematic headshot look so all that's left is getting a genuine expression out of your subject that makes them look confident and approachable. Is there something outside of the expression that you don't like yourself?

Patrick thanks for the reply. I guess to me I watched your session with Dani and this one and the session with you and Dani seemed to give more actionable things to improve on but also let folks know what they did right. To me a critique is about both side to help the photographer improve. Honestly this session at times comes off a little less trying to help a photographer grow and more poking fun. Just my take though. Maybe I need to go back and watch the whole thing again too, could just be me having a bad day :) - Thanks again for the reply!

Thanks for the critique, much appreciated!

Girl in chair with stark shadows is a great photograph.

Thank you for the critique. This pictures is of my fiance, so I may have been more focused on her bosom then I meant to. I like how there was two completely different opinions on the photo. I wonder what Patrick Hall would have said.


These critiques are starting to sound silly to me.. "if you had just waited another 2 hours" .... "I don't like the model or the weird table"... contradicting what one another says on nearly every image is confusing also. Something to think about. I like the idea of having an "expert" on the genre present. Adds some credibility to the opinions presented

I know I'm too late :( but if anyone has any critique left in them? Haha