Offering a little light on evaluating photographs

Evaluating a Photograph

Night Lights

Judging photographs is not a simple task. I have judged international and local competitions, and the experience is at once stimulating and challenging. I make an effort to judge each photograph as a whole, rather than the sum of a set of rules. I evaluate using what I refer to as the CLINTS approach, with these considerations:

  • C - Composition should hold attention within the frame, with visual balance, and support the subject.
  • L - Light should support, even deliver, the mood of the subject.
  • I - Impact of subject and/or composition should attract visual attention.
  • N - Novelty of presentation or subject sets the photograph apart from more common images.
  • T - Technique overcomes difficulties in making the photograph.
  • S - Story implies events before and after the moment of exposure, so that the photograph is about, rather than simply of, the subject.

I believe that these considerations address ths six most important elements of successful photography, and I created the acronym to help me remember them. Not every photograph requires each of these elements but, viewed as a whole, these considerations are, for me, a useful guide in evaluation. Keep in mind that when we try to judge art, we are attempting to make an objective appraisal of something that is often a substantially emotional communication. It is the emotional substance that accounts for the variations in response to a photograph.

With many of the photographs shown on this web site, I offer comments on some of the CLINTS elements. Visitors should not assume, however, that I always consider each of those things before making an image. A great many of my photographs are put together based simply on what seems right in the viewfinder. I do believe, however, that the CLINTS elements affect my "gut" feeling about the effectiveness of what I see in the viewfinder.

"Now to consult the rules of composition before making a picture is a little like consulting the law of gravitation before going for a walk." — Edward Weston

Photographing first for what we see and feel is better than making decisions governed by rules. If we compose for rules, our results will be predictable and, ultimately, often quite boring. The rules are useful, to a degree, but should not be an end in themselves. In trying to evaluate a photograph, though, it's useful to have solid considerations—not rules—in mind.

Although I make photographs to satisfy my own interest and perception, they are made also to share. They have been received favorably, and I am flattered to know that my efforts have connected with others. I hope that some of the photographs in the galleries here will connect with you. After all, life must surely be for sharing. Otherwise, there would be only one of us.

And hold this thought when considering your own photographs: If you are satisfied with the results, then they are successful photographs.

Images Copyright © Ed E. Powell
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