The Little Camera That Could: An Uncomprehensive Review of the Ricoh GR III

Over the years I’ve experimented with various “small format” camera systems, ranging from smartphones and GoPros to high end point-and-shoots and micro-four-thirds systems. My objective has always been similar: incredible image quality in a small, compact, and easily portable format.

Technology has improved a ton over the years, and last year I decided I once again wanted to try finding a pocket friendly camera that could take high quality images that met my (very high) standards. After a bunch of research and a glowing review from a trusted friend, I picked up a Ricoh GR III.

I’ve now had this camera for a year and it almost perfectly fits into the niche I was looking to fill. I wanted a camera that could take DSLR quality photos but fit in my pocket – something lightweight, portable, and packable but that packed a punch. The Ricoh GR III is just that.

John hiking along the top of Cascade Mountain in the Adirondacks last summer. Ricoh GR III, 1/1000s, f/5.6, ISO 200, handheld.

What I love about the Ricoh GR III:
Image quality: This camera produces the sharpest, most detailed images on it’s APS-C sized sensor, consistently far better than any lens combo on any of the DSLR’s I have owned.
Low-light shooting: The built in image stabilization combined with impressive performance at high ISOs means this camera is a great low light companion. The Ricoh GR series cameras have been hailed as perfect for street shooters, and for me the GR III is ideal for walking around a city or town at night when I’m on vacation. I probably wouldn’t want to lug a DSLR around an unfamiliar city for the off chance that I could capture some interesting images of shops and iconic landmarks, but it is nice to have the option to get really high quality photos while out and about doing touristy things, like grabbing drinks or dinner or going to a show.
Size and Design: The fact that this camera produces among the sharpest and most detailed images I have ever seen and it quite literally can fit in a (large) pocket is incredible. While not the prettiest thing to look at, the camera’s small size, sleek shape, and simple ergonomics make it super portable and packable. The lens retracts entirely into the body, so there are no sharp corners, harsh edges, or protruding angles to snag when you try to slip in into or out of a case. The Ricoh GR III is easy to hold and shoot with one handed, although selfies with it are a bit awkward.
Adjusting Exposure: It is extremely easy to apply exposure compensation (with just the flick of a finger) or adjust individual f-stop, shutter speed, and ISO settings on the Ricoh, making it among the fastest to adjust small format cameras I have tried.
Fixed focal length: While the lack of a zoom lens would be detracting to many, I actually love it. For me, the 28mm equivalent fixed focal length lens is just right for much of the grab-and-go type of shooting I wanted to do with this camera. My entire motivation to find a small format powerhouse was so that I could quickly create great images when an opportunity presents itself but not end up distracted with too many options and settings. I kind of wanted something I could shoot with as easily as a iPhone but with the image quality to rival a DSLR, and that’s exactly what the GR III is.
Snap-mode: One of the GR series unique features, and the one most praised features among street shooters, is the ability to use snap-focus. You basically preset a focus distance and with a push of a button the camera will automatically jump to focus at that distance, waisting virtually no time on acquiring focus. Street shooters LOVE this because its super fast. As primarily a nature, wildlife, and sports photographer, I’ll admit I have not used the feature much, but it certainly as the potential to come in handy, especially for sports or action shooting where you “pre-focus” on an object or zone, which is a pretty common technique.
Macro mode: You can change to macro mode with the push of a single button, and the macro mode is pretty good, allowing close focus on smaller subjects. The 28mm equivalent focal length is not common in macro photography – it is too wide for very small subjects and tends to include a lot of background, but having the option to take a close up photo without adding an accessory lens is a great thing.

Ferns in my backyard, captured with the Ricoh GR III and processed in Lightroom.

Where the Ricoh GR III could be improved:
Color rendition: I use Adobe Lightroom for editing and post processing, and find that the native colors produced by the GR III’s DNG files are a bit wonky. Images tend to cast blue and in editing it can be difficult to correct for this and get natural colors and skin tones depending on the scene. To be completely fair, I do tend to use this camera in less optimal lighting conditions. Still, the colors leave a bit to be desired if you are used to working with Canon profiles. I’ve heard that Capture One does a much better job of producing accurate and pleasing colors with the GR’s DNG files, but I’m not about to invest in entirely new software and change my entire workflow for one camera.
Exposure metering: In my experience I find the GR tends to underexpose images by up to a full stop fairly regularly. This could be because of the camera’s preference to preserve highlight detail, but I find I often get better results when I dial in +0.3-1.0 full stop of compensation, at least when shooting RAW/DNG where there is adequate information stored in the highlights and shadows to be recovered later.
Auto ISO setting: In auto ISO mode, I find the Ricoh tends to default to lower ISOs that require some really steady handholding and still subjects. Granted this isn’t completely unique to the Ricoh, but in fully auto mode I’d trade a stop of ISO for a stop of shutter speed any day, and for a camera that’s niche lies among street photographers, you’d think a halfway decent shutter speed would be a priority. Whenever I put this in auto ISO mode I typically change it back to a manual ISO setting within a shot or two if I’m shooting in less than full sun.
Price: $900 for a point-and-shoot is a bit steep, regardless of features and quality. The fact that you can buy a current model entry level DSLR or mirrorless kit with a lens for half the price is something to think about, but a mirrorless or DSLR with lens attached won’t fit in my pocket, so there’s that. Also, the Ricoh includes very few extras at this price point.
Charger not included: One of the accessories Ricoh failed to include with the camera is a seemingly necessary one – a battery charger. Instead you must charge the battery in camera using a USB accessory cord, or buy the charger for an additional $45. While I don’t mind that Ricoh chose not to pack the GR III full of accessories most user are unlikely to ever take out of the packaging, a battery charger would be a worthwhile inclusion, especially considering the GR III’s poor battery life, which almost necessitates the need for a spare battery and frequent charging.
Battery life: The battery is good for about 200 shots. Since I tend to use the camera infrequently and rarely as my main camera, this is manageable, but where this camera has the potential to truly shine is for multi-day trips where lugging around a full DSLR setup would be impractical. However, this would require charging the camera on a daily basis and possibly carrying around multiple extra batteries if this was being used as a primary camera. Add to the fact that the battery needs to be charged in camera or with a $45 accessory, and this is an area where I think Ricoh needs to do better. Note: On a recent 3 day/2 night summer backpacking trip a single freshly charged battery lasted me the whole trip, but I was shooting conservatively. I also have yet to take more than a few shots in sub-freezing temps, so cannot comment on how cold affects battery life at this time.
Aesthetics: This camera is ugly. This isn’t 100% bad, as its unexciting uniform black body means this is a very discreet camera and less likely to be targeted by thieves than say, the retro cool design of the Fujifilm X100 series, which falls into the same high-end point-and-shoot niche. Still I wouldn’t mind it if the camera itself was a little more pleasing to look at. Note: You can switch the front ring on the camera for a pop of color if you like, which does improve the looks slightly. But again, that costs extra.
No weather sealing: This is a very small, lightweight, and portable camera, so some compromise in the environmental durability category is understandable. However I’m used to shooting with professional Canon DSLRs and lenses, all of which resist rain and dust, and my GoPro, which I can throw in a puddle or drop off a cliff. Even my iPhone is splash resistant. Because I rely on the Ricoh as my “go anywhere” camera, it would be really nice if I didn’t worry so much about the weather forecast every time I have it on me. I’d love to see a future version have some level of weather sealing, especially at the current price point.
LCD screen has poor dynamic range: I tend to shoot the Ricoh side-by-side with my iPhone, and for high dynamic range scenes I have to very consciously remind myself that the post-processed Ricoh image will look just as good or better than the optimized iPhone jpeg straight out of camera. Because the iPhone will automatically take a HDR images when the scene requires it, photos on my iPhone always look MUCH better straight out of the camera. High dynamic range images on the Ricoh by comparison look flat and lifeless when previewed on the LCD screen.
Ricoh profiles are ONLY available in-camera: Ricoh has a handful of processing presets available in camera, some of which tend to be pretty popular among street and lifestyle shooters (the B&W presets and “Positive Film” profile are most popular). Unlike Fujifilm, you cannot get these presets as Profiles for Lightroom, so if you want to get the same look out of a RAW file you are kind of out of luck, or you’ll need to spend time trying to dupe them. What IS cool though is that, as long as you still have the native DNG file on your SD card, you can convert any of your DNG files IN CAMERA to output a JPEG with any of the built-in profiles.
Better support for worldwide audiences: Ricoh is a Japanese company, and as such things like customer support, the user manual, and instructions for firmware updates can be difficult to understand and implement because the Japanese to English translations are not particularly good. Also, for features like snap-focus measurements are only listed in meters, which isn’t as intuitive to me as having the option to select focus distances by feet. Even just adding in a feet equivalent next to the metric setting (for example 3m/10ft) would make the device a little more user friendly.
Delayed release of necessary features: For whatever reason, when the Ricoh GR III was released it lacked some of the features supported by its predecessor, the GR II, and did not integrate very well with the Image Sync app designed for it (nor did it work particularly well with preferred third party apps like GR Viewer). One such feature was the ability to remotely shoot using a synced smartphone. I’ve come to really love using my iPhone as a camera remote when I want to be in the shot, and the fact that I was only able to get this feature to finally work just recently when the camera released nearly a year-and-a-half ago is pretty frustrating.

Mount Monadnock, NH, New England, New Hampshire, North America, USA, United States, blue, blue hour, dusk, hike, mountain, sunset
Blue Hour on Mount Monadnock : Prints Available

Blue hour on Mount Monadnock, captured with the Ricoh GR III. Ricoh’s colors tend to have a blue cast, which can be difficult to edit for daytime images but produce beautiful “blue hour” photos when shooting at dusk. The image stabilization is an extra bonus in low light. Ricoh GR III, 1/15s, f/4, ISO 800, handheld.

Previously, the cameras I had tried had all had a bit of what I wanted but still felt limited, and I tended to use them little and hold onto them for a short amount of time before realizing they didn’t quite fit what I was after. Despite the Ricoh GRIII not being perfect (clearly my list of improvements is nearly 50% longer than the list of things I really like about the camera), it very much fits the bill of what I was looking for, and I find myself using it quite regularly. The quality of the Ricoh GRIII is hard to beat and no other camera comes even close in such a small package.

NH, New England, New Hampshire, North America, USA, United States, biking, cycling, gravel biking, rail trail, summer
Cheshire Rail Trail : Prints Available

The Ricoh is small and light enough to carry on almost any adventure, including a long gravel bike ride.

The Ricoh GR III is my go-to camera for hikes that are more about the adventure than photography. This image needed a significant amount of post processing to pull the details from both the highlights and shadows, but the end result has a ton of detail and little noise.

PS: I got my Ricoh from Hunt’s Photo and Video. I met the owner at a trade show many years ago and pretty much buy all of my new photo gear from them now. If you are based in New England and want the best prices, great service, a wide selection of products, and to support a local photo business that gives back to the community, I highly recommend shopping at Hunt’s!

Never Delete Potential

One of the most challenging things about being a photographer is editing down your photos and keeping them organized. My collection of photographs spans more than 20,000 images, and I’ve probably shot over a million frames to get them. After a shoot, I make it a point to delete all of the garbage as soon as possible. I then usually select my favorite images – the ones that obviously stand out as being something special. But in between the obvious junk and the obvious winners are a bunch of in-between photos, ones that are neither incredible nor terrible, and these can be the hardest to work with.

Of my 20,000+ image collection, less than 200 photos are currently displayed on my website and not all of those are the clear winners that emerge immediately following a successful shoot. Many of those photos are ones that have been played with, set aside, and reworked over and over again. Sometimes, I’m not in the right headspace to edit them correctly when I first shoot them. Sometimes, they are technically challenging photos with extreme dynamic range, funky color balance, or any other number of issues that take a while to work through correctly. During a particularly successful shoot, I might have a lot of good but very similar images, and I generally only pick a handful of those to work up. Occasionally, I haven’t yet mastered the skill, the technology doesn’t yet exist, or I don’t possess the software I need to really bring out that photo’s full potential. There can be any number of reasons why a good photo doesn’t make my first cut or first edit.

If a photo isn’t good, it’s okay to delete it. Sometimes I keep bad photos for their sentimental value or uniqueness – for example, when we first got our dog I took a lot of photos of him playing outside and many of them were a little backfocused but I held onto them until I later got better ones – but in general, do away with anything that is misfocused, unintentionally blurry, or poorly composed, especially if to the point that it won’t even hold up for web display. Some photos are just bad. If you like a photo, but the exposure or color are just a bit off, it’s a little noisy, or some other fixable detail makes you take pause, then hold onto it. Some day you may possess the skill, patience, time, or technology to turn that photo into something special. I often spend shooting lulls going through old photos and working on ones that have potential to see what I can make of them. It helps me “do photography” when I’m not actively shooting and creating new images.

Here is one such photo. I shot this more than a decade ago, but only recently processed to the point where I’m actually happy with it. As you can see, it needed quite a bit of tweaking from the RAW file to really bring out its potential.

Adventure Photos with Dark Matter Preset

You know what makes a great social distancing activity? Editing photos. I’ll often play with old images from time to time but now it feels like its one of the few options I have to entertain myself while I try to spend more time in the house and away from other people.

I’ve tried applying my new “Dark Matter” preset to a several non-Winston photos and the results speak for themselves. With the right image, this preset is just awesome for creating a moody, artistic feel that’s a little bit old film but still contemporary, and I’m totally digging it!

John hiking along the top of Cascade Mountain in the Adirondacks last summer. Ricoh GR III, 1/1000s, f/5.6, ISO 200, handheld.
John riding in a local “Bike for Bovines” xc mountain bike race fundraiser two summers ago.

First New Preset of 2020: Dark Matter

I have been doing so little photography lately. Winter in southern New Hampshire has been pretty pathetic so far, and we’ve been busy putting time and energy into other things. I really wish I could work a full time job that is only four days a week.

I did manage to create a new Lightroom preset I’ve been enjoying. Dark Matter is a high contrast matte black and white preset with heavy vignetting. It works really well for darker colored subjects on a light background (ie: Winston). I built in some exposure compensation, so its also ideal for scenes that are overall dark where you want your subject (more or less towards the center of the frame) to stand out.

RAW photo SOOC.
With “Dark Matter” preset applied and some selective radial filters.
SOOC, hence the flying mosquito that hasn’t been cloned out.
With Dark Matter preset and no other edits. Note the added detail around Winston’s legs.

I’ve really become a fan of presets as a way to expedite my editing and post processing. I tend not to use them very much on nature images, but for portraits they can be super helpful in helping me decide which direction to go with processing. If I’m shooting assignments or otherwise in a situation where I need to bulk edit a lot of images at once and want them to have a consistent feel, presets are huge time savers.

Photography is no longer my livelihood, but I always consider it a fallback skill if I ever become miserable with my work or we need to relocate and I can’t secure a job in my professional field right away. After focusing much of my photography career on nature and sports photography I’ve learned that those are really difficult genres of photography to make money in, and I could see myself gravitating towards a career as a pet photographer or maybe even photographing couples and weddings (gasp) in the future. Should I ever go that route, I think presets will become a valuable part of my work.

Camera Gear Blowout, Pt 1

Well I’m finally organizing our “spare room” which is also my photography storage room and it turns out I have a lot of gear I don’t use on a regular basis. We have a super big life event coming up, and it means I have more need for money and space and less time to find a way to use my unused photo gear, so it’s time to unload and find these items new homes. All items are available for local pickup (southwestern NH/southeast VT, many items are also listed on New Hampshire Craigslist) or I will ship them at the buyer’s expense (buyer to pay shipping and PayPal fees unless otherwise noted).

Side note: Have any of you ever experienced a sentimental attachment to your cameras? Kinda sad to see these Canons go, but I’ll feel better knowing they are being enjoyed by someone else rather than just taking up space on my shelf.

Canon 5D Mark II SOLD!

Canon 1D Mark IV

Canon 1D Mark IV pro DSLR camera with integrated vertical grip. Excellent used condition with minimal wear marks. Had a new shutter put in about 2 years ago and has not seen much use since. Comes complete with original box, charger, cables, manual, etc. I will also include an extra battery. $950.

Delkin Devices Fat Gecko Mount

Delkin Devices Fat Gecko Gator Camera Mount and Delkin Devices Fat Gecko Extension Kit, both brand new in original packaging. These clamp devices are super strong and ideal for securely attaching your DSLR, mirrorless, or small video cam to various objects. These retail for $33.68 and $24.99, respectively (total value $58.67). I would like to sell both together for $40.

Think Tank Digital Holster 50 v2.0

Excellent condition. I’ve used it once, for a half mile walk around my neighborhood, and it pretty much looks brand new except for a penny sized smudge on the inside panel. I’ll also note zippers seem to not be as smooth as other bags I have, but I think they have always been that way. Current model. Retail is $89.75, asking $65.

F-Stop Kenti Bag

In like new condition with rain cover. Malibu blue color. Discontinued item. This bag listed for $245 plus $19 for the rain cover, sold separately. It is a very well-designed bag made with excellent materials, I just already have one that fills this niche and I don’t need two. Specs on the F-stop website are no longer available, so here are a couple of reviews I found:
https://www.slrlounge.com/f-stop-kenti-bag-review/
https://dancarrphotography.com/blog/2011/12/14/f-stop-kenti-photography-backpack-review/
Asking $150.

I also have a brand new Ameristep Doghouse Blind (mossy oak camo) in its original box that I’d love to sell locally (it’s a bit big to ship). I bought it to use for wildlife photography but never had land I could set it up on, so it hasn’t been used. $50.

Once I sell some of these items I’ll add a few additional items currently stored either in our basement or at my mom’s house in New Jersey, including a Rode microphone, Bogen video tripod, original NatureScapes Skimmer, and a few different bean bags. I also have some OLD film cameras and lenses (Yashica, Canon) and a Nikon N65 if you like collecting vintage cameras.

Please email me with any questions or if you’d like to purchase anything.

Do you use Lightroom Presets?

Lately I’ve been playing around with Lightroom presets. Presets are a series of saved edits, so that you can apply the same adjustments to multiple images with a single click (similar to using a filter in Instagram). I’ve found I really enjoy them for speeding up my workflow and helping me preview different ideas on an image before investing a lot of time in editing. I generally don’t treat presets as a one click edit – most images still require individual tweaking to really look their best – but they definitely save me time.

I started off buying a few preset packs before starting to create my own presets in Lightroom. Now I find myself using the presets I designed way more often than the purchased ones. Here are two images I shot today, alongside edited versions that started as presets.


Original image imported into Lightroom.


Quick Lightroom edit that started as the “Mud” preset. I did a few additional selective adjustments, but I was able to complete all of my edits in Lightroom – no Photoshop needed!


Original.


Edit that started with a preset called “Vintage Gold.”

These presets are ones I designed myself. The edits of these images took maybe 7 minutes! Presets are a huge timesaver, and I’ve really enjoyed incorporating them into my pet portrait work. Note that WordPress doesn’t seem to do a great job with compression of these images, so the edited images lack a bit of pop, which is much more apparent when viewed through a different application.

Do you use presets? If so which are your favorite?

So Much Good Stuff!

White-tailed deer at sunrise at Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge. Photographed 3/27/19. Canon 5D Mark IV, Canon 70-200mm f/4L IS USM, 1/640s, f/9, ISO 800, handheld from car.

I just got back from nine days in Colorado where I got to test my new 5D Mark IV camera. Having a new camera and getting away from everyday life was so inspiring, and I’m really excited about some of the images I took on my trip AND all of the awesome potential of this new camera. Up until a few weeks ago, I was shooting with a 5D Mark II (released September 2008) and a 1D Mark IV (released October 2009), so having a body that isn’t 10+ years old is awesome. The dynamic range, high ISO capabilities, autofocus, and other features (such as WiFi and in-camera HDR) blow away my older bodies, and I can see myself getting out and doing even more shooting once I get better used to how the new camera handles and functions.

I took more than 1000 photos on my trip so it will probably take me a few weeks to get through all of them. Keep an eye on my Instagram for new images from the trip and check back on the blog and photo journal on my website for more about my experience with this new camera and a full trip report in the future.

Before and After: Winston in the Snow

Lately I’ve been doing a lot more experimental photography and editing techniques. Yesterday morning, I woke up to softly falling snow and decided to go shoot some photos at a park near our home. When I went to leave the house, Winston was clearly ready to join me on my photoshoot, so I decided to take him along for the adventure. It ended up being a good thing because the best photographs I captured were of him.

I’ve been following the work of several pet photographers for a while, and I really love the artistic outdoor dog portraits some of them have perfected. Usually it is a gorgeous dog, posed beautifully surrounded by a bokeh-licious, creamy, dreamy out-of-focus background with gorgeous flare or selective vignetting accentuating the subject. While I definitely am far, far away from perfecting my own take on the technique, I’m pretty happy with the first edit of this winter portrait of Winston taken during today’s walk.

Here’s the straight out of camera original:

And here’s my edited version:

Here I started with leveling and cropping the image, then doing some exposure and white balance corrections. From there I added a radial filter in Lightroom to mimic some solar flare and did some selective contrast enhancements to the dog, then exported to Photoshop, removed the leash, and added then another radial gradient. I ended up bringing the image back and forth between Lightroom and Photoshop a few times to tweak the color and make selective adjustments; there are just certain functions I feel that Lightroom does better than Photoshop and vise versa, and also I feel more comfortable making certain edits in one program vs the other. I have never attempted to add flare (or a highlighted background area) to am image before; I feel like my technique still needs some work, but I also don’t think snow covered trees is the easiest background to add this effect to. While I don’t think this shot is going to win any contests anytime soon (and it’s not even close the the level of work of some of the pet photographers I have been following), I’m pretty happy with the end result!

Naming Strategies for Photography Workflow

If you aren’t custom naming your photos when you import or copy them to your archive, you are setting yourself up for trouble. The default file naming structure of most photo capture systems allows for around 1000 unique image file names before they start to repeat; eventually the 1001st photo you take on your device will have the exact same name as the first photo you took. Some cameras allow you to custom name the file in camera, but I generally find it easiest to rename all of the files upon import into Lightroom.

Having a consistent naming strategy for your photos can drastically improve your workflow and organization. It is important to choose a name is unique and will continue to be unique as you continue to shoot photos. Be sure not to set yourself up with a system that becomes obsolete as soon as your archive contains over a set number of images, or one in which the identifiers used to distinguish your photos become easily repeatable, therefore eliminating the point of having files with unique names.

I rename all my photos using a unique timestamp based system. Every file name starts with KP (my initials) and then contains a six digit date stamp followed by a hyphen and a six digit timestamp and single digit sequence number. It makes for a really long photo name (16 characters in all), but ensures that all of my photos end up with unique names and allows me to easily combine images from the same shoot that were shot with different cameras. In the event that shots were taken simultaneously (such as if I was shooting a time lapse with one camera while shooting handheld with another and both shutters went off at the exact same time) I could end up with two files with the same name but I have yet to have that happen.

deciduous leaves, duckweed, pond, Hamilton-Trenton Marsh, New Jersey
Deciduous Leaves and Duckweed : Prints Available

Fallen deciduous leaves and duckweed floating on the surface of a pond in the Hamilton-Trenton Marsh.

So, for example, the filename for the photo above is KP070927-0825050. This means the photo was taken on September 27, 2007 at approximately 8:25am, and since it is the only photo I took then, it will have a unique filename. I use the YYMMDD date sequence for naming because it keeps all of my files in chronological order; I also use the 24 hour day for my timestamp for the same reason. The seventh digit after the hyphen is the sequence number, which comes in handy when I am shooting at a high frame rate.

Most photographers prefer shorter file names; sixteen characters really is a bit excessive. I use this method because I have photos that span over a wide range of time and subjects, and this one method can be applied to all of my photos regardless of when, where, or why I shot them. The disadvantage of this system is that the name doesn’t really tell me anything about the photo; if you asked me what I took a photo of on September 15, 2007 I’d have no idea what that was, but I could easily find it in my catalog.

For photographers who are a bit more specialized, choosing names that have some connection to the subject can be helpful. For example, a wedding photographer may choose to use the last names of the couple as part of the file name, someone who shoots primarily landscapes might include location, and someone who shoots project or assignment work may use the name of the client as part of the name. You can really be as creative as you want; the key is that all of the names are unique and won’t be repeated.

Lightroom makes it easy to custom rename files easily and quickly. I rename all of my files upon import, but you can easily rename files after the fact as well. I’d give you instructions, but with Lightroom changing all the time you are probably best off finding a YouTube video or looking in the Adobe forums for the recommended current method of using Lightroom to rename photos. Once you set up your naming structure, you can save it as a default setting and almost never think about it again. For example, whenever I import new photos they are automatically placed in a folder according to the date they were taken and renamed according to my date and timestamp based system. This makes the process of copying, importing, and organizing all of my photos quite easy, and then when I need to find them later I can locate the original file within just a few seconds.

Coming up with a timeless naming and file organization strategy that can grow with you is the first step to a well organized photo database. Even if you aren’t using Lightroom or another photo management software program and don’t have the ability to add metadata or keywords, making sure each photo of yours has a unique name and follows a consistent naming structure will set you up for success as you grow and develop as a photographer.

Guidelines to Thoughtful Critiques

The internet is a bizarre place. I have learned most of what I know about photography through the internet, and without a gathering of faceless names online offering tips and suggestions, I would likely still be taking some pretty mediocre images. Online critiques have helped me grow and learn as a photographer. Being able to give thoughtful critiques to others and well as receive feedback graciously is a valuable skill, and one I think everyone should practice. Taking the time to offer someone a meaningful critique requires you to articulate your own thoughts and feelings, which it turn makes you more aware of what exactly it is you like or don’t like about a photograph which then allows you to emulate those preferences in your own work. Being able to be polite about the process is what makes people respect you instead of hate you.

Here are my three main rules for thoughtful, non-offensive critiques.

1) Don’t be a jerk. This should be obvious. If the only comments you have are negative, you are probably better off not commenting. Even if you don’t particularly like an image, there is always a way to word your feedback considerately if you must offer a critique, such as when judging a contest or specifically asked for one.
2) Offer the Compliment Sandwich: Start with something positive, add thoughtful criticism and critique in the middle, and end with something positive.
3) Give suggestions for improvement. Instead of just saying “I don’t like this” say what you would have done differently. Critiques are a fantastic opportunity to learn and to teach.

When teaching a workshop and a critique session is involved (they usually are in my workshops) these are the three rules I tell students. However, in the online world, I think a few additional reminders are helpful.

4) Respect others opinions. I don’t agree with anyone 100% of the time, and you probably don’t either. It’s okay to like something that others don’t and vise versa. Photography is very subjective. You can feel differently about a photo than someone else does without either of you being wrong.
5) Be honest.
6) Be specific. Try to pin point what you like and don’t like about an image. Just saying “I like this” or “It doesn’t work for me” isn’t all that helpful. While some very general feedback may be quick and easy to offer, if your goal is to help someone learn and improve your own critiquing skills, it is worth the time and effort to go a little more in depth than a single generic sentence.
7) Don’t give a critique if it isn’t asked for. Some venues are specifically for critiquing photos, such as photo contests, online photo critiquing forums*, and some art galleries. However, many people just want to share their images and if someone is posting a photo to their own social media or website, it’s generally not appropriate to criticize their work. Offering a critique when it isn’t asked for is akin to bullying; just don’t do it. In situations where a critique is not asked for, the old adage applies: if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all. *Note: Most online photo sharing websites, forums, and Facebook groups have clearly stated rules. It is really important to familiarize yourselves with the guidelines of any groups you belong to and adhere to them.

Here is a sample image with examples of a not-so-good critique and a much better one:

A colorful ciclid at the Georgia Aquarium in Atlanta.

Bad critique: This shot is kind of boring, but the fish looks cool!
Why it’s bad: The assessment is negative, and the commenter didn’t provide any specific details, so the photographer doesn’t know how to improve.

Better critique: While this is a really pretty fish, I don’t find the image very interesting and the background is a bit distracting. I find that the green blob in the lower right distracts from the otherwise uniform blue and gold color scheme, and the fish eyeball in the top left corner is a bit awkward. Maybe a slight crop would help? You positioned the fish in the frame nicely though, and the detail is good. This would be a good shot to illustrate this type of fish for a guide book or aquarium display, because you can clearly see the markings and outline of the fish.
Why it’s better: Even though this comment contains some critical elements, the commenter leads off with a positive note before diving into what they don’t like about the image. In addition to specifically pointing out areas that could be improved, the commenter also focuses on areas where the photographer did well and ends with a compliment.

While I will argue that social media is not good for a lot of things, using the online photography community and social media platforms to share and get feedback on photographs can be a fantastic way to improve your photography skills. By developing solid critiquing skills and providing respectful, thoughtful feedback to others, you are more likely to receive helpful critiques and advise regarding your own work, plus people will like you! Critiquing is an art, one that takes skill, time, and practice to perfect, but following my tips above should help. Good luck!