How to Assess Your Images (Part 2)
In the first part of this piece I talked about assessing your images for technical imperfections. If you’ve not read that piece pop over here to take a look first. In many ways assessing an image for blemishes is relatively easy. Far harder, for it involves less objective criteria, is assessing an image for its aesthetic qualities. Or, to put it more simply, does the image look good?
There are a few things to get right first however in order to assess an image objectively. The environment that surrounds you as you look at an image has a bearing on how an image is perceived. If you’re looking at an image on a screen it’s better to do this in reasonably subdued light (a big no-no is to have light falling onto a screen that causes strong reflections on the screen). Ideally your screen should also be colour calibrated with a hardware calibrator if possible. When assessing a print this should be done under a neutral daylight-balanced light. Tungsten lighting will alter the perceived colours in the image slightly, making them slightly more yellow than you’d expect.
One of the big factors in the aesthetic quality of an image is the composition. Hopefully this was achieved in camera, though by cropping an image composition can also be refined in postproduction. Although it may sound odd, a good way to assess how well an image’s composition has worked is to turn the image upside down. Turning the image upside-down forces you to look at an image in a more abstract way; not as a particular subject but as a series of shapes and colours.
View cameras (those quaint-looking wood or metal cameras with bellows) actually show an upside-down image when you compose counter-intuitively making it easier to achieve pleasing compositions. This is more tricky with DLSRs and compact cameras though there’s nothing to stop you turning your camera upside-down after shooting to view the image that way then. However, viewing the image upside-down is far easier in postproduction. All image-editing software will have the facility to rotate an image upside-down and then back again. Rotating a print is even easier of course!
Once your image is upside-down the question is what to look for. Different elements in an image have visual weight. The more inclined you are to look at an element, the greater the visual weight it is said to have. People have a very high visual weight – our eyes tend to go immediately to any people in an image (particularly to faces, faces have a higher visual weight than the rest of the body).
Pleasing images often feel balanced (though this isn’t to say that they can’t be deliberately unbalanced for effect). Imagine if your image was placed on a pivot halfway across the bottom edge. Now, bearing in mind visual weight, which way would the image tip? If it feels balanced this means that both sides are equally visually heavy. If the image is unbalanced where would the pivot need to be moved to to be balanced again? It’s up to you to decide now whether the compositional balance is right for your image. Again, this could be refined by cropping. Or, it’s one of things you should put on your mental checklist next time you take your camera out. After all, why assess images if you don’t learn from the process?