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Fine Art Photography

Lesson 6 of 38

Critique Yourself Part 1

Brooke Shaden

Fine Art Photography

Brooke Shaden

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Lesson Info

6. Critique Yourself Part 1
Critique is an important aspect of any type of fine art -- but photographers shouldn't consider critiques from others as fact. In fact, Brooke encourages photographers to learn how to critique their own work. Follow Brooke's process for self-critique in this lesson.

Lesson Info

Critique Yourself Part 1

now I believe that critiquing is an art in itself I don't so much enjoy going toe other people to get a critique that's what I don't do I've never actually had a critique from somebody else so I can't speak to how other people do it or the technical mechanics of how somebody should critique your photos because I believe that you should go take them yourself and then be open to feedback after that so learning to respect your own opinions that's what we're doing here right now we are learning how to be inspired by our own feelings our own opinions and then seeking the opinions of others I think that it could be very detrimental to taken image that you're just totally unsure of and then ask somebody's opinion and then take that opinion for fact that is what I think tears and artists down rather than builds them up and it makes you unsure of what you think inside so be open to the opinions of others but never mistake them for facts simple simple simple but so hard to dio think about puttin...

g your art online you take a picture you don't know how you feel about it you put it on the internet you could have twenty people commenting and saying this is so beautiful then one person comments and says I don't like it it's ugly and the rest of the day you're thinking oh my god that pictures so ugly I can't believe I posted it because of one person said that that's all that it takes and I hate that I hate that about critique you have to understand why you're putting your work out there is it to be critiqued or is it not and always understand how you feel first before you put it out there so with these two images um one of them is a picture that has won an award but nobody's ever bought it as a print the other picture is my best selling print but has never won an award and so what I want to point out is this somebody has told me you know what that picture that's brilliant I'm gonna give you an award for it other people have said I hate that picture they have literally told me this and I love it because you know what great hate it love it I don't care you feel something that's amazing does that mean that it's sold as a print no so is that a successful image I'm not going to base it on that I'm not going to let somebody say here I'm giving you an award or here I'm not giving you an award for this this doesn't win anything who cares I mean that's just one person saying yes or no I'm not going to take that isthe fact I'm not going to let them tell me what's good or what's not good I'm going to understand my work for myself and I'm going to say you know what I love that image that's the only thing that I need and I'm going to let other people know that I love it I'm going to be confident in that image maybe sometimes people will bring you down it happens to me it a lot here something somebody will say you know what this's terrible I can't believe that you would put this out there and then I'll think are they right should I really have held this back maybe I shouldn't have put this out there maybe this is a really terrible picture maybe I'll regret it in a year but then I think who cares if I regret it in a year who cares if it's not my best picture this is an experience a growing experience and if you're not open to that kind of comment then there's no point in sharing your work and I really see the value in sharing your work so I want to get past that so you have to choose how to measure your own standards and measuring your own standards can be very difficult because standards it's it's such a hard words hard thing to talk about because standards are basically how you're judging yourself I mean are you going to judge yourself technically conceptually what is it that you're looking for in your imagery to really pull everything together and be proud of something you have to understand that there is no way to measure your worth so yes we can have standards for our work but our worth is an entirely different thing when we put our work online when somebody judges us negatively that is taking our worth down it's taking it out of our hands and that's what I want to separate here we might get negative feedback we might go to an image critique and somebody might say this picture is really bad don't put this in your portfolio that does not mean that it's true that does not mean that you're any less of a person or a great artist or that doesn't mean that you're any less of somebody who is valid and putting their work out there and I have to take that to heart I have to say you know what that's wonderful that you think that I'll take it into consideration maybe we'll reevaluate this picture that doesn't mean that I'm going to throw it out of my portfolio because one person says that so if you understand your own opinions before you accept the opinions of others then you're going to be able to move forward in a way that's very very personal to you now when I look at my own work I have images that I like I have images that I don't like you saw the images that I don't like before I'll be showing you more of that because I think it's so much more important to show you the pictures that I deem failures and the ones that I deem successes because if we understand what we don't like then we can move into doing what we do like so I critique myself a lot I think that it's very important to be able to look at your own work objectively take yourself out of it emotionally and say ok what is this to me how am I going to critique this lighting how am I going to critique the composition is the story very present and there are times when it's great to ask a second opinion and I do that frequently I have you know a very specific set of people that I will send my images too before I release it on the internet and almost always I get very similar responses from those same people one person almost always says that she doesn't get the story another person almost always says you know that that he's not understanding how the lighting is working and stuff like that but that's good because I know them and I trust their opinions I don't always follow their opinions in fact almost never do I follow their opinions however I do once in a while and it really helps me a lot but I only do that after I have my own opinion of it so I think about every single thing when it comes to critiquing an image what is the composition what is the lighting like what are the colors why are those colors there is it seamlessly edited things like that things that you have to look at objectively which can be very hard to dio because you're editing an image let's say your five hours into it and you're like I don't know what to do anymore I don't understand what this images any more acceptance staring at it for so long then it might be helpful to get a second set of eyes but if you can stop yourself before you get to that point and critique yourself as you go then it becomes a lot easier what ideo and so look for my favorite images from the last year so at the new year typically I go through my portfolio and I say what was successful and what was unsuccessful for me not for anybody else not how many likes it got on facebook but for me how do I feel about these images and then I break it down I break this down into every little bit that I possibly can so I am going through things like lighting things like composition all of that all the technicals going through story it was a story successful doesn't have the right emotion do I understand why I did this and then I am deciding which are my favorite in which you're my least favorite so when you choose your least favorite images from the last year that is also extremely handy much more handy in my opinion than choosing your favorites because if you know what you don't like you know where to go after that you know what not to dio when you know what to do you can become a little bit repetitive and saying oh I know that I love this red dress so I'm going to photograph this red dress for the whole next year and then you've got the same picture over and over again but if you know what not to do it forces you to be creative and say ok I don't like this kind of lighting so what other kind of lighting can I explore and you grow and you expand from there understanding what you're drawn to it the most basic level can guide your style and how you create so I know what I like I know what I like because it's just happens to be how my imagination works if I could create any image what would that look like I would use a vibrant color something really rich I would probably use motion I would probably use a dark background there's certain things that make me who I am as an artist um these images are from very very early on in my portfolio and so I was kind of into creepy dark twisted fairy tales things like that that's how I started my motivation and because I had that place to start I had a place to grow so I knew fundamentally what I wanted my images to look like I didn't know where I would be in five years which is where we are at right now I didn't know if my style would stay the same I didn't know if I'd become re inspired by something else but that didn't matter because I knew exactly what I liked at that moment and I knew how I could start expanding on that so I started creating these images very basic very simple in terms of composition in terms of lighting things like that but I grew from there I started doing different things and because I was able to start with loving creepy dark and twisted fairy tales I could expand that add different keywords into that and I was able to grow because of it so if you could start over right now what would you do that's a really easy question to ask but we all have this option at any moment and I think that people forget that that you could do whatever you want with your life you can stop right now and say you know what I'm not going to do this anymore or I'm going to set a time where I don't have to do this anymore it might be quitting your job it might be something as simple as just picking up the camera and doing something for yourself instead of for a client whatever it is what would you do if you could do anything if you could start over right now nothing holding you back so think about that how would you move into your future does anybody have an answer for that I know it's a really hard question yeah andrea I would have pursued art totally and not did what I felt like I had to do yeah so how would you start doing that right now oh I know you can come too creative lives way just creative live in general yeah we're going to shoot so many things and it's going to be so much fun where he did shoot that was really fun so it's a really good start I suppose yeah and it's just a matter of saying you know what there is nothing holding me back because there isn't not really it might be that you don't have the money to buy this property you can't quit your job because of the money or you have a family to take care of so you can't do this all the time and I understand that there are things that hold us back but those things don't have to hold us back forever and not all the time so what would you create if you could create anything in the world if you could do anything with your life create anything that you wanted what would that look like because you have your whole future ahead of you you don't have to do the same thing over and over again you can create whatever you want and typically when you start creating what you want what you love and what you're passionate about other people become passionate about that as well people are addicted to passion I know I am maybe that's just me but I think a lot of people are if you see somebody who's being really really passionate about something ari much more likely to be excited about that thing like I could be like oh my god look at that table it's so amazing and then wrong like all the gosh it's such a good table and then and that's how it happens but if your passion your excited you're creating what you love other people like that that's infectious that's what I love to do I love following passionate people and so what would your style b how would you do it how are you going to approach this new kind of photography or this new business venture that you're looking forward tio in what style are you going to do that not just visually but how were you going to be inspired by that how were you going to move forward and say you know what this is who I am both personally professionally and in my art and how are you going to take her out to the next level for example we've got jen here who in my opinion is like a walking brand she's like I always want to take her with me to classes when I talk about branding because she's like a rainbow all the time and that's awesome and she knows who she wants to be I write you know you want to be right yeah well you look like you know you want teo just telling her I was like I just feel this represents how I feel on the inside exactly and I wanted to infect everybody and it does that is why you're the perfect example of what have they said exactly saying right now you are who you are and you let everybody know that by what you're wearing and I think that's amazing so you can't let a negative vision of yourself be the final version of yourself that's what I want to point out here the fact that you cannot let yourself bring you down you can't say oh I can't do this or I I shouldn't do this because of this reason in this reason in this reason there is no reason that's good enough for not moving yourself forward in life I believe that wholeheartedly I think that if you want to do something you do it you find a way to do it it might be just a small piece of what you want to do it might not be the whole thing right away but you find a way to move forward and I understand that there's so many things that hold us back and I have had those same things holding me back from money to fear off all of those things have made me stop and say I don't know if I can do this I don't know if I should do this and I'll be talking about this a lot later because I've got some brand new aspirations for this year that I'm nervous about and I'm excited about and I don't know if it's gonna work but that's who I want to be that's what I want to do you can be the artist that you want to be by analyzing the work you've already done so if you take a look back your portfolio and you're able to critique yourself and you're able to say okay I understand that I don't like this picture I understand that I do like this picture that's how you move forward and that's how you develop a style based on what you do like and what you don't like so how do I critique myself literally choose of images simple simple simple I'm going to talk about how to choose those images in a second what you should do to choose specific images from your portfolio that might be good ones to review and then you identify the reasons why they stand out to you so if you could go through these images anything in your portfolio and say ok I like these three images I don't like thes three images I'm unsure about thes three then instantly you'll have nine images that stand out for different reasons some you like some you don't like some you're on shore of then you can pick apart exactly why that is okay so choosing an equal selection of images that you are hesitant about proud of and it's like that's what I think needs to be done too great a good portfolio critique so I do that for my own portfolio I pick out generally nine or ten images something I like dislike and I'm hesitant about and then I asked myself why what needs to happen to these images to be better why do I like certain images and what is it that is holding me back for some of them what could I have done a little bit better these are the images that I struggled with either during editing shooting or sometimes both and so I'm going to talk to you about why that is I chose these three pictures all these just from the last year things that I had trouble with I didn't know how to edit or shooting really went horribly or you know I put it out but it didn't quite feel right at the time something like that so I won't talk about why that is why exactly I am using these images to represent my portfolio critique the first picture there with the snow the struggle with this was that there was a busy background so I went out shooting this picture didn't know there was going to be snow that day had to create a whole new story around this image right there on the spot and then shoot with what I had this picture I was horrible to begin with it was so confusing toe look at we had the subject who is naturally very pale we had white sticks which were naturally very pale snow we had this background with dappled snow all over the dark background it was really difficult to work with so my solution was to blur the background I decided then to take that background and do what I could with it to try to minimize it so that it didn't look so distracting from the subject popped off the background I edited this picture for a month and at the end of that month I emailed my team who I worked with on this and I said I'm so sorry you guys but I can't do it I don't I'm going to scrap it and they were like what we froze in twenty five degree weather for this picture you're kidding me and then I felt really guilty and I took another look at it later and I said okay what needs to happen why do I hate this picture and I said the reason is because of the background I don't know what to do about the background so I thought what are my options I khun dark innit aiken darken the white snow bits in the background which I did d'oh and then I thought that didn't do it enough what else can I d'oh so I started to blur it and the more I blurt it which I did over and over again the more I liked it and then I realized that it was just a matter of saying why don't I like this and how can it be fixed can it be fixed is it shooting or is it editing what needs to happen the next picture in the center there the struggle was that it was a complicated at it and I just didn't want to do it I shot this picture I felt so guilty because this oh this little girl in a high hole was out there she says sweet eso there's lola and she's just the most adorable girl and she was really excited about this picture we got together at this amazing abandoned hospital shot this image and it required lots of little cutting out of little tiny sticks to put into the final image I didn't want to do it I sat there I struggled with it I kept cutting them out and I kept thinking oh this just doesn't look right and then I just waited and I put it away for months and then finally I got it back out and I said I owe it to both of us to do this picture and try to finish it and after I waited I found that I had a totally new perspective on it I had learned a couple of new techniques I knew how to do it a little bit better a little bit faster and I was able to put this picture together in a way that I really liked even though I thought that this picture was going to go in the trash so then we have the last picture and the struggle there was that there was such an empty frame I was shooting in this big abandoned pool and I really want to pull back from the subject a little bit because I wanted the subject to really be sort of floating in this abandoned space but I realized after I did it that I didn't actually like that visually that that's not my style to pull back so far from somebody so I looked at it and I thought oh gosh what am I going to do it looks so empty in the space so I added texture and that was my solution to adding interest all around the frame so that it looked a little bit older there was something to actually look at little pieces in the frame that I I I could go to and that excited me because then I had something to go to so those were the pictures that I struggled with last year the three images that stood out as being kind of like headache images where I didn't know what to do and I had to find a solution so these are the images that I immediately responded to his being strong these air the images in my portfolio that I'm drawn to personally it's okay if you don't agree but these are the images that I went to and I said okay I feel something for these images I think that they're strong because of this this and this and so this was going largely on intuition saying which ones do I feel connected tio so some of the reasons why dark background so this first picture here has a dark background I love dark backgrounds like I said with the forest I love shooting in the forest because it's a dark space so if I can find another dark space to shoot in that makes me really excited natural colors I love using natural colors I don't like using jen's colors I love you jen but but I won't shoot you know hot pink and orange and purple and stuff like that s so I stay away from that I shoot natural colors and then sometimes I'll choose a rich color but it has to be a very specific rich color for me to use it so natural colors flowing dress I love motion I love anybody who's graceful so I use that in my images and if I have that kind of motion going on that's wonderful to me and then we have a simple composition so I have an image here that doesn't have a lot going on it's got one person in the center of the image and that's it darkness all around I love simplicity and my images so if I can have something where the subject really pops and the human form is what we're focused on I love that skin I love showing skin I think that skin photographs beautifully I love having a little bit of skin showing so for the self portrait I just let my dress fall off my back a little bit and then I was able to see some of the back which I thought was a really nice touch because it was a very natural image so we have the nature we have the colors being very natural then we have the skin showing which really just relates back to that for this image we've got another dark background um another flowing dress rich color so here we have that color being brought in it's not hot pink but it is a bright color s so we've got that but it's just one rich color so I don't use lots of colors and my images I keep it to one rich color on a very neutral background and I almost always love an image that has that happening and then we have motion so I've got the dress moving I've got the implied motion of the hair on my pose and then we have the tension if there's tension and image meaning that the subject is struggling or you khun see bones or muscles or something like that in the body then I think that's way more exciting for me so that's why I love this image and then it over on the last side we have rich color again we have that red color we've got painterly so this image especially if you look at it much larger it's very very creamy I hate that word but you know that's like moist right like it's a bad word anyway so yeah what they're like you guys know okay uh yeah so it's painterly and I like that about images I love creating a painterly image whether it's through treatment and photoshopped or putting a texture on it or something like that they're details in it and that seems a little bit strange so I just said that I love simple images but I love little details that really make all the difference in an image so this one there are a lot of details just naturally with props in this image but this is actually a much larger image it's actually a panoramic image that I did and in this image what you end up seeing is a piece of the rope that's holding the girl in the unis cycle is actually saw down so it's about to snap that's my favorite detail in this image is that something is about to happen and there's a small detail that what do you know that and the pose so if I could get a really dynamic pose from somebody something where there's a lot going on where there's a lot to look at within the pose and I think that's really successful for me so that's why I like this image so these are all the reasons that I have identified for enjoying these pictures specifically now it might be that you're looking at this and you disagree and you're like man that girl in that unit cycle what is she doing I don't understand this I don't like it fine that's ok you don't have to like it I'm okay with that but I feel that it's strong because it excites me personally so these are the images that I think are weaker which is kind of funny because I put my last creative life shoot in there I thought that was a really nice touch so yeah so I've put that in and I think that these are weaker and I have a lot of reasons why which I'm going to go through so the first image there that I did shoot on creative live I did not like the white colors in this so I don't like using white a lot in my images and I did skew the white to be a little bit off white but still I felt like it was too dominating in the picture and it's just not something that I'm drawn to I like a little bit more color or total dis saturation um the textures I felt that it was actually too textured it was a little bit distracting for me in the background so I didn't like that the setting it just didn't turn out how I wanted I wanted it to look like a bedroom kind of like it was this like girl in her home and it felt more like a set and that might be because I was on a set so I knew it was a set whatever the reason I'm not responding to it the pose I felt like the pose could have been a little bit more dynamic like she could have maybe I could have directed her to stand up and really feel the flowers in the room and do something a little bit more exciting since everything was so stagnant on dh then the lighting now in this case we had studio lights on in the room and I didn't know what to do with it and I panicked a little bit and I thought oh my gosh I don't know how to do this with lighting on her face and and so I look back at this and I think this was not my most successful chute and I think that's really cool that I could do it live and people could see that happen and now I can say looking back on it this is what I would have done differently because there are a lot of things that I would have done differently and I'm okay with that I think it's exciting to learn it's exciting to grow especially with other people following you do that because they hold you accountable the next month in the center has a busy background I thought that was a really neat background to use I put the subject into that background but in hindsight I don't think it really works on dh then we have the proportion of it I put that subject into the room I caught her off of her background but in doing that I don't I think that I quite matched the proportion of how big she should be compared to the room so I look back on that I think I should have probably made her a little bit bigger maybe placed her a little bit better in that frame s o I don't like it that much the pose very very stagnant I wish that I had done more with her I wish that I had just manipulated her body a little bit more when we're shooting to be a little bit more dynamic maybe just little bushes where she's something like that something to make it a little bit more exciting the setting which already really talked about with the background would have chosen something different and the colors I felt were very drab and very often like to go to saturated with my images try something that's more cp atoned but for this one I really felt it needed something maybe to kick it up a little bit I didn't have that then the next one we have a busy background again so that's a theme that you see recurring here I don't like busy backgrounds the facial expression definitely should have used a model on this one I learned my lesson there it's over processed because I didn't know what I was doing with this picture when I don't have a very clear goal then I have a lot of trouble creating in photo shop I tend to overdo things too compensate for something that was missing um mismatch textures so in this case we had a a lot of different things going on strange textures that I put on and I felt like it was too much so I didn't like that and then the fact that it's a self portrait it really should have been a model I would have had a lot more room to play in that case if I had had a model in front of me I really could have seen it mohr and been able to do a few different things that I wasn't comfortable doing with myself so never regret trying something new that's what I want to point out here because I have tried new things a lot in my career I tried new things on creative live and look how that turned out so hopefully it's honestly my goal the in the next day or two when we're shooting I hope that one of my chutes fails I hope that something doesn't work because I'm trying new things I'm trying some things that I have not done before and if it doesn't work then that's great and you can watch that happen and I think it's awesome that we'll be able to fail together and and we'll see how it goes but I love failing I love failing because it's valuable because you learn from it and you get to see it as something that's not necessarily a failure it's just delayed success it's something that's coming later something that you're not quite ready for but that you've learned from now in this case yes failure is great however it's not always cheap so let me tell you the story of this chute which meant horribly wrong now in this case I decided that my goal was to shoot underwater with a bed and I was talking tio this model that you see in this picture katie for years about this I mean ever since I met her I was like oh it's my dream to sink a bed under water and be able to do this big shoot and so finally we were going to do it because I was moving away and I knew that I wouldn't be able to shoot as much so I went out got a bed got a u haul transported the bed got it in the pool and then realized it was wood so that was stupid on my part because what doesn't think so we had a floating bed and no way to sink it so luckily we had a few strong men there and we ended up having to go teo what's it called like a sporting goods store we got a bunch of weights we waited the bed down we had a whole bunch of there's a rope fiasco it got tangled everywhere eventually we did get the bed to sink however it turned out to be a six hundred dollar mistake and that's not the kind of thing that you want to learn from but when that happens you learn a lot more so this was the final image what happened was we sunk the bed we finally got it down there but then it was dark out because we spent about six hours trying to sink the bed the ones we finally got it down the only option I had was to light it with the pool lights it's so I tried to position the bed where the light would hit them in sort of an interesting way I shot with my eye isobel way up underwater in the dark I remember I had to have somebody holding me in the water it's like up floating away and it was just because there's a whole fiasco of a shoot trust me so that's what we ended up doing for this image and I almost didn't do anything with it so I was really bummed about it afterwards and he kept saying I can't believe I lost all that money on this picture and what am I going to do and so finally I edited it I put it out there and I did a blogger post about it and I said you know what this is my failure and I understand that it's not my best picture I'm not saying that it is but I learned so much from this picture from creating it following through with it and then identifying what the problems were which were quite obvious

Class Description


  • Brainstorm and plan a fine art photograph
  • Design a story with props and posing
  • Shoot an image that only exists in your imagination
  • Complete the vision in Adobe Photoshop
  • Self-critique your own work
  • Build a business from fine art photography
  • Approach galleries with confidence
  • Grow your own unique style and brand


Sometimes, creative vision is bigger than a camera can capture. In this class, learn how to turn imaginative ideas into physical fine art prints. From planning the shoot to assembling composites in post, work to turn the images in your dreams into a concrete photographic image. Go from a dreamer to a professional photographer with the help of artist Brooke Shaden.

Start with defining your style and building your creative vision in this three-day class. Then, learn tips and tricks for bringing that vision to life using posing and props. Go behind the scenes in nine live shoots ranging from self-portraiture to creating your own fairytale. Use posing, props, motion, and composition to tell a story.

While fine art photography isn't usually the first business model that comes to mind when considering a career in photography, Brooke shares how it's possible to earn a full-time living from your art. From building a brand to approaching fine art galleries, learn what you need to turn a passion for fine art photography into a career. As Brooke says, you can't stop because your best work is just ahead.


  • Intermediate photographers ready to take fine art to the next level
  • Professional photographers looking to expand their storytelling and compositing skills
  • Fine art photographers at any skill level


Adobe Photoshop, Adobe Lightroom


Brooke Shaden is a storyteller. The American fine art photographer is well-known in the art world for her dream-like, fairytale images. Her work often uses dark tones, heavy emotions, self-portraits, and juxtapositions. Working as a fine art photographer for more than a decade, she started her art journey after studying film in college and now teaches and speaks along with continuing her work. Brooke's work has been featured in dozens of gallery exhibitions, along with magazine and book covers and limited edition fine art prints. After growing up near an Amish community in the United States in Pennsylvania, she now lives in California.

Class Materials

bonus material with purchase

Brookes Posing Guide

Self Portraiture

The Art of Self Critique

Ratings and Reviews

Student Work

Related Classes



Brooke says she wants to be inspirational - she has achieved this and so much more during this course. I am so inspired to follow my dream of becoming a fine art photographer and step out of a life as an academic and stop finding excuses. Watching other photographers shoot and edit is always a great way to learn, everyone does things slightly differently and I enjoy Brooke's no fuss techniques. Seeing so many of Brooke's beautiful images through the course has been great and seeing shots from the shoot through to editing really makes them come alive. If you are looking for inspiration or you want to learn techniques or new skills then this course provides all of these things with a big dose of positive thinking thrown in.


Brooke is amazing! I love this course. Brooke is easy to listen to. She has a beautiful insight into creative fine art . Love it! I have learned so much. I especially love that she is so candid about everything.

renee Akana

I love Brooke and the wonderful way that she teaches. She is a gift to us all. Jane, her model, was lovely - a beautiful girl, a wonderful attitude and a real professional.. I could not do what Jane did to help Brooke convey her story.