Is there any set of criteria for evaluating a single picture that is in common use?

I have the following situation: I want to write down my criteria on how I rate my pictures. At the moment I give stars from 0 to 5 to my images but I just do so as I please. However, I thought it would be good to write down how I've done it, so that I get reasonably consistent results.

I am thinking of writing something down like:

  1. In focus, exposure makes subject visible. Basically, I have rated this image and it is okay.
  2. ★★ Nice picture, subject has a nice expression on face (if human, etc.)
  3. ★★★ Technically correct picture, very publishable.

But isn't there something like I am thinking to codify already out there? For example it might be used by professional reviewers in competition or stock photography.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Any one got better tags? Please add them. \$\endgroup\$
    – Unapiedra
    Dec 26, 2012 at 20:17
  • \$\begingroup\$ I wouldn't rate my pictures based on the subject's expression (or lack of it), since I believe it doesn't necessarily reflect how good my work is - but again, that's just me. \$\endgroup\$
    – Chait
    Dec 26, 2012 at 20:47
  • \$\begingroup\$ @ChaithanyaM I am looking at it more from a viewer point of view. Part of what makes an image pleasant to look at, is how the subject looks like. In general though, I think that a photographer is responsible for all of the picture and that includes the subject's expression. But feel free to disagree with me. \$\endgroup\$
    – Unapiedra
    Dec 26, 2012 at 21:09
  • \$\begingroup\$ I have doubtful feelings about this question; I'm certain the precise answer is "no, there's really no such criteria", which kind of leaves the rest to be a discussion of possible lists of criteria, which is off-charter. (Specifically, it's “I use ______ for ______, what do you use?”) \$\endgroup\$
    – mattdm
    Dec 26, 2012 at 21:14
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Unapiedra: As I read your comment, I stand corrected - I agree with you, I guess I did not have my thinking hat when I wrote that comment. \$\endgroup\$
    – Chait
    Dec 26, 2012 at 21:22

2 Answers 2


I am certain there are no such generally-accepted criteria, because there are too many variable factors. Even technical aspects of image quality are subjective, and one person's "too much blur" may be another's "sense of motion".

I'm sure many specific contests have their own scoring systems and scoring rules, to help with consistency across years and between judges, but I don't think I'd want to apply those rules to my work, because my goals would be different from the goals of the contest.

The Professional Photographers of America association gives twelve elements for judging images for their annual exhibition. These range from "technical excellence" to "lighting" and "color balance" to "story telling" and "creativity". You might find these useful, but it's not really a simple star scale. I can imagine applying some sort of weighted score to each, generating a final number, and boiling that down to stars, but I think the particular weights would be a matter of endless debate.


I use the star ratings in Adobe to help me figure out my keepers. As such, it depends on the shoot and the purpose.

What I do is go through quickly and give a star to technically correct and aesthetically pleasing photos. If I have botched a camera setting, I really don't care about much else. The photo doesn't make it to the next round. Recycle those electrons before they become stale and crusty. :)

Next, I select all my one stars, and make them all two stars. Then, I go through again. This time, I'm looking for reasons to demote a photo. I have another photo that's close to being like the soon-to-be-rejected one, but the second one is better. I go through and ruthlessly remove stars. I filter on those that remain at two stars. If I still have too many, I'll promote to 3 stars and do the same approach as before. I rarely do this. 99% of the time, my keepers are at 2 stars. I don't need another round. I'll then rename all my keepers with my standard naming formula, and I'm ready to go the next step.

My objective isn't to make sure that X number of stars has the same meaning between shoots. I have no reason I'd want to find Y number of stars across shoots. I'm going through and looking for shots to delete. Yes, delete. If a photo doesn't get two stars using the above system, chances are very good that it won't be backed up, and it will be headed toward the trash. The only exception is if I'm someplace where I have lots of keepers of slightly different subjects, and I might want to go back at some time to re-edit. This happens when I'm spending a lot of time on location at a shoot. Other than that, once I make my edits above, the ones that didn't make the grade are deleted. So for the vast majority of my shoots, I'm left with 2 star images. :)

Hope this helps explain one approach.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Thanks, Eric. I have a comparable workflow (sometimes ;-) ). I start with two stars for all images that pass first round and then promote or demote photos. However, I am looking for some classification that could be consistent. \$\endgroup\$
    – Unapiedra
    Dec 26, 2012 at 21:20

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