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Constructive Criticism – It Should Always Be More Than Being Diplomatic, And Sometimes, Even Brutal
It's that word, criticism.
Does it send shivers down your back? You might even say it's the elephant in the room.
We know it's there waiting to approach but if we ignore it. If we don't have to face any “hard” realities of our proudest photography work, then we can bury out heads a little? This darkness isn't helping.
Every photographer I know, including me, learned a lot by hearing the harsh truth when it comes to the quality of a photo they made. I mean, how would you know if you need to improve something if it is not pointed out explicitly by someone else?
However, it's not always that easy. Nowadays, it is hard to find an honest and constructive critique on your work. Even when you are given a dose of critical feedback, many photographers tend to skip the negative comments and enjoy the positive ones.
Positive Commenting. What's Wrong With That?
A while ago I was attending an online lecture held by a photographer, whose name I can’t remember (I’m so bad with names it's frightening), who said something quite shocking to the crowd there:
“Ignore positive comments on your work. They are too easy to get nowadays, and most likely they are hypocritical just to make you feel better, or they have no idea what they are talking about.
Even if they are correct, you can’t learn nothing from them”.
In my opinion, he was completely right. Positive comments are good food for the ego and can be good motivation to go on. But they’re very bad at teaching you a lesson.
You probably share a good amount of your work online, whether it is on our forums, your Facebook account, Flickr or wherever it might be. Often, 99% of the places where you share your work include comment sections, and hopefully, you’ll get an earful of them.
Some positive, some negative, and once in a while there will be that guy which wrote a whole book in the comments below your picture. Why me? You ask.
9 times out of 10, that guy is a photographer that will give you his most honest opinion on your image (I tend to do that often – if you need a critique, feel free to ask me).
When you get a comment like that, study it a bit and see if you can take something from it and use it in your next shot. My bet is that you probably will.
I’ve been photographing for long while now, and I still seek this kind of critique. You can never stop learning. If you don’t agree with me on this one, make sure you read the comments out of respect. Someone has spent their time to give their opinion about your work, after all.
In addition, often it will demotivate you, so you’ll probably think that you aren’t cut out to be a photographer – I can’t say this isn't true, of course it happens, regularly.
There are people that are simply not meant to be photographers, and it's not the end of the world, there is something else they are good at and they should seek that line of work. However, don’t give up just yet. Soak in these critiques, and work hard to get better.
Practice using the advice you got on the last shot to do better on the next – that's how this process works.
It's wise to produce a list of things you should improve on, based on the feedback you got from the images you have posted/shown. Use that list as a manual for your next shot and practice lots.
With every photo, actively seek more critique, and soon enough you’ll see that the critiques won’t contain the same things on your list. The list will get shorter and shorter as time passes by (and experience growing of course).
However, I’m afraid that there will be new things added to that list – the truth being that the list will never disappear. The better you get at photography, the more complex things you’ll start to do and experiment with.
More complex photos mean more details you could (potentially) get wrong. The list then gets longer, later it will get shorter and that is the life of a photographer. Now you know.
Moving On From The Critiques
Once you start getting to know new photographers (online and offline) you should use them as peers. Of course, it goes both ways. You should critique them too.
You’ll be in contact with more experienced photographers and less experienced ones. Don’t be a leech, sharing is the best thing you can do – kinda like karma for the photographic community.
Good things will come back around at some point as the further down the road you travel on this journey, the more fulfilling your experience becomes.
You get a critique, you give one – that's how the photographer's world goes round.
Critiques are the most honest form of feedback you will get. In time you’ll learn to differentiate from just jealous/hateful comments and truly honest critiques. Since a critique will point out your mistake, you as a photographer should be able to recognize it once it is pointed out.
It is obvious that you can’t be objective towards your work, but by being a little modest and aware, you’ll be able to spot your own mistakes soon enough.
Remember, if you need a critique feel free to write down in the comments, use our forums, even message me privately. I’m always really happy to help, and I think I can say that for almost any photographer who has some time to spare.
Constructive Criticism For Photographers – Top Takeaways
- You generally don't want a great deal of positive commentary on your images. Ego-boosting it may feel, it sadly won't help you improve unless this is focused – i.e. precisely what is good about your photo(s).
- Seek more critique. Make this habit either online or after a job has been completed.
- Get to know some photographers in a community – critique each other's work. Some will be more experienced photographs, others less so – either way, it will provide a chance for you to give criticism and receive it .
- 4 Ways You Can Be Your Best Photography Teacher – That You Knew All Along! by Dzvonko Petrovski
- How To Get Genuine Feedback On Your Photographs by Lightstalking
- 4 Reasons to Go Back and Re-Process Older Raw Files by Sheen Watkins
Join the Shark Tank – Get Constructive Critique On Your Photos
Light Stalking has its very own place for you to get negative critique (don’t worry, people are still friendly). Head over and post a shot in the Shark Tank and see what people think you might be able to improve on.
Learn to master “Better Black and White Photography” with Photzy’s amazing new ebook by hugely popular professional photographer and author Kent DuFault! Appreciate what photographers need to learn about Black and White Photography.