When you start getting into photography, it's very easy to get swept up in the awesomeness and friendliness of the online photography community. People love sharing photos online in places like Flickr and 500px, commenting on websites about how much they love each other's photographs and getting that instant satisfaction that community and encouragement brings. And that is great.
But there's also a slight problem with how this has evolved. You see, online there is a very strong convention steeped in manners and not offending people that is very easy to see reflected in photography communities. In many cases, this is a necessary thing to avoid communities devolving into a home to online sociopaths and trolling. And that's fair enough, but it makes it difficult to get genuine feedback on your photography. When the only comments you get are about how great your photograph is and that everyone loves it, it's easy to sit back and enjoy the ego-stroking (and I think a lot of us have been guilty of that in the photography community).
But is that how you improve?
Why Real Feedback Is Important
The only real way to evolve your skill in anything is to practice, analyse and then improve based on that analysis. That goes for basketball. It goes for writing and it goes for photography.
If you are only hearing positive feedback then you will find it difficult to find specific areas that you can improve your craft. (One might even argue that it's even more important in a subjective art such as photography as we don't have the added black and white feedback of points scored or times beaten that a sportsperson has as a gauge to their performance). Improving your photography can be really tough as a result.
Photographers, like anybody else, really need to hear constructive negative feedback. That is how you analyse areas for improvement. Acting on that analysis is how you improve your skills.
What Are Your Options for Genuine Feedback in Photography?
If you accept that you are still on your learning journey (and the vast majority of us should), then where do you get genuine constructive negative feedback on your photographs that can be used to improve specific shooting skills? There are a few options.
- Forums and Communities – You can go into existing online communities and specifically ask for genuine feedback. The problem here is that you will be going against the the general culture of most online communities by asking for this type of feedback. Some people will give it to you, but others will still feel constrained by the traditions of the community you are in. It becomes a little hit and miss when people feel that they still have to spare your feelings
- Competitions – Paying to enter real competitions with real photographers as judges can give you some help – you'll know if you're on the right track if you start picking up a few wins or placings. That is, assuming your photographs are good enough to get that far.
- Courses – Taking photography courses (offline) usually comes with some pretty serious scrutiny from the instructor on your photographs. Mileage may vary, but it's usually a very effective way to find out the areas you are going wrong and start to improve them. The problem is that it is expensive to keep taking courses for access to these instructors.
But what if none of these are really a long term option and you want feedback quickly and regularly?
Welcome to the Shark Tank
It's a problem we have been thinking about for a while at Light Stalking and this is what we have come up with.
We have built a specific sub-forum in Light Stalking called The Shark Tank.
Here's how it's going to be:
- Only Constructive Negative Feedback Is Allowed – This forum is ONLY for constructive negative feedback. All positive comments will be deleted (see the note below).
- A Spirit of Camaraderie and Humour is Essential – We're all in this together and things can obviously easily get heated if we don't all approach it in the spirit in which it was intended. Reading this forum with a smile on your face is highly recommended!
- A Thick Skin is Essential – It can be tough hearing negative feedback about your images. But remember, we are restricting people – they are NOT ALLOWED to post positive feedback so do not take their negative critique personally. Take their feedback in the friendly manner it is intended.
- Give to Receive – If you want critiques on your own photographs, make sure you offer your constructive ideas on other people's work too.
By approaching this with the right attitude, we can make a really great space for constructive feedback so we can all improve our craft.
So why make it “negative only?” Well, it's very difficult to direct the behaviour of crowds online. By making this black and white, we are hoping to stave off any chance that the Shark Tank will revert to a forum where people feel they have to give positive feedback. If that starts to happen, then others will get upset with negative feedback (cos somebody else got positive) and it all falls in a hole. After all, the problem we are trying to solve is to make the feedback useful and actionable for improving. This may change in the future, but for the moment, that's how it's going to be in the Shark Tank.
So if you have found yourself nodding, have a smile and a thick skin, then come and join us.