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The Dangers of friendly feedback!

Posted by Greg Blue on Monday, August 31st, 2015

One of the biggest problems on social media sites for photographers is excessive praise for images that simply do not warrant it. We all want to be supportive, especially to new artists (unless you happen to be a troll) – and emerging artists absolutely deserve our support and encouragement! But not receiving honest, courteous and constructive feedback (both positive and negative) can cause new photographers to lose objective sight of their own work.

Sites like Flickr or Facebook have some solid benefits for photographers – primarily the chance to showcase your work at no charge to the rest of the world. It can be a relatively good tool for showing your work to prospective clients, although I feel an individual website and portfolio is more effective in that regards. It’s not the best place for potential clients to discover you, as there are just too many other photographers showing work of varying quality, and very few photo-buyers would spend the time sifting through the millions of portfolios in order to find a particular photographer.

One of the biggest concerns to me are the comments left on members work. This may sound harsh, but while there are some superb examples of photography on sites like Flickr that deserve praise, there are far more that are frankly awful. The problem is the awful images also generate a lot of praise, which is really damaging for those photographers. It can cause some photographers (especially new ones) to look at their work from an utterly unrealistic perspective.

I realize that many people on social media sites may be fairly new at photography and will not yet have a lot of confidence in their work – and people at this stage absolutely deserve support and encouragement from the community. In my 20 years of experience critiquing student’s work, I have found it’s not hard to see honest value and positive elements in most photographic assignments. But that MUST be accompanied by an honest critique of the work, which includes discussion of image elements that are not working. And it should also include suggestions on how the photographer can improve the image. This becomes absolutely critical for photographers who are past the hobbyist stage and want to become professionals.

This is another powerful argument for emerging professionals to find a highly reputable school to go to rather than relying solely on online tutorials. Yes, just like this one. In a reputable school, you will likely find veteran professional photographers in the teaching staff, who are paid to give objective and constructive feedback. If it’s a good program, they will certainly be tough taskmasters. If it’s a superb program, they’ll be inspiring and engaging enough that you’ll work your ass off to blow the instructor away with your images.

Believe me – I know from tons of personal experience how frustrating it is to have to re-shoot an image. But if the image is not as good as it could be, there’s really no alternative. One critical lesson that new photographers need to learn is not to be easily satisfied with their work. I learned that lesson as a young photographer by sharing studio space with an exceptionally good photographer – this guy would finish a shoot and then stare at it for ages. I’d look over his shoulder, and the shot was brilliant – but he’d often say, “What do you think? I think this part of the shot could be better.” I don’t know how many times I thought, “What – are you just fishing for compliments? The shot’s fantastic!” But nope, the next day he would completely reset up the shoot and do it all over again – and the next shot would be just that much better. That was a valuable lesson.

I understand also that (most) people on social media want to be polite and supportive, and that is an admirable thing. Criticizing can also open the criticizer up for backlash and sure, there are some people whose taste and experience may make their critiques less valuable to you – but you are free to ignore their criticism. There are also some photographers who are simply uninterested in what other people think of their work – and that’s cool too.

But it’s critical (especially for new photographers) to seek out critiques and plead for honest criticism. Even if you feel the shot is perfect, critiques will allow you to look at the work from a new perspective – the more info you have thrown at you, the more you can pick and choose what you will allow to influence you.

I’ve listed some sites that seem to offer constructive criticisms, but even with these you really have to ask for honest feedback, and then seriously consider the qualifications of the person giving the critique.

www.photo.net

www.focussion.com

www.pbase.com

www.500pix.com

www.1x.com

www.fearlessphotographers.com (this site is pretty much entirely dedicated to wedding photography)

If there are any other sites you know of where new photographers can get valuable and well reasoned feedback on their work, I’d love it if you replied to this post with the url. We’re all in this together!

 

So where do you go?

What options do you have for getting critical and valuable feedback and criticism of your work? I’m afraid I just can’t recommend the Internet as a good source for criticism. If you are a hobbyist, then fine – you’ll get lots of support, which is nice, but don’t expect much more than encouraging words. If you are planning on pursuing photography as a profession, and especially if you plan on pursuing commercial work, then the right type of criticism is simply essential. There are two major considerations for getting the feedback you need; 1) are you actually ready to receive meaningful critiques? And 2) Are getting the critique from the right person?

  1. Are you ready? I recently read a post from a guy on Facebook bemoaning the fact that he was a “published” photographer and yet he did not get a single response from the numerous Photographic Reps and Agencies he contacted. When asked where he was published and what his background was, his response was that he got one of his images published in a magazine (One!) and that he had no formal training, but thought he was “OK” as a photographer. All I could do was shake my head. Simple fact is, if your work is not yet close to commercial quality, you will find very few industry people willing to take the time to critique it.
  2. Who’s giving the critique? If, like the guy above, you have little to no training, then my heartfelt pleading advice is “get your ass into a topnotch school!” The Internet is not good enough to properly train you! Yes, some people have gone onto to great things as self-trained photographers, but very few people have the means or discipline of doing that. School will be one of the best resources for meaningful critiques when you are starting out. As you become better as a photographer, join professional associations such as CAPIC or the ASMP. There you will meet some of the best commercial photographers in your area, if you hit it off well with them, you may be able to approach them for an objective critique – but they will likely only do so if they feel you are experienced enough to act on their advice. Ultimately when you enter the industry, and become a proven professional, you may get access to the most meaningful critiques possible – and those come from the top clients in your market. You want a killer critique? Get it straight from the people you want to hire you.

 

Addendum:

As I continue to search out sites that offer critique, it seems to me that there are two particular problem areas:

  1. There are many photographers out there who are simply not ready for meaningful critique yet. They are just too new, and don’t yet have a strong technical or artistic foundation. These photographers would be far better off being pointed in the direction of a top notch school, where they can learn the fundamentals of photography, spend time applying those fundamentals, and then seek out meaningful critique when they have the skill level to be able to act on those critiques. Many of the newer photographers I have seen asking for feedback are unlikely to have the necessary knowledge to act on meaningful advice. For example, telling a new photographer something as simple as moving a light source in closer to soften the light quality and make use of fall-off, and their response is that they do not understand what light quality or fall-off are. There’s no point in giving such a photographer meaningful criticism when they can’t act on it.
  2. The criticizer is frankly not qualified to critique. There are a ton of people out there with lots of opinions and, while that is not a bad thing, it can become absolute chaos on critique sites. A new photographer gets a harsh or unwelcome critique and all hell breaks out. I found there are people critiquing images that, after a bit of searching, have no real body of work themselves, and are offering advice that completely misses some critical points. There seems to be no end of self-proclaimed experts in photography handing out reams of advice. If anybody is going to critique, they should at the minimum make their own work highly visible and make a case for their background and credibility as a photographer. Students can then decide whether the person is worth seeking advice from.

 

I am feeling like what might be a good solution is to find some way of inviting topnotch photographers from different fields and specialties to offer their services to critique and mentor. That would give new photographers a chance to clearly research the photographer they would like a critique from so they can see that photographer’s body of work, and learn more about their philosophy and leanings as a photographer. It would also give the critiquing photographer a chance to decline the criticism if they feel the new photographer is not yet at a stage where they can capitalize on the critique – or at least point the new photographer in the right direction to work on their fundamental skills, and then come back at a later time.


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The Dangers of friendly feedback!
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The Dangers of friendly feedback!
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The Dangers of friendly feedback! One of the biggest problems on social media sites for photographers is excessive praise for images that simply do not warrant it. We all want to be supportive, especially to new artists (unless you happen to be a troll) – and emerging artists absolutely deserve our support
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One response to “The Dangers of friendly feedback!”

  1. Kay says:

    I couldn’t agree more about the social media critiquing!

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