The Barefoot Photographer®

a photography blog

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Do You Really Want Critique?

If you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at this your philosophy for commentary of photos?

I think of this constantly when I browse through photos on the internet.  A few weeks ago, I joined an internet group site.  While on this site I have found a variety of photo groups.  Many have contests.  I am amazed at the comments I see on photos that are not that good.   "Great photo"  "Nice shot"  "Excellent" are commonly seen on photos that frankly are none of the above.

A few years ago -- when I first got into photography seriously -- I met up with a bunch on the internet.  These guys were brutal.  They did not like anything (or so it seemed).   If I could squeeze a compliment from one of them I was super happy.  Talk about a tough crowd.  But it was the best thing to ever happen to me.  I had this idea that I could show anything remotely OK to anyone and they would just tell me how wonderful it was -- wrong!

As a result of this, I became very critical of my work.  I was not easily swayed to love something because it was colorful or had a nice subject.  I scoured the backgrounds of my photos for distracting elements.  The foreground, whether in focus or not, was scutinized for anything that would make the eye wander.  Bright spots or splashes of color -- if they were not part of the main subject would ruin a photo for me that prior to the 'bad boys of photography' I most likely would have loved.

When I am teaching a class I spend some time going through basic critique criteria.  But I then will add that even though a photo is a technical success, it may still lack something; and conversely, a technically off photo may be an artistic success.  If it is very commonplace -- something you have seen countless times -- what is the point?  I remember one of the guys telling me that one of my photos was nice and would be great on a greeting card.  I did not like that comment -- at all -- it sounded so vanilla to me; nothing special; ho hum.  I don't like to be ho hum.

When I first got my Lensbaby 3G I signed up for an online class.  I did not really want the class to learn how to use it -- I could figure that out.  But the class was by Tony Sweet and I was looking forward to Tony critiquing my photos.  The experience was OK.  I did feel the critique was kind of light and repetitive.  I saw the same phraseology used a few times.  It was good to have him tell me some things about my photos that I had not thought about before.  

So back to the title of this blog -- "Do you really want critique?"  Do you think the people who post photos on Flickr really want critique or do they want a chorus of "Nice photo?"  I am thinking they want the nice comments since that if most of what I see.  Until someone asks me for hard critique -- I hold it back.  What it really comes down to is -- do you (the photographer) like it?  If you (the photographer) like what you (the photographer) are doing and you (the photographer) are completely happy with it -- that is all that matters.   But, if you want to stretch, improve, and take photos that grab people -- you need to ask for critique from people you respect and tell them to not hold back.   And when you do this -- be prepared.


1 comment:

Andy Richards said...

The way I see it . . .we had an exchange on my Blog recently about the meaning of words. I think sometimes wrongly get thought of in the pejorative sense. The words, Critique, critical thinking, critic come to mind. Criticism does not mean, in my view, belittling, disparaging, or "dissing." So, in my view, an image "critique" need not be a negative experience. Nor does saying something doesn't "work" or pointing out elements of the photograph that are problematic (sharpness, merges, distracting elements, exposure issues) have to be negative.

It is a challenge sometimes to put the positive "spin" on a critique, but I believe it is always possible to find a positive way to critique. I guess I am a "glass half full" instead of "half empty" person (mostly--I acknowledge that we sometimes will see an image in which the glass is, frankly, empty and I am not sure how to best deal with that situation--Maybe thats what mom meant when she said if you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all?).

I have said of my photos and writing, that you have to be open to constructive criticism if you want to improve. I thing it is important that a critique be meaningful, however.

Saying "it sucks" or it is "junk", or it is "terrible" is in my view every bit as useless as "nice shot."

So maybe mom should have been saying all along, "If you can't say anything constructive, don't say anything at all."

Blog Top Sites

Arts Blogs