How To Ask For (And Receive) Good Critiques And Comments
Being a member of a lot of online photography communities, I see stuff like this all the time. A photographer just took a shot that I can tell they are really excited about, and want some feedback on it. They’ll post it to a forum or a Facebook page with the typical “C&C please.” line. And it drives me up a wall.
Don’t get me wrong – I am absolutely all for sharing the love and knowledge within the photography community with other photographers. One of my favorite things is sharing knowledge that I have gained and repaying back to other photographers, because I know how much help I was given when I was first starting out, for free, with no expectation of repayment. In order to facilitate the spread of knowledge and help everyone understand how to best ask for critiques and comments on their own work, I’ve come up with a few pointers that you can use to make sure you get the feedback that you want from the people you want it from. If you are shooting under an art director who demanded that you shoot on a white background, you don’t want people with no commercial experience telling you that the background is blown out because it just wastes everyone’s time and aggravates you. A car shooter doesn’t need someone telling them to remove the motion blur on the road. An interiors photographer doesn’t need someone who doesn’t shoot interiors telling them that the windows are blown out, etc.
So let’s go over some of the common stumbling blocks that are involved with this relatively simple question, shall we?
Rule #1: Say more than just “C&C Please” or “C+C?”
Why? Because to me this shows no respect for anybody’s knowledge or time. It’s a very insincere and unfriendly way of opening a dialogue. Why should I take 10-15 minutes to look at your image, think about how you made it, and think of what I would do differently when you took less than a second to ask for help with it?
Rule #2: Ask Specific Questions About The Image
If there is a certain thing that you’re struggling with, ask about it. I see this quite a lot – decent images are posted alongside vague requests for critiques and comments. They might have eight profoto lights and a $4,000 a month studio at their disposal, but they still don’t know how to ask for good criticism. Again, rather than just writing “C+C Please!” they (or you, I know you’re reading this!) could say “I am working on controlling spill from my background lights. What techniques would you suggest to control excess light from spilling into the lens and creating flare? I’ve tried X, Y, and Z, but all to no avail.”
I promise you that this will create an engaging and helpful discussion in the comments section on any forum, Facebook page, reddit post, or flickr photo.
Rule #3: State Your Intent
It is impossible to create a compelling image that doesn’t have any intent. What is the reason that you are taking the picture? There should be a good one. Even if you are doing something as bland as testing out a new lens, state that in your question. “I was testing out my new 70-200 – how does my technique look? Does this appear sharp to you? I shot it at 1/320th and there’s a bit of blur, could it be a technique issue or does the lens need to go back?” You might even be shooting your cat sleeping on the couch, which you could spin off as something like: “Could I get some comments on this? I was trying to convey the deep thought process that my cat was in as he slumbered through his seventh REM cycle on my velour couch from 1972.” Of course, you can get more serious, as well.
You might try saying “this is part of a series I am doing on abandoned homes in the Los Angeles area. I’m trying to convey a sense of isolation and tension, but I’m having trouble processing in a way that shows that. Any suggestions?” Again – I promise that this will create good feedback and discussion, and you’ll learn a ton.
A few more examples of intent:
“This was shot for a kitchen designing company: I wanted to show the elegant lines and quality workmanship involved in creating the product, did my lighting achieve that goal?”
“This was an engagement shoot for a couple I know. I am trying to show how adorable their quirky love for one another is, think Zooey Deschanel-style. Does my posing work?”
“I was trying to show how cold, desolate, and blustery this Irish landscape was. I had a hell of a time shooting it owing to the conditions, and I really want to show that in the image. Any advice on processing?”
If any of you have attended art school, you’ll know that one of the first questions that you get asked at a critique is what the intent of the piece is, whether it is a photo, a painting, or a sculpture. What are you trying to show? Why are you trying to show it? What are you trying to say, and why? These questions and similar are invaluable when asking for quality critiques.
Rule #4: Follow up with everyone.
No ifs, ands, or buts about this. If someone helps you, respond to their criticism in a kind manner (given that they were not a complete jerk to you!). Most people are genuinely trying to help, and will be glad that you noticed and thanked them. It’s also a great way to get a little back and forth dialogue going and you will most likely continue to learn more throughout this conversation, plus there’s always the chance that someone else will chime in on that mini-dialogue and it will grow from there. Address people who helped you by name, if possible, as well. This kind of sincerity will go a long way towards improving your relationships with other photographers, and you might even gain a few e-friends who you can use to bounce ideas off of. I know that I have a ton of other photographers within my networks that I’ve never met in real life, yet I can go to them with a question at any hour of the day or night and I’ll get a response as soon as they get a chance. This is a result of simply being nice to everyone, thanking them, and trading feedback when they ask for it as well. This single idea has probably improved my photography more than any other piece of gear, workshop, or book ever has.
Rule #5: Thank everyone.
This is my biggest pet peeve on this list. If you ask for critique, you’ve gotta thank the people who give it to you. If I had a dollar for every email I answered where I lent some knowledge but didn’t even get a thank you in return, I’d have somewhere between $150 and $200. It happens all the time – and it assures that I’ll be in no rush to help you in the future. It’s a really simple thing, yet so often gets neglected. Of course, it leaves everyone happy when you thank people for their time and feedback, even if it isn’t exactly what you want to hear.
So, to sum up:
-Ask specific question about problem areas in the image
-State the intent of your image
-Follow up with those who helped you
-Thank people for their time and effort for sharing their knowledge
All of the writers here and many other photographers who are infinitely talented post and ask for feedback in the Fstoppers Facebook group and forums every day. We’re all ready and willing to help, and are glad to do so. Just make sure you ask in the right way to get the feedback that you’re really after. Your photography will improve, and who knows, you just might make some really great friends in the process.