As an aspiring photographer, it eventually becomes obvious that likes on Facebook or comments such as “Beautiful work Kiddo!” from your mother aren’t exactly providing an objective evaluation of your talent. Constructive feedback from others in your field is something that everyone can benefit from at times, even as a professional. The problem is, most of us don’t take criticism very well especially when it comes to something we’ve poured our heart into and may actually love on a personal level.
After two years of working on my own without any professional training, I knew it was time to seek advice from others, so I enrolled in classes at my local community college. Part of the weekly curriculum was to evaluate our classmates work from the prior day’s shoot-something that felt very awkward at first and downright embarrassing. But eventually, it became something I yearned for and even worked towards being better at myself. So how can we provide helpful feedback to others without sounding harsh or offending someone? Here are a few approaches I find to be effective.
Effective Methods for Providing Constructive Photographic Feedback
1. Don’t just focus on the negatives. On the surface it may seem like the point of a critique is to tell someone what could be better about an image, but doesn't it also seem relevant to inform them of what they did well so it can be repeated? I find that such an approach also helps build rapport such that when you do have suggestions, they are taken with a bit more trust and openness than they may have been otherwise. For example, in the image below taken by Bryan M. Sargent, I found the model’s hair dangling over her right eye to be a bit distracting as well as the stride, which felt like it was sending her directly into the wall. More importantly however, I loved the lower wide angle composition of this shot coupled with an excellent color contrast and I made sure to mention this before anything else in an effort to express I wasn’t focusing on just the negative aspects.
2. Provide meaningful commentary. Simply telling someone you don’t like their photo because it “doesn’t speak to you” is not helpful and frankly, just lazy. Be more specific. Perhaps you don’t like the way the image is composed, maybe they should have cropped it tighter? Or maybe the post processing is overdone and their model looks a tad-well, purple. Sometimes specifics can seem nitpicky but they are often the exact kind of feedback you need to improve. Another example – I love this classic composition, however; it felt as though the center of the image would benefit from a boost as well as the background which seemed to lack color and emphasis behind the model.
3. Keep it concise. Similar to writing this article, if you try and include too much information in your critique, the reader(s) will likely become bored too quickly and simply disregard the feedback. Time is money and in most cases you will be asked to review several photos, not just a handful; which can drag out forever if you’re not careful. My rule of thumb is generally two sentences per photo, three max. For example, my response to the image below was as follows:
This is my favorite shot from the scene. I would consider cropping at his waist, the bridge then cuts through the frame in a nice diagonal and makes the composition more interesting IMO…
What I liked about it and what could be improved all in two steps.
So if you aren’t already sharing your work directly with other professionals, take a leap of faith. Sure, some people will be rude or not have anything good to say but that is unlikely to be the majority. If you don’t have any colleagues then reach out to local photographers in your area or those whose work you admire online. Most love the art as much as you and will take the time to help if asked politely. While the process of critique is as subjective as the art itself, learning to effectively do so will inadvertently help you improve upon your own work over time.
Images used with permission of Bryan M. Sargent