Why do we care so much what people think of our photos? Do we shoot for others or do we shoot for ourselves? Does it help us progress by having strangers or even people we know comment on our photos? What about formal reviews by so-called experts?
I recently watched a video by Joe Edleman where he states we shouldn't care what others think of our photos, and it got me thinking about the subject. On one hand, I have to agree with him. Why should we care? But on the other hand, if our goal is to improve, shouldn't we care? Shouldn't we seek out the advice of others?
First, we all should be shooting for our enjoyment. Yes, I understand that for some of us, I included, need to shoot for the satisfaction of our clients, but we also need to shoot for ourselves. This is where self-projects come into play by permitting the commercial photography to shoot whatever and however they want. I do this and have many photos that no one else will see, but the photos made me happy when I made them, or they make me happy when I look at them for any numerous reasons. For those who do not shoot for clients nor need to get paid, you have even more freedom to shoot for your enjoyment. You can experiment and find what makes you happy. Nothing is absolute in photography. Aside from documentation photography, photography is a form of art to be developed by the artist behind the camera. So if that is the case, that you shoot for your enjoyment, then why do so many photographers seek the approval of others? What does it matter what others think of your photos, especially from people you don’t even know? And they don’t know anything about you other than one picture.
Looking for feedback and praise all the time can hold us back from expanding our photography skills and artistic expression. Having a hundred or thousand of Instagram likes doesn’t do anything for our photography. Or just the opposite, having people critic and perhaps provide comments that are not supportive can discourage us from perusing a new technic or vision. I don’t think any photographer nailed their new concept on their very first shoot or the hundredth shot. It takes time to refine our vision and technics. I was in Madrid recently, and I visited the Magnum Photos exhibition. I noticed how various photographer’s work changed over just a few years, and I believe improved over those years. What if they always looked for confirmation from others? Would they have pursued that vision? Would they have stopped after a few photos that people didn’t like? There is a danger of always looking for confirmation from others.
Second, and this is where I disagree with Edelman, and even contradict my own previous comments. I believe if you want to progress you do need to have some feedback. However, there are limitations regarding comments and feedback.
One limitation is the feedback has to be constructive and with a purpose. Feedback of "I simply like it" or "I don’t like it" is not helpful. As I mentioned earlier, the number of Instagram likes is not useful feedback. It has to be from people who understand what you were attempting to capture the photo and they need to be knowledgeable. I’ve had my portfolio reviewed by numerous experts that have given me good feedback, but I never take their advice as absolute. Why? Because they are humans and have their own preferences. Just look at how often Lee and Patrick disagree when they do the Critic the Community. Of course, we all know which one of them is always right, don’t we? I can remember two distinct times when I had my portfolio reviewed by rather impressive reviewers, and on both occasions, one reviewer preferred one photo over another and the other reviewer said just the complete opposite. Those two times thought me that we should always take the advice of why the reviewer didn’t care for some aspect of the photo and evaluate that advice ourselves. For this to be successful, we must be open to the input and not merely make excuses why the reviewer is not correct in our view.
We must get feedback from people who understand the subject matter of the photograph. Sure there are fundamental basics that good photographers or critics can point out during a review, but knowing the subject matter….well matters. I was at a workshop a few years ago one of the courses involved photographing various motocross riders. During a group review the next day one of the other student’s photograph was critiqued by the instructors. Of the instructors mentioned that the handlebars should be turned more so the viewer didn’t see the bike’s number plate. As I shoot motocross, I mentioned that the rider’s number is significant to them. The riders see their racing number as part of their ID. The instructor said, “Well it isn’t important to me.” Let’s take a look at this. Was that a bad comment or an excellent comment by the instructor? I’m going to say neither, but it could have been better. I would agree with the instructor if this photograph were not shot for the rider or perhaps their team. If the photo was used for a laundry detergent advertisement then yes then seeing the number plate doesn’t matter. However is this was shot for the rider’s PR or the team’s media effort than seeing that number is very important. Where I look at the instructor failing, and this is kind of weak since it was a photography workshop, is to put the comment into context based on how the photograph might be used differently.
So should we ask for opinions about our photography? What do you think? I believe it depends and it should be limited. I think we shouldn’t take comments as absolute. We should first and foremost enjoy photography and if we need to improve our photography for whatever reasons we should proceed carefully.