We have all been there, that moment when your stomach slowly turns to drizzled mush as it discovers the harsh brutality of a critical comment. In a few short words your career, art, and passion is reduced to the strangling grip of failure. Receiving criticism is not for the faint of heart but with the right frame of mind you can get the most out of any critique, solicited or otherwise.
Know The Difference Between Technical And Creative
Each photo that you make is a marriage of technical prowess merging with creative vision. In order to evaluate criticism you need to be acutely aware of the line between the two. Especially considering they often can manifest as the same aspects of an image.
The line between the creative and technical often lies with intention. Take, for example, an image with bright lens flare and a blown-out background which could be a creative decision but it could also be the technical error of overexposure. When evaluating criticism try to think of whether each piece of feedback is focused on active creative decisions that you made or technical mistakes.
Feedback on technical aspects of your images often can be quite valid. This sort of criticism can be very helpful and really aid in becoming aware at how you can improve your craft. Pay very close attention to technical criticism as it may draw your attention to aspects of photography that you had never previously considered.
Creative criticism can often be much harder to accept as it forces you to confront the possibility that there is fault in your vision rather than your execution. Anytime you receive feedback focused towards an intentional, creative choice within your photo, it becomes very important to evaluate its validity. Creative direction is tremendously subjective. There will never be an image created that is universally loved by all, so it becomes critical that you are able to distinguish valid creative feedback from merely a difference of taste.
When facing creative criticism ask yourself if the criticism was because you failed to execute your creative vision or if you succeeded in execution but created something for which the critic did not share your taste? If the criticism is merely a difference of subjective opinion, completely disregard it. Your value as a photographer is your vision. Those critical of your creative direction merely reflect the wrong audience, nothing more. However, if you failed to execute your creative vision in a way that speaks to a like-minded audience, it becomes important to evaluate how you can adapt to better deliver on your vision in a way that connects to the audience.
Anyone can be an armchair critic but the validity of that feedback really can vary. A heart surgeon wouldn’t pay much heed to feedback from someone who never studied medicine, nor should you pay much heed to someone who knows nothing about photography. Before you let the anger or shame of the criticism begin to take root, make a point of reviewing the critic to figure out what experience they have to base their beliefs on. Ask yourself: Do I respect this person enough to accept their feedback as valid?
Never Let Feedback Suppress Your Passion
Finally, always remember that it never matters how valid or invalid feedback may be if it is crushing your motivation. If you often find yourself in situations where the feedback is making you want to give up or stop shooting rather than inspiring you to improve and shoot more, then that feedback is toxic and should be discarded. Never let critics rob you of your love to shoot!