Be Immune to Judgement While Open to Critique With Your Photography

Be Immune to Judgement While Open to Critique With Your Photography

The internet can be a tough place to share your art. Some people love to judge. While it may make sense turn off your ears completely but in doing so you might miss opportunities to improve your photography.

Judging good photography is not always black and white. Since art is subjective, different people will see the same photograph in different ways. This goes a step further when you take into account that not everyone wants to make a beautiful photo.

Photos can be successful by conveying a certain feeling or emotion. An image may simply hinge on the timing of the capture, the colors, or even just the juxtaposition of the objects in the composition. In the end, good photos come in all shapes and sizes and often don't deserve some of the harsh comments sharing these shots on the web might bring.

Photography today is one of the most active and widely adopted forms of art the world has ever seen. People with all kind of different cameras and tools at their disposal are creating new and exciting art all the time. While photography certainly has its challenges, today's camera sensors and the ability of software to enhance photos makes it so almost anyone can start posting photos on social media and call themselves a photographer. 

Other disciplines are easier to measure ability and quality. If you play guitar, there are a set of skills you must master before you can go out and start playing in front of people of sharing your music with others. It is a hard thing to do and requires courage and resilience. There are a lot of people out there making music because they love doing it and are not too concerned with being judged. While it may be easier to distinguish talent with musicians than photographers, the same rules exist for seeking feedback.

Haters are going to hate. This really isn't a cliche as much as it is a warning. Social media seems to be both the best and the worst when it comes to encouraging others. There is a huge difference between a typical internet comment and actual constructive feedback. You can usually tell by the amount of snarkiness or the tact used to deliver the suggestion. You might face those that think you have skipped some right of passage by never shooting film. There will be those that tell you your photos are too edited, only to have the next comment suggest more.

Takes your questionable comments with a grain of salt. Remember that just like a text message on a phone, you as the reader put the tone into whatever you read. This means that one sentence can be interpreted a number of different ways. Stay relaxed and grounded if a comment seems to take a shot at you. If someone takes the time to write a paragraph or two, read all of it and don't focus on only the negative if it exists. You may learn something or gain some insight that could have passed you by if you weren't willing to listen. By the same token, always be appreciative of praise. People that take the second to compliment you should not be taken for granted. If you are able to return the favor in a genuine way, do so.

It is good to be critical of your own work and never become a just a good enough photographer. This means constantly learning new techniques and trying to better your ability to use the tool you have chosen. Remember that pleasing the masses can be an impossible thing. You are better off challenging yourself and finding a reason to shoot more fulfilling than getting likes or comments on social media. Finding a local group of photographers to get out and shoot or join a critique with is an awesome way to boost your photography. And people tend to be much less judging and opinionated in person that they are on the internet.

Michael B. Stuart's picture

Michael B. Stuart is a photographer at Stu Stu Studio in Lewiston, New York. Besides shooting weddings with his wife Nicole his specialties include long exposure, abstract monochrome creations, architecture, and bokeh. Work has been featured online by Adobe, Flickr, Google, and 500px with the most popular photo receiving over 950 million views.

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there's no point in posting your photo if you add, "please be nice," or "don't be negative," as a condition for others' comments.

and the worst comment is actually, "great shot," or "beautiful." that's not a critique. it's actually faint praise, given by someone pretending they care enough to comment but said nothing of value.

the old mom's advice of, "if you can't say something nice, say nothing at all" is designed to have a limited scope. critiquing a work is not within that scope. plus, you're not in kindergarten. respect the author enough to say something of value, positive or negative.

I agree that applying Kindergarten-style conditions (e.g. please be nice) on critiques is a bit undignified but I think a critique can be entirely civil and honest.

In my view, the real problems with online feedback is the "stratification" of critics. Most good and experienced photographers don't want to spend time helping newbies (all while lamenting the death of photography) & less experienced photographers don't know how to offer useful feedback beyond "nice shot".

I personally find there is value in a critique. You have to keep an open mind and be honest with your feelings. If you feel a critique is unjust than ignore it, if you feel (HONESTLY feel) there is some value in it, than accept it and learn from it.

You simply cannot grow as an artist inside a bubble, you need to learn. Again to differentiate someone's who being "mean" vs some actual critical feedback (hard to define it, but that's why I said you need to be honest with yourself when reading it).

Even the best photographers/directors get "notes" that improve a cut overall. I've seen this narrative which I personally find utterly destructive online where people will offer feedback (that's not blind praise) that gets met with "go make a film yourself" or "lets see your work".

Top influencers are reacting this way and personally I find that not to be a great headspace to be in. Accept, learn or ignore, the worst response I find is to tell people to show their work/go make something if they don't like yours isn't constructive at all. (Even if the critique isn't that case I would just ignore).

There's a certain level of confidence and vulnerability when publicly displaying creative works. Show me ONE artist who doesn't freak out or make up a bunch of excuses whenever they have to show a WIP. It's torture, it's part of creating though and we have to accept it I think.

Just my long arse take on it lol.

PS: I'm an editor, I work in network film/tv/doc world, NOTES and interpretation is a HUGE part of that process. I've learned a lot from it and learn when I can defend it and when to let it go. There is such a thing as being too close to your own work to lose objectivity.

Any good online place to get a good critique? I really struggle in finding that...

I've always found it in the creative space. Either colleges, friends whom I know will tell me like it is and just through work. Mostly through paid work, you get notes on stuff "I like this, I don't like that" you learn a lot. A lot of time those comments are backed up with some actual context and if it makes you go hmmmm ya that makes sense, it's a learning moment. Or I'll try that next time, or consider that next time.

Fstoppers forums and some specific subreddits are the best I've found. r/itookapicture, r/amateurphotography, and r/photocritique are the most geared towards discussion. Also finding subreddits for specific genres of photography. Instagram is an echo chamber at best (either because you feel like you're shouting into the void or you hear nothing but "sick tones bro") and Flickr is too quiet these days.

Soliciting critique is a skill in itself. I've seen people post to a place like Fstoppers with no intro then get annoyed when people offer advice. Sure they didn't specifically say "looking for CC" but it's kind of implied on forums like these.

To get the best critique I try to add these things to my post:

1. What I was trying to achieve with the photo and any constraints when I was taking it (like my back was against a wall and this was the widest lens I had, or there was an ugly building right out of frame so I couldn't pan over, etc).
2. Something I like about it.
3. Something I'm not quite so sure about. This is the most important part because it opens the floor for other critique and lets people know that they won't be tearing down a photo that I think is flawless.

I'm sure the Fstoppers staff has even more tips like this, maybe for a future article on how to solicit good criticism?

Great comment and idea!

Funny you post this. Personally F-Stoppers community is a perfect example of ignorance. People will give you 1, 2 maybe even a 3 star rating for your work but without any explanation why. No critique, zero, null zilch. I mentioned this 3 times already. If you are going to judge someones work low, even very low at least have the common decency or courtesy to explain why. Some of us here are amateurs and would like to know what we are doing wrong and what we could do to improve. I see none of that. It's absolutely beyond me that F-Stopers allows this kind of frivolous judging scheme without somehow requiring people to explain their choices. If you judge, be kind and explain why someones work is good or bad, but be objective. Bashing someones work just because is not only unprofessional, but simply unkind.

I brought this up sometime ago myself. I suggested that votes lower than a "3" should require a critique. It might even be a good idea to offer the critique input for ratings higher than "3" though not mandatory. Or, perhaps no critiques should be mandatory at all. But, if none accompany low ratings the system can minimize the impact of that rating to the overall score. Just my $0.02.