Can Criticism Be Beneficial to Our Photography?

Can Criticism Be Beneficial to Our Photography?

With strangers generally eager to offer their opinion on what we do, albeit mostly unwanted, when should we listen to their criticism and when should we ignore it?

I am confident that, whether you are a hobbyist or a professional photographer, there have been instances when you have received criticism from others even without seeking it. Whether it be a stranger giving you their opinion on how you could improve your photograph, even if you never asked for it, or someone schooling you on how to run your business, we're definitely familiar with receiving criticism in all its possible forms. So, how should we filter the advice and criticism we receive, and when should we put in practice the information we've received?

When Not to Listen to Criticism

The internet is a wonderful world, one full of free and available advice and tutorials on practically everything imaginable. Have you got a question? Search engines most definitely will have an answer for you. Are you unsure how to correctly fix something? There are plenty of videos of people showing you exactly what to do. However, with such an easy access to information, it also means that strangers have an equally easy access to view, comment, and criticize anything you choose to put online. 

If you use social media to share and showcase your work, be prepared to receive unsolicited advice and comments from people who know what they're talking about and from people who most certainly should not be giving out advice, too. If you willingly ask general public to critique your work, my first question would be "what credentials do these people hold and do they have the experience to objectively critique your work?" Most likely you will receive varied responses, with some praising your work, perhaps also because they may know you or they have seen your work before and feel somewhat obliged, although subconsciously, to give you positive feedback. But, you will also receive criticism from people  who may simply not like your type of photography or your subject, and don't forget that we go from post to post very quickly which means that the public won't generally set aside additional time to thoroughly read your photograph or gallery, and will settle for a rushed comment. 

A man with an umbrella walking past a photographer.

Whose advice matters to us, and whose opinion helps us improve?

Both the positive and the negative responses should be taken with a grain of salt; most people don't have the experience to constructively provide you with feedback that benefits you in the long run. Furthermore, it can be almost fruitless requesting strangers to critique your work because they aren't familiar with your current development as a photographer, your goals, and they certainly won't be acting as one-to-one mentors to help you with a plan to cultivate your growth as a photographer or as a business owner. 

While it can be useful to quickly receive advice on certain things, don't let strangers on the Internet determine who you are as a photographer and as a business owner because it takes more than five minutes for someone to offer you constructive criticism on how you are creating or running things. It also requires experience to provide you with a doable plan of actions that are created uniquely to suit your photography or your photography business.

When Criticism Can Be Useful

If photography is also your business, asking for client feedback can be an effective way to track your progress. There will be clients who will simply be unhappy with whatever you might deliver and that may be down to their own insecurities or because you and your client were a bad match from the very start. The trick is to filter which ones should you put in your imaginary "useful" folder, and which ones you should let go and move on from. I have had clients express certain opinions that, upon reading them, I took too personal but looking at it objectively, I did see that there are things I can learn from and take them with me for when I work with the next client. 

Sure, you can be at a point in your career where any form of criticism won't make a difference to you, your business or your photography but until you get there, hearing client feedback and any criticisms can be helpful for you and your future. Sometimes, we can be so wrapped in nonsensical things, such as, "should I make this image warmer or should I not?", that we can miss things that matter, for example, getting your client to hire you, retaining clients, and being so good at running our business that our own clients start spreading the word for us. If photography isn't your business, then the same applies to your development as an artist. I know all too well the danger of getting hung up about the small things when I should be looking at the bigger picture and working on improving my way of seeing things.

Monochrome implied nude.

Recently I have been consciously working on listening less to the chatter around me , and instead focusing on creating work that matters to me.

Hiring a mentor can also be beneficial; having someone work with us closely, will provide them with all the information they need to be able to give us constructive criticism. Knowing who you are, how you work, and what your goals are, gives them a better idea on how we can improve than, for instance, a stranger online who quickly glanced at your post and provided a brief comment that they may not truly even mean. Needless to say, it's crucial to research the right person to hire as your mentor. 

All in all, it's wonderful that we have access to so many groups of talented and experienced people at the click of a button, but when it comes to truly objective criticism, remember that not everyone's opinion matters. Be your own person and be your own artist, and don't fear receiving a healthy dose of criticism but remember that sometimes it may require you to thoroughly filter the information to get to the bottom of it. 

What are your thoughts on receiving criticism on your work as a photographer or as a business owner? How do you determine which advice to take into account and what to disregard completely? Have you ever received unwanted criticism of your work or of yourself as a business owner?

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21 Comments

Gary Gray's picture

Unsolicited advise is for the most part useless. Everybody is s critic, everybody thinks they are an expert, very few actually know doodly squat.

I'd highly recommend that you only listen to the people you consider to be the very best.

John Sammonds's picture

before you listen to critics look at there web site first then take no notice

John Dawson's picture

I'm not sure I understand what you're saying.

John Dawson's picture

Not just beneficial, it's critical.

As a point I am never critical of anyone else's photography. If i like someones work I say so but If i dont I never say a word. But the other day...I saw a wedding photog with a second body on a strap....no cap...no lens...in a dusty field shooting engagement shots. He had on a T-shirt for some wedding photog company...an employee. He was basically filling that body with dust. I quietly..up close so the clients wouldnt hear...said....Dude!...You are destroying that camera...dont you have a cap of some kind in your bag? Then I walked away. I hope he took my advice.

Rk K's picture

What kind of stupid question is that? It's not only useful, but essential! Or you're so full of yourself that you think laymen, or even the internet can't have valid feedback on your work? There's no such thing as unsolicited criticism.

David Stephen Kalonick's picture

Love it. You put the work out there and bonus, there's a comment section provided... 😂

John Dawson's picture

Yeah, but the commenter has no photos here, so...

David Stephen Kalonick's picture

Great point. They should have a 5 images minimum to comment rule. ☺️

John Dawson's picture

The "consider the source" rule is most definitely in play.

Anete Lusina's picture

Interesting opinion, but remember, it's just your opinion not the 'truth' :)

Rk K's picture

It's feedback and criticism. And your comment goes both ways, so hardly a useful argument.

John Dawson's picture

How about posting some of your work before commenting?

Daniel Medley's picture

Personally, I find criticism from other photographers can be greatly useful, but I tend to put more value in the opinions of non photographers/consumers because often times photographers tend to get caught up in the minutia and the pedantic, so much so that they completely miss the point. Or they can be firmly ensconced within their own stylistic box to the point of not being able to see much of anything else.

At the end of the day I don't take photos for other photographers.

Mike Gillin's picture

Criticism can be a great tool, and is extremely useful. However, you need to consider the source, and more importantly the substance. If it's constructive criticism and well thought out it can be amazing. If it's just projected criticism, or an emotional rant... skip it.

JetCity Ninja's picture

are your photos for yourself (not likely, if you’re a pro), for a client, for other photographers, or to be seen in general?

if for the public, wouldn’t creating a photo that connects to the most people be the desired outcome? then why wouldn’t you listen if it fails to connect?

if you’re photographing to appeal to other photographers, you’re doing it wrong.

there are no credentials for good taste and appeal. to look for that in establishing if a critique holds value means you’re shooting to appeal to photographers.

hopefully you’re not expecting to find my credentials in logic.

Jacques Cornell's picture

"when should we listen to their criticism and when should we ignore it?"
Whenever we feel like it. We can also take or leave comments from even experts whose artistic judgement we respect. I've had the same set of photos not even place in one photo contest and then win 2nd or 3rd place in another, and they were subsequently purchased by a museum. Any one person's evaluation is ultimately just one data point. If you collect enough data points, you can begin to discern patterns, and you can then make a conscious choice how to weight them.

Duane Klipping's picture

Yes some can be productive when presented properly. The rest are just opinions and they are like...as they say.

I don't think it should ever be given unless asked for either.

David Pavlich's picture

Constructive criticism is good, but along with accepting it, you have to have a thick skin. Accepting CC isn't for overly sensitive photographers. Some of my stuff is tone mapped HDR which makes some cringe and when I post it, I expect to get dinged by some. While I admire the work involved in making those 'elevation' shots or the shots of a banana in segments floating in the air, I have little use for them. But, that's just me.

Alex Reiff's picture

I like to think of critics as a second set of eyes, a lot of times they'll notice some issue or think of some way to improve it that you just don't. They don't even necessarily have to be on your level. Ultimately, you're in charge of the final image, you can decide whether to take the advice or not based on whether it fits your vision. That said, I think the worst criticism I've received was from people who just didn't understand what I was going for

I had a crazy ignorant criticism/complaint from a bride's father. He calls me up a couple of weeks after I deliver the album. He says that there are black spots over all the photos in the album. We set an appointment. He comes in with his wife and album. We open the album and I don't see any black spots. Then he pulls a 10x loupe out of his pocket and puts in on a photo and says look. I had all I could do to keep from laughing. Instead I said I'll set up an appointment with a professional print lab. I made an appointment with a retired Kodak employee who traveled the world on photography assignments in addition to being a professional print maker. I let John explain that loupes were not designed for prints and that they were clear crisp properly color balanced photographs. With John's pedigree, they didn't have any more questions.

Fast forward to today, for me..... the saturation of imagery is incredible. There are so many images that nothing really stands out. Millions are uploaded daily. So the idea of real criticism...... might be more of an opinion, unless it's coming from a top tier photographer like Joe McNally or Lindsay Adler ...

To me, quality imagery has been dumbed down by the smartphone. This is just for me now .... I've noticed that when I stop on an image to admire it's because it's a subject I like. If I see 1,000 images today of old pickup trucks, I'll like them all, some better than others. I"m not going to criticize because I don't know. I wasn't there, but I will admire the image and move on.

I wish all of you a great day