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On Photo Critiques: Treat Others How You Wish To Be Treated

On Photo Critiques: Treat Others How You Wish To Be Treated

I never went to college or any other secondary school for photography. I have been blessed to fall into this hobby turned career in an era when photographic knowledge is readily available online, and a vast amount of it is 100% free. However when it came time to make my work public on the web, the outcome wasn't always pleasant. You see, constructive criticism is a great tool for learning and growing, but the keyword is constructive.

When I started getting into off camera lighting and trying to advance my skills I would post my work to my Flickr, and then subsequently to groups within Flickr. It was great, people would give me virtual high fives, and of course awards that sparkled and spun…  Occasionally someone would come along and offer some constructive criticism. It would sting a little, but the insights they gave me helped me to continue to grow as a photographer. Then one day someone came along and ripped apart one of my photos, and then proceeded to go through my feed of photos and rip apart many older shots too. I don't mean he ripped them apart and told me what was wrong and how they could be fixed, but he just proceeded to trash my work. It hurt. Here I had felt I had made so much progress and this individual took a proverbial dump on everything I had. I was left wondering if I should just give up, but even more, I was left wondering why this person was so mean to me? I know, I know, enough with the sob story already, but I promise this is going somewhere.

I am active in a couple different groups on Facebook and various other sites and forums. I truly enjoy sharing knowledge I have gained with others, because I wouldn't be where I am at without the help of others. All too often though I come across a photographer that could use some help, but when I read through the comments I see people making rude and blunt remarks about their work. What good does making a sarcastic remark about someone's work do for them? If you spent time and energy on something, and you were proud enough to put it on the web for critique, how would you feel if someone came along and just made fun of it? If you claim it wouldn't bother you, I would like to meet you in real life, because I am certain you are a robot. Nobody likes being told their work isn't good, but if you are going to tell someone their work is flawed, explain why, and how it could be corrected next time.

"If you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all." I am pretty sure we all heard this at some point in our lives. They are some very simple words to live by, and they will honestly help you in the long run. Think about it like this: you come across a photographer's work and it could use some fixing up to be a more presentable image. You could tell this person it sucks and move on with your day feeling like you really schooled this wannabe, or better yet you could point out something you like, and then point out what you think could be improved and how to do it. Aside from good karma and the good feeling of helping someone, you have also made an impression on someone. Do you think the great photographers in history started out shooting the covers of major magazines? No way; they had guidance, they rose to where they are now, and I am willing to bet they never forgot the people who helped and mentored them along the way. You see, being helpful to your fellow photographer doesn't just benefit them, in the long run it can benefit you as well.

In this internet era where so many of us are learning at home on our own, we are not getting the networking opportunities many of those who went to college for this got. Networking is key in this industry, because knowing people can go a long way. A lot of my close friends are photographers I have met via the internet. My girlfriend, who I have been with for three years now, started out as a Flickr contact. I know that there are some photographers who have given me some wonderful advice in my life who I have never forgotten. As I grew as a photographer and booked more work there were times when I couldn't handle it all, and guess who the first people I recommended were? However guess who I would never recommend for a job? The guy who ripped out my still beating photographic heart and spit on it. He might be a great photographer, but on a personal level I do not like him, I most likely never will, and because of that I will probably never extend a hand to help him or send work his way.

So in conclusion sticks and stones may break my bones but words will-  SHUT UP. Words can hurt, we have all been on the receiving end of criticism and hated it. So be nice to your fellow photographers, professional or hobbyist, you never know how their career will turn, and you never know how it  could affect you...

...and on that note I leave you with this...

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atllam's picture

Trashing someone's work is unnecessarily mean. But you said it yourself: you never went to school. I'm a 2nd year fine art photography student and as you can imagine we spend a lot of time critiquing other students' work and receiving it from them and our instructors. We try to be constructive but being honest is more crucial because a constructive critique that softballs around the faults of a work does nothing. Most of my instructors are working pros and have dealt with their fair share of harsh criticism - they don't tolerate lazy work and will let you know if they're disappointed. If anything the classes in which the criticism was harsh forced students to work harder and develop thicker skin. The reality is that art directors don't have time to be nice - they are blunt. Some students are truly not capable of doing professional work in this field. Not everybody will like your work and some will hate it. If you turn in bad work to a client you'll be fired.

All that said, it's nice to be nice.

Jillian Xenia's picture

I agree, going to Fine Art school definitely changes your perspective.  You learn to be harsh because the industries harsh. I tried to be honest with someone on 500px and went so far to say a minor edit would have done the world of difference.... Then got torn to shreds and told never ever to comment and I must be on my period to be so cruel.. Ugh it def goes both ways. 

sean lehan's picture

this post sucks

Just kidding. Most outstanding. Party on dudes

Andrew Griswold's picture

Funny, informative and very true. Thanks for the article and as always thanks for the reminder to pass on the knowledge to someone else. What do you and everyone else reading this think about 500px? I feel its quite the photo sharing site for learning and also getting great feedback and criticism from unbelievably talented photographers. 

Jillian Xenia's picture

I think 500px is the worst site for critiques. None of the best and brightest I know use it because while the Editors choice are spectacular the popular page is just an annoying love fest. 

Thomas lawn's picture

I don't have a 500px account, but I know what you mean about love fests. Do you know of any websites where you've been able to get reliable constructive critique? Everywhere I've tried is either love or hate, with no constructive advice.

Alex's picture

Try Photosig.  Although "critiques" there could be very harsh as well.

Tilo Gockel's picture

very true, and I have to admit, that I am not very open to critics .-) BUT: I learned a lot even through the meanest critic ... so ... 

can you post a link to the guy who trolled you? i'd love to see his work.

We know the truth's picture

There are very few critique sites out there that actually have good critiques.  If someone made fun of my photo, that would suck.  But if they gave me an honest critique, I would LOVE that.  The only critique site I use is Photosig.  I've learned more from that site than I have anywhere else on the web.

Graham Marley's picture

Be your own harshest critic. Enjoy your successes, but more than that, identify your weaknesses without mercy. Assume that you can always be doing better. At that point, outside criticism is immediately helpful when it's constructive, and white noise when its not.

Amy Willard's picture

This is why the YouAreNotAPhotographer page on Facebook just isn't funny anymore.  We get it, people take bad photos, you don't need to insult someone though.

jydalton's picture

Blah blah blah!. Get over it!  If you don't like it then stop posting pictures or make your album private to the public.  The only reason all of you are complaining is because none of you have gone to school and went through any of this, this is a typical learning process - as long as it is positive.  We all critique each other's images whether it is aloud or not, don't you want to grow as a photographer?  PS, if you don't want to grow and have your images critiqued maybe you should find another career because this is just a hobby.

Jaron Schneider's picture

"This sucks." is not a critique. That's the kind of thing we are talking about. "This sucks because..." is better. 

jydalton's picture

Thank you, Mr. Obvious, I know what a critique is.  And like I said ... We all critique each other's images whether it is aloud or not, don't you want to grow as a photographer?  I'm not saying that posting "This sucks" is the best thing to do but maybe it will give you a push to do something better.  Maybe you can spiral that rage into something outstanding, into a new work that is amazing.

....again it's "allowed" not "aloud" - just trying to help you out.

jydalton's picture

I know what the difference between "allowed" and "aloud" is, how about you learn to read and understand what a person is writing.  Should I have said "out loud" so you would have understood it better, maybe you also need to go back to school.... or should I say "go to school".

i love you for that trevor. in a "awesome, bro" kind of way.

Jacques's picture

 'Out loud'.

It's "allowed" not "aloud" 

Chris Warkocki's picture

I believe he means aloud in the fact you said it so someone can hear it versus thinking it only in your head and not expressing your feelings. Being a grammar nazi also doesn't help when you're wrong.

Jacques's picture

He meant to say 'out loud'.

Tim Henry Woodard's picture

I am really confused about this post. Your saying you want people to critique your work but you don't want them to be sharp and honest? Maybe Flickr is a better site for your work, honestly I don't know I haven't seen any of it. Here's the thing, its your work and you know if its good or not. All of us are at different levels when it comes to our photography. Flickr and Facebook give up and coming, wannabees, or hobbyist a false sense of achievement. Honestly the best way to receive feedback is to get it in front of a photographer you look up to and watch the reaction on their face when they look through your images. The internet is typically going to be full of haters or lovers. In most cases your not going to get a decent critique on the internet. Maybe your work does suck, and you just needed someone to be honest? I know mine does, that's why I keep trying to become better.

Nathan Cain's picture

It really is quite simple for me. If someone asks ME for a critique, I give it to them.  If someone posts a photo, just  for documentation, and I like it, I will explain what I like.  If I see something that looks unpleasing, I will make a note and try not to duplicate it in my own work, but will keep that comment to myself.  I have never had anyone critique my work, but I believe I am my biggest critic.  I am pretty confident nothing they could say isn't something I haven't already noticed.  I have only taken 14,000ish pictures and of those I only like, maybe 4.  And of those 4 I still nitpick, and haven't put a single one into my portfolio.  

Brendan Carlson's picture

Nathan. I agree. I'm an amateur, not quite ready to go pro. I've been shooting for 5 years and have a large repository of images, that doesn't qualify me to be a pro nor do I want to make this more than a hobby for now.

Deciding on what to add to the portfolio is the hardest part of this whole thing. I would probably really only add 3 images that I've ever taken to my portfolio, and the funny thing is that 2 of those images were unplanned and just happened because I had a camera with me.

Paul Davies's picture

If you cant take it quit being such a bitch about it

Chris Vink's picture

I wonder about the people behind those comments.. Is it the anonymity of the internet or are they like that in real life? I tend to enjoy my life and making others enjoy theirs makes me happier as well, why do people think it's okay to be harsh to other people?

And I'm not saying I don't like or can't handle criticism, I just don't get why this kind of trolling is fun..

Case in point:
"If you cant take it quit being such a bitch about it"

And another quote from above:
"This sucks." is not a critique. That's the kind of thing we are talking about. "This sucks because..." is better. 

JPGodwin's picture

Better still, instead of telling everyone how to behave, why not concentrate on how you react? 

You want a million people to be nicer, when it would all mean nothing if the one person crying about it just manned the fuck up and learned to treat internet trolls for the meaningless non-issue that they are.

If someone tells you your work sucks, and you actually care, then that's your problem.


I think the problem with the internet is that people forget they don't know crap about the people they're talking with. You don't know if the guy whose work you're trashing is someone trying to go pro or just an amateur wishing to learn. It might be perfectly ok to be a harsh critic in school or in a job, but out on the street you wouldn't just address anyone telling them they dress ugly or their car sucks. They didn't ask for your opinion.

And even when it's time to be really honest, there's ways to do it without being an ass. Being unnecessarily rude shows arrogance, and arrogance is just fear. I've never seen a really talented asshole.

I think this is just a part of life. There are always going to be people who want to bring you down for whatever reason. The internet can be a fantastic forum for critique, but you're exposing yourself to these situations even more. Furthermore, the critique you receive may/may not be valid. You mentioned that you never went to college or anything and have been taught online - that's perfectly fine. However, sorting out the good information from the bad is a lot harder. You don't know the credentials of the people giving their critique - they could be pro, they could be semi-pro; or on the other end, they could just be regurgitating information that they have read from photography mags; which aren't necessarily great!

After finishing my degree in photography, I went on to the editors of newspapers, mags and press agencies and I can tell you that they do NOT give fantastic, constructive criticism of your portfolio. Did that make me want to give up? No way! As said previously, and I know it seems harsh, things like this you just need to toughen up a bit and cop it sweet. 

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