One of the best ways to improve your photography is to routinely have your work critiqued by a more experienced photographer. When done correctly, critiques will not only confirm what you are doing well but also provide some valuable insight into areas that you can improve.
So, what should you look for when it comes to critiques? Let’s start with the reasons why people avoid critiques, to begin with.
Why Critiques are Avoided
Unfortunately, I hear all too often from photographers that they are afraid to have their work critiqued. When I ask them why they don’t show others their work, I typically hear one of two reasons.
First, they don’t think their work is good enough to be shared. I get this. For the longest time, I didn’t share my work except to show my wife or boys. I was afraid to show other photographers just how bad I was. This caused a dilemma as I wanted nothing more than to be accepted as a photographer on the different social platforms. In order for that to happen, I had to show others that I actually was a photographer and show my work. If I had understood at the time that failure is just another step to success, it wouldn’t have taken so long for me to post my work, or ask for critiques of it.
The second reason I often hear why photographers don’t show their work is that they have had a bad experience with a critique in the past. Just like most things in life, there are people who are good at critiquing images, and those who aren’t. You can have a photographer that takes the most beautiful images in the world, but if they do not have the people skills to tactfully provide constructive criticism, then they will not be successful at it.
Critiques are very much an art form in themselves. Unfortunately with the Internet these days, it seems that everyone’s a critic, and the odds of someone having a bad experience with a critique is much higher than it should be. There are ways to make sure that you put yourself in a position to receive valuable feedback.
When seeking out a critique, it is best to look to someone who’s work you admire. That is not enough, though. As I mentioned, just because they can take a great photo, doesn’t mean that they are good at critiquing other’s work. Look for examples of past critiques they have done. Do they seem both respectful of the work, as well as able to explain themselves in a polite, direct manner? Did you learn something from the critique? These are all things that you should ask yourself. If there are not any actual critiques available, read their comments on social media. Are they generous to others in sharing tips and are generally helpful? Do they answer questions? Read their blog if they have one. Does what they say strike a positive chord with you? Do your homework and you can find individuals that know how to give a great critique.
If there are not any actual critiques available, read their comments on social media. Are they generous to others in sharing tips and are generally helpful? Do they answer questions? Read their blog if they have one. Does what they say strike a positive chord with you? Do your homework and you can find individuals that know how to give a great critique.
This seems obvious, but one of your responsibilities includes providing an image to be critiqued. But what image should you share? Should it only be your very best images or ones you are unsure of? It really depends on what you want to get out of the critique.
If you want to hear how great you are, then submit only your finest work. I recommend submitting images that you are unsure of to be critiqued. You will learn much more this way than if you use an image that you are already pretty sure is good. While every image can be improved, you get more bang for your buck with those that are not as polished.
It goes without saying that if you are going to seek out a critique, then it is your responsibility to check your ego and emotions at the door. If you feel strongly about an image and spend your time defending your decisions, and do not listen to what is being said, then everyone’s time is being wasted. Please do not take this to mean that you shouldn’t have a thoughtful discussion of your intentions, and actions when shooting the photo. Also, this doesn’t mean you should just accept what the person critiquing is saying. It is for you to learn from what they are telling you.
Also, this doesn’t mean you should just blindly accept what the person critiquing is saying. It is for you to evaluate and decide if their comments are relevant to your work.
The Critiquers Responsibilities
Receiving constructive criticism is such a valuable way to learn. When you find a person whom you can trust, and can work with to have your work evaluated, it is like winning the lottery. When you find this person, chances are that the take their responsibilities very seriously when helping others. So what are these responsibilities?
First and foremost, it is your image. It is your unique view of the world. The person critiquing your photo should take the time to get to know you, as well as your goals and intentions for the image. Without knowing the story you are trying to tell with your image, how could they tell you if you succeeded or not? If they immediately start telling you how they would have done it, it speaks to someone who doesn’t necessarily understand how to properly critique other’s work.
Most people associate critiques with what they are doing wrong. It can really take the wind out of your sails if the only feedback you get is what you should have done better. If this is all the critique you receive consists of, again it is a sign of someone who isn’t necessarily good at giving critiques. The most skilled critiquers spend just as much time (if not more) on what you are doing correctly, than what you are doing wrong. I am sure you all know the song from the movie Mary Poppins, “A Spoonful of Sugar Makes the Medicine Go Down.” The same thing holds for critiques!
The goal of a proper critique is to leave you inspired to want to keep improving. Upon receiving your critique, you should be eager to get at it, to consider whether the suggestions being made will improve your work. When it comes down to it, they are just suggestions. You can choose to accept them, or respectfully chose not to follow them. Either way, it is your prerogative.
Another important facet of the critique is to reinforce what you have done well so that it becomes a habit. Positive reinforcement has been shown over and over to be the best way to teach someone, as well as motivate them. That isn’t saying that you should find someone that only tells you how great you are. There is nothing to be learned from this type of review of your work. Think of it as celebrating your successes, so that you are pumped up to believe in yourself, and are not afraid to try new things, or fail in your attempts!
Wrapping it Up
We have come full circle on critiques, from fear of them to using them to celebrate your successes. None of this matters, though if we don’t learn something from the critique. What you learn could be straightforward, such as the need for additional practice in a certain area to achieve mastery. It could be new topics to explore. It could also show you that you have reached your goal and it is time to set a new goal. Critiques are one of the fastest ways to improve your skills so be sure to seek out someone you trust to regularly critique your work. Do this and just watch the quality of your work take off!