A short while back, I wrote a pair of pieces (Part 1, Part 2) about giving and responding to critiques of photography with a certain level of decorum. As many of you already know, criticism is best given when actually asked for. While having the confidence and self-awareness to seek feedback in and of itself is commendable, not all requests for feedback are equal. Despite what one might think, it’s not quite as simple as posting your photo online and asking for general feedback. As with giving and responding to critiques, there are certain ways you can present your request for feedback to improve your odds of receiving meaningful advice. Below, I’ll go over the information you can offer to increase those chances.
Preface: I’d like to start by saying that I feel the word ‘criticism’ is interpreted by some as inherently negative, but that doesn’t have to be the case. Throughout this write-up, and in part 1, I’ve used the words ‘critique’, ‘criticism’, and ‘feedback’, interchangeably, because I consider them to be more or less the same in this particular context.
In my previous post, I discussed some of the discoveries I’ve made related to receiving critiques, and some things I’ve learned to better handle them. In part 2, I’d like to look at the opposite side. After all, feedback is only helpful when conveyed in an effective way. On top of that, you’re more likely to get a positive response, if the feedback is presented in a way that doesn’t come across as combative or demeaning. In fact, it can be a way to build connections within the photography community. Below, I’ll go over the ways I prevent even my most honest critiques from feeling like an attack.
Preface: I’d like to start by saying that I feel the word ‘criticism’ is interpreted by some as inherently negative, but that doesn’t have to be the case. Throughout this write-up, and in part 2, I’ve used the words ‘critique’, ‘criticism’, and ‘feedback’ interchangeably, because I consider them to be more or less the same in this particular context.
Photography, like every art form, is subjective. As such, anything we create is open to criticism, whether we like it or not. When criticism is given with the best of intentions, it can lead to growth. While we can’t control the criticism we receive, we can control how we respond to it. In this write up, I’ll be sharing the things I’ve learned over the years that have helped use the valid criticism I’ve received to improve as a photographer, and how I handle less than helpful negative feedback.
I’ve had the great privilege of tagging along with Eric Kim for the Gulf Photo Plus (GPP) event in Dubai back in 2014 and 2016. GPP is an annual event: the region’s biggest and only photography festival, bringing the world’s best photographers and instructors to Dubai to share their knowledge and experience with the professional and amateur photography community in the Middle East and Africa.
I’ve been humbled to learn bits and pieces from an unbelievable roster of GPP teachers. Because Eric is one of the instructors and I’m his glorified help, I have had access to many of the instructors – picking their brains during cab rides, over rooftop cocktails, or at breakfast club.
Often, we can be a little harsh to beginners and their work, especially when we see their images online with no reference or context as to how long they’ve been shooting. But would we be as harsh if we looked back at our own work from when we were just starting out? After all, none of us were great from the first day.
That’s what photographer Michael Sasser puts to the test in this video where he looks back on his early images from when he started shooting boudoir over a decade ago. He’s certainly not holding back, but luckily, the only person he can offend is himself.
This is quite an interesting idea. ARS is a new platform which allows you to give and receive critique on photos completely anonymously. Created by Eric Kim, the system is designed to help photographers get some genuine feedback without all the smoke blowing and fluff we often see on platforms such as Facebook.
When identities are public, many who respond to images will say something nice just to avoid the risk of offending, than to say what they really think of an image. With the identities of the photographer and the commenter removed, people can say what they really feel.
(Warning…long post ahead.)
I have a question.
Actually, I have a lot of questions. These are questions that have been simmering on a low heat in the back of my brain. I try to ignore them, and most of the time I can, but now and then the heat gets turned up and the simmer turns to a full rolling boil. It’s noisy and hot and such that I can’t ignore it.
Most of us like receiving feedback from our clients, fellow photographers, and followers. But have you ever imagined receiving a feedback report spreading across thirty pages? A photographer from Hong Kong got such critique from his newlywed clients, and it’s basically thirty pages of elaborating how bad the photos were.
Have you ever come back from the most incredible shoot of your life only to get a person go down on you? Have you ever had the most amazing idea for your business and when going live a fried totally dissed you?
Being a creative means that you put yourself out there almost daily and that means that criticism will come. The question is how to deal with it in a way that both let you take in the value from what you are told but not let this impact on your self esteem. And us creatives sometimes have very fragile egos.
Marie Forleo has some of the best advice I’ve heard about how to deal with criticism on or off line. While her advice may take some practice, it is extremely beneficial if you can follow.
I’m writing this post because I was up late last night on a Facebook forum, reading close to 200 comments about new photographers and what slime they are to the industry. How they’re stripping photography of it’s “art” and destroying any decent business practices. I read every comment, feeling more and more sick to my stomach the further I scrolled down the page.
“Who do these people think they are? Don’t they remember when they were new and making all the same mistakes?”
I know this year has probably had it’s ups and downs for you; the excitement of booking your first paid gig, the confusion of all that “must have” photography gear and the hurt and guilt of being single-handedly blamed for “ruining the industry.” I know the phrase “what to charge for engagement photos” is probably one of the first things to come up in your Google search bar, and secretly you’re still wondering why using the eraser tool in photoshop is such a horrible thing.
I also know that you’re afraid to ask for advice at every turn because for every established photographer that is willing to help, you’ve got 30 more breathing down your neck that are doing everything they can to cut you down. I’ve been there too – I’ve had my work ripped apart online by a “reputable” photographer (who went out of business earlier this year), I’ve bought things I didn’t need because some famous photographer endorsed them and I thought it would make a dramatic improvement in my work (it didn’t), and I’ve used the crap out of the eraser tool (layer mask, folks).
So what I wanted to do here is give you a heads-up. A bit of a rant mixed with some advice I wish I had known in the beginning, this is just about everything I wish someone had told me the first day I got that used and slightly beat up (but still very new to me) camera in my hands.