As photographers in this Internet age we read about photography, and share our work, in hopes of honing our craft. You could be pursuing a career as a wedding photographer or a sports shooter and either way you’re searching for articles, subscribing to photography blogs, and participating in photo forums in hopes that there are gems of knowledge that will take your photographic prowess to the next level.
What most photographers, especially those that didn’t do any formal art training, are missing from their arsenal of learning tools, is the art of critique.
Defining Art Criticism
Simply put: Art criticism is the discussion of the evaluation of art.
And having your peers, especially those whom you respect, evaluate your photography in a constructive manner will make you a better photographer.
And yes… it can seem scary.
We often think of critiques as negative and judgmental. They don’t have to be. And if they are…well, you just shrug it off. Chalk it up to the learning process.
There is an alternative.
You could upload your images to Flickr and join groups where they require comments and post badges and prizes galore! You’ll be inundated with happy unicorns and shiny gold medals. Comments like “Wow!” and “Nice!” will flood your comments sections and you’ll be able to see through rose coloured glasses for days!
While that may be okay for the occasional ego-boost I’d argue that those kind of groups are doing you more harm than good.
I mean, let’s get real for a second…did you actually learn anything from those kinds of comments? Did you become a better photographer because you got a scripted response from someone else looking for tons of comments filled with other scripted responses?
I didn’t think so.
Get Better Photo Critiques
Getting better photo critiques starts by going to the right places (hint: you’re already at one of them).
- You may already know that Photocritic does photo critiques and I highly recommend adding your photos to his queue.
- Flickr has a rather large assortment of groups that are dedicated to criticism and critique. Simply search Flickr for “critique” and find the one that best suits your tastes and style of photography.
- DeviantArt also has groups dedicated to criticism. What’s unique about DeviantArt is that you’ll get critiques from artists of varying mediums, not just photographers, which can add a different perspective and unique insights.
- Photography forums often have sections dedicated to critiques. You’re probably already part of a photography forum, or know of a good one, so search for critique threads.
So you found a place that does critiques. Now what?
- Upload some of your photographs then submit or post them to the groups or threads in the critiques section.
- Participate! When you join a new group or forum you’ll likely get ignored for a little while in the beginning. Don’t worry, this is natural in every social setting. You need to be pro-active and start conversations. Critique other photographs. When you start critiquing other people’s photographs you are essentially inviting them to critique your work as well.
- Keep the conversation going. After someone has left a critique of your work it’s a good idea to thank them for their time and/or insight. This simple act of “conversation” will encourage more participation from others who may be sitting on the sidelines.
Keep it constructive or you won’t really gain much.
- Feel free to set guidelines on your work. Not everyone will pay attention, but many will. On every image I post on my flickr account I add “While your comments are greatly appreciated, your presence is enough reward. Please do not post awards or banners, leave a comment or a thought instead. I know you can!” in the description box. Think about how you could set guidelines on your work to get the best comments and critiques that you can.
- Make friends with photographers that you respect. Keep in contact with those that do constructive criticisms and maintain a conversation with them.
- Give the best critiques you can give by avoiding annoying and overused comments and critiques and other’s will more likely reciprocate.
- Be as objective as you can. You aren’t going to agree with all of the comments and criticisms you get and they’re not all going to be right. One of my best selling photographs got slaughtered in two separate critiques (one group critique and one published *yikes!* critique).
- Research. If someone calls your photograph out for not having or overdoing a certain artistic element you need to look it up (especially if you think you know what it means) before you disagree with them in an open platform. Otherwise you alienate anyone else from leaving critiques
- Be gracious and objective. This can’t be stated enough!
Following these guidelines will help you garner better critiques and comments on your photographs. You’ll learn how others look at your photographs and you’ll learn whether or not you are achieving your goals as a visual story teller. Did I miss anything? Do you actively pursue critiques?
About the Author:
I’m a huge fan of Damien Franco’s work. He’s obviously exploring; finding his feet as a photographer, but more importantly, he’s always ready to share what he knows. He works as a contemporary fine art photographer working in West Texas and writes photography tutorials when he’s not fighting tumble weeds, cactus, and oil tycoons. You could do a lot worse than following him on that there Flickr thing.
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