In my years as a photographer, many things have helped me grow in my ability and vision. But nothing has helped me as much as seeking detailed critiques from photographers producing work that I greatly admire. Seeking good critique is a combination of who you seek it and how you seek it. Here are a few suggestions on how I like to seek meaningful critiques.
Choose Your Critiquer
The first step that would seem simpler that it is would be to choose your critiquer. You want to choose someone that has talent, but also that has the ability to express their critique in a way that you can benefit from it. I think the person should be more of a coach than a critique – someone with a true interest in seeing you grow in your ability and someone that can explain what you did wrong and how you can fix it while also pointing out the things you did right and how you can improve them. Also important is to choose someone that won’t just gloss over it and not give you the harsh realities.
Possibly the toughest thing for me starting out was getting my emotions out of the picture. Every time I got a negative critique, it felt more like the critiquer was trying to reach through the image to crush my heart. Looking back – wow I was terrible and deserved every word and more. But I wasn’t prepared to take it. Detach yourself from your work. Taking a picture that someone you respect thinks is terrible is not an indictment of your ability as a photographer, it is not an indictment of your vision as a photographer and it is not judgement about you as a person. The picture just stinks. Get over it.
Henri Cartier-Bresson is considered the father of street and candid photography and is generally considered one of the greatest photographers ever. He famously said “Your first 10,000 pictures are your worst.” And that was in the film days. I’d have to say that he would probably say “Your first 10,000,000 pictures are your worst” if he lived today and I would not disagree. I cannot say this about other endeavors or hobbies I have had, but with photography, the more I learn the more I realize that I just do not know. And I hope my next 10,000,000 are better than the last set.
Think Through Your Shot
Before you send or post an image to be critiqued, think through it. Come up with an artist’s statement about your image. Some critics will want to read this and some will not. Include:
1. Impact: What did you intend the image to say to the viewer?
2. Composition: How did you compose the image? Why did you choose to compose the image in this way? How do you think the composition drives the impact of the image.
3. Light: How did you utilize light to drive the impact of your image? [This can be positioning the subject for the natural light or using strobes and reflectors to light the subject in conjunction with or without natural light]
4. Weakness: What are your image’s weaknesses?
5. Strengths: What are your image’s strengths?
Putting extra thought into a critique drives two big things. First of all, you are thinking about it before you ever send it to someone else. You are analyzing the image and it’s weaknesses. When you start thinking critically, you hopefully start thinking of it as though it was anyone’s image, not just yours that you worked hard on and you will be more receptive to hear the faults of the image. Finally, you have shown your critic that you have put a lot of thought into it, and they are going to be a lot more willing to give you a thorough analysis of your image.
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