Today I wanted to talk to you, guys, about constructive criticism.
There are many groups on FB where photographers are supposed to help each other out by criticizing each other’s photos. Many people even tell, that if a photo was published online it means that criticism and opinions are welcome, otherwise does author just want everybody to praise him/her. That sounds logical, but somehow the same people that voice this opinion and critique multiple works of others get mean and defective when someone critiques their work.
There are many reasons why we, creatives, can’t take criticism well. First one is that in (creative) photography there are no objective metrics to determine if you are right or wrong. Say you are a software developer. You need to write a code that does X and Y and takes no more then Z seconds to do that. If your code does that, you succeeded, if not — you failed. Someone can advice you on how to write cleaner or faster code, but that’s improvement for the future. In photography some of the most successful images have a lot of “wrong” elements — trashy light, strange pose etc and a lot of “right” images do not bring author as much visibility as he/she could hope. One could object that “Likes” decide if the photo is good, but here you can never know is you got some likes because a picture is excellent or because you network and promote better then others:)
Second reason is that many photos we show are personal. While working on them we grow attached and now the critique of the picture feels like the critique of our own self. And worse then that, unlike code in software engineering, we can not return and improve the picture. Say you put 3 month of work in idea, research, organization, production and retouch. Then you shown the pictures to someone and they said “I like it, but the model holds her neck a little bit unnatural”. That’s it, pictures are flawed and 3 month of your work were all for nothing because you are stupid looser who didn’t watch model’s neck (sounds familiar? :))
Third reason, we are all in different points on our path as photographers. Someone has his/her own studio, others just worked with professional light for the first time. Someone is in NYC and has access to all the cool designers, and someone else lives in Oregon and creates portraits mixed with surrealistic landscapes. Someone lives in Germany were being nude even in public park is fine, other in Charlotte where showing a nipple is inappropriate. That’s why our opinion and our solution can’t always apply to others in our field. And by giving a critique you don’t help person to move along within his/her path, but push them in your own direction.
Finally, sometimes people give critique to others to feel experienced and strong, not to help others grow. That’s why:
— Before giving critique, ask yourself if you do it because you would like to help a person or because you would like to feel important, show off your knowledge or promote yourself.
— Then if you really want to help, ask yourself where the person is in their development as a photographer, what is the easy step for him/her to improve their work.
—Ask yourself if you talk about this next step in a kind and respectful manner.
—And don’t forget to tell a person what’s good about the work — sometimes to know what is your strong side is as important as to know your weakness.