Accepting Criticism of your Photographs

By |2017-08-08T15:34:49+00:0013 Dec 2012|

~ Article by John Fox

I often work with new photographers and when I ask to see their work they become shy and introverted “no, I’m not showing you that”. This is surprisingly common, and if you think about it, it is also a surprisingly counter-intuitive stance. As an artist or a photographer specifically, you have chosen a solely visual medium and its very purpose is to be seen.

 

The reason anyone does not want to show their work is for fear of judgment. Why do we fear the judgment so much? To pass comment on an artist’s work is to pass judgment on a part of themselves. It is threatening, exposing and evokes great insecurity, and yet without it, it is very hard to grow. As an artist, you need to develop a thick skin and to accept comments on your work with good grace. The opinions of others offer a far greater learning curve than almost any other source.

 

The reason anyone does not want to show their work is for fear of judgment. Why do we fear the judgment so much? To pass comment on an artist’s work is to pass judgment on a part of themselves. It is threatening, exposing and evokes great insecurity, and yet without it, it is very hard to grow. As an artist, you need to develop a thick skin and to accept comments on your work with good grace. The opinions of others offer a far greater learning curve than almost any other source.

 

This is the part that initially flummoxed me when you then correctly point out the true direction of the given marker these people argue with you. The very same people who just proclaimed their lack of any sense of direction now knows better than everyone else. Why is this? Well previously they were willing to accept they have no idea, then they embarked on a process taking some external factors into consideration leading them to believe themselves to be right. They are now invested and committed due to having undertaken a process.

 

The same is true for photographers and their images. When someone tells you that you should have stood one meter to the left to take the picture, yet you as the photographer know that was a physical impossibility in that given location, does not mean they are wrong. The viewer may not have the same insights into the taking of the picture as you have, but they may have more insight into whether the shot works photographically or not, more so than you as you are clouded by a lack of objectivity.

 

The memory associated with an image, or the emotion evoked and recalled by you viewing your image may over-ride your ability to accurately evaluate your work. An image shot with incorrect settings, or one that has been over-processed is very evident to the objective viewer. Your attachment may cause you to be blind to these shortcomings, or to be aware of them, but to blindly forgive. We have often said that to get the image is more important than missing it because you are trying to get the perfect settings. It is the end result, however, against which you will ultimately be judged. If the end result does not work photographically, you have captured a memory and not a fine photograph. It should not be your emotions which act as the decider of which category the image qualifies as.

 

Not all feedback will be positive and much will be unusable as a source of information upon which to build and grow. The important thing is to be able to filter the information. Who has said it? Do they have an informed or uninformed opinion? Are they telling you this to break you down or to inform you of alternative perspectives? The reason it is imperative to listen with an open heart and mind is due to our blinkered, attached and objective approach to our personal work, fresh eyes are an invaluable asset.

 

It can be hard to not be affected by others comments on work that represents a part of us. Additionally, as a photographer, you have gone through a process in order to achieve the end result. The person viewing the finished work can’t comprehend all the time, effort and thought put into the piece. Unfortunately, despite your effort, intention and vision, sometimes the end result just does not work photographically. Despite everything put into a piece, if it does not work, then it does not work.

 

So what does work? Much has been said about what makes for a good photograph, and the more you read, learn and research the better equipped you “toolbox” becomes. By way of an example, there are many guidelines concerning composition which represent the generally accepted and agreed upon aesthetic framework within which one should work. This serves as a recipe and when it is followed success is reasonably assured. But, what about when you try work outside this framework? If you fully understand the principles then working beyond them is possible but success becomes less assured.

 

When a viewer of an image comments to the photographer, “this image is not sharp”, the photographer inevitably replies, “it’s not meant to be I wanted a soft dreamy look”. The photographer leaves the exchange thinking the comment was ignorant and the viewer “just didn’t get it”. A “dreamy” look is usually soft but it has to be just the right amount of soft.  If everyone who views your image feels it is out of focus instead of soft, then it has failed, no matter what your intention was. The point is this, the line can become a very fine one when dealing with certain photographic aspects. If you are the only person who “gets it” you have failed to successfully communicate your intention.

 

Over time, our eyes and taste evolve and mature. The more we are exposed to, and the more we gain experience the more refined our taste becomes. For this reason, work we once loved is something six months later we try to hide. Time changes our outlook and increases our objectivity and some of the comments you were given, which at the time hurt, or seemed ignorant, become glaringly obvious to you. You do not need to act on every bit of advice you get, but more importantly do not ignore it out of hand, as it may prove more true or accurate than you are willing to admit to yourself at this time.

 


Did this article contribute to your belief around accepting criticism in your photography?  Be sure to subscribe to our articles and continue to broaden your knowledge and understanding about photography and photography as a business…

About the Author:

John Fox
I enjoy doing detailed work as it requires concentration and silences the world around me. This drew me to the technical challenges of macro photography where I can happily lose hours while tinkering. The quest to shoot natural objects with a patience and dedication to honour their inherent beauty has also led me to explore fine art photography.

4 Comments

  1. Esmeralda 2013/09/26 at 00:42

    Very good article! We are linking to this particularly great article on our
    site. Keep up the good writing.

  2. How to Critique a Photo 2013/08/21 at 11:04

    […] commenting on each other’s photographs.  It goes hand in hand with another article he wrote, “Accepting Criticism of your Photos”.  Here’s the article, and remember that your comment at the bottom of the post is always […]

  3. Salomie Klingbiel 2013/01/09 at 09:42

    Thanks for this article. This is really true!

  4. Michael Feistel 2012/12/26 at 21:06

    Hello,

    This article is so true and I really can associate with it.
    A inspiring good read-up.

    I’m in the photography field for app. 30years now as an hobbyist. I found your link on FaceBook.

    regards, Michael

Leave A Comment

Subscribe to Our News, Articles and Competitions