~ Article by John Fox
With today’s article, “How to Critique a Photo” I would like to expand on the importance of giving people good, useful and most importantly honest feedback. As beginner photographers embark on their journey they amass a huge number of images. Generally they produce prolific quantities of work, which inevitably ends up on social network pages. When you upload to a site such as Facebook and tag friends and family members the comments start rolling in. These comments offer great self-esteem boosts causing us to add more images to get our fix of ego stroking.
Don’t get me wrong I have no problem with this process, except as a tool for personal growth and development for an artist; it offers little in the way of the progress towards improvement of your work. The comments on social sites are almost always positive and yet vague. Anyone who believes a picture could be greatly improved or is just plain crap is not going to comment, particularly if the comment follows ten gushing glowing reviews. So if there are ten good comments why would yours be so contradictory to the rest? Well there are a variety of factors, but in general, your mommy loves everything you do, and friends and family often comment based on the memory of the event you captured or the feeling evoked from the shots, and not the artistic or technical merits of your images.
So my concern is this, when someone comments “nice” or “cool” how do you use that opinion in a useful or meaningful way? You can’t use that information in a significant way to grow or improve your work to get foreseeable progress. Here are a couple of my steps to adding value in the feedback when commenting on another photographers work.
Firstly, every statement made or opinion expressed must be elaborated on or justified. This is crucial to effective interpretation by the recipient. I will give you an example:
Wrong: I like it…
Right: I like it, because I love the yellow colour!
The first comment is simply praise and yet adds no value. The alternate version which also contains a level of clarification adds far more scope for interpretation, even though it’s fairly nondescript and overly subjective. That the viewer likes yellow allows you to conclude several assumptions. Other people who like yellow may enjoy this image. If this person were to be targeted as a client then yellow would be a good starting point for meeting their aesthetic tastes. That the image potentially is interpreted by viewers as containing a dominant yellow aspect which is a warm colour and not necessarily the mood you wish to convey. This is a rather simplistic example and yet you can see the trail of analysis opened up by expanding on the initial comment.
The same is true, and perhaps even more so, of negative comments. If they are in isolation they may be disregarded as being spiteful or uninformed. If the negative comment is expanded upon you may gain insights of great value, even if you disagree with the opinion expressed. If you want to comment on an image in a meaningful way, my suggestion is to expand the comment to include your reasoning for it. This is by far the best way you can help a fellow photographer to better themselves. The opinions of friends and family have their place but you as a practicing photographer may be able to add far more worth than the other 99% of viewers.
Here are my suggestions on topics that are worth commenting on as they are common areas with scope for improvement, particularly where beginner photographers are concerned. Composition, lighting, cropping, subject matter, execution and appropriate choice of settings. Address some of these topics in the following format; a “what” followed by a “why”. An example of this would be “your image is not sharp; your shutter speed should have been higher to any freeze movement”. While I have not put any effort into dressing up or softening my statement in the example, the inclusion of a solution may go a long way to helping someone correct their mistakes in upcoming work. Which is certainly far better than having simply stated what could be an obvious issue which the photographer was potentially already aware of.
My next piece of advice is to always be honest and consistent. If you are always honest you will be consistent. This is here because the common response is “what if they get offended”. If you give your honest opinion and justify it with your rational you will be beyond reproach. The statements can’t be held against you as jealousy, spite or any other negative intention if it is expressed as an opinion which you qualify with a follow up rational of your assessment. A consideration to be factored in is… do they want to hear any potentially hard truths? The good news is that answer is a resounding “yes” if they are posting on the Photo Critic platform.
Photo Critiques holds massive value in advancement of your personal development as an aspiring photographer. It is a place where one comment from a fellow photographer can outweigh the value of twenty Facebook comments. Next time you on Photo Critic and you add “nice photo” to someone’s work, bear in mind how much you have benefited from comments of substance on your own work and be part of uplifting photography within our community.
This article is a short extract from our Advanced Photography Course and was posted on our Photo Critic Network in order to help members when commenting on other’s photographs. It goes hand in hand with another article John wrote, “Accepting Criticism of your Photos”