One of the best ways to develop your photography skills and train your eye is to ask for feedback on your work. Constructive criticism gets us thinking about our images and how we are capturing our subjects, as well as highlighting things that we can improve on. Photography is a very subjective medium, and open to interpretation, so not everyone will have the same opinion about an image. However, learning to listen to and accept critique is one of the best ways to rapidly improve your work.
When to ask for critiques
Many newbie photographers are shy when it comes to showing their work. Some students refuse to show their work, let alone receive feedback, until they decide that they have taken an image that is “good enough” to be shown. Whilst this may seem safe and comfortable, it is definitely not the best way to improve and grow as a photographer. Asking for feedback, right from the start, is the fastest way to learn. Don’t wait until you think you are ready. Your first image is not going to be perfect and that’s okay! Learning how you could have taken it better, or what to look out for next time is going to help you progress faster.
Think of critiques as secret answers, specifically tailored to your work. Someone is shining a flashlight for you, pointing out what you’re doing right, what you’re doing wrong, and how you can fix it. So don’t be shy to start asking for advice straight away. You can start by participating in Photoh’s weekly Critique Me Tuesday discussions in our Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Adelaide and Perth Facebook groups.
Listen to critiques openly
When receiving feedback, it’s important to accept it with an open mind and a level head. As photographers, we become very attached to our images, especially if we have worked hard to come to a visual resolution, or if the images were taken at a significant time or place. For this reason, it can sometimes be hard to hear criticism, even if it is constructive.
When someone critiques your work, try to remember that they are simply offering their point of view, and are probably not attacking you as a photographer or to hurt your feelings, so try not to take it personally. Accepting criticism gracefully is a great skill to possess, and there is no need to get defensive or aggressive. Remember that the person giving you feedback has taken the time out of their day to sit down and review your work, and in most cases they will genuinely be doing so to help you improve. Even if you don’t agree with the critique, listen to it openly and try to see where the other person is coming from. Being able to receive criticism with an open mind will allow you to grow as a photographer much more quickly.
Take all feedback with a grain of salt
Be sure to ask a variety of people for feedback, including family, friends, mentor/teachers and fellow students. Other photographers will obviously notice more flaws and technical issues compared to people with not much photography knowledge, but criticism from people both inside and outside the industry can be valuable. Pay attention to the things people say consistently that they like or dislike as an indication of what you are doing well and what you need to work on.
If you plan to eventually have a photography business, you’ll find criticism (both constructive and negative) from clients comes with the territory. Even if you think (or know) you have submitted very good images for them to see, you need to take their criticism on board and try and make changes so that they can use the images for the reason they originally hired you to take them. The more you have sought out critiques on your photographs before you go into business, the better prepared you will be to receive feedback from future clients. It’s important not to over-analyse criticism to the point where it makes you doubt your own style, though. If you generally receive good feedback from most people and only get the occasional unhappy customer, that’s a good sign.
How to give great feedback
Receiving constructive criticism is a great way to grow as a photographer, but critiquing the work of other photographers is also a brilliant way to learn. If you’re able to identify the strengths and weaknesses in other people’s images, you’ll sooner be able to detect them in your own.
Make sure that you offer feedback that is valuable. Simply stating that “your photo is really good” or “nice composition,” isn’t enough.Tell the person why you like their image, or what it is exactly about the composition that works well. If you are pointing out some aspects that didn’t work so well, offer a reason as to why you don’t think it was successful. Being able to justify your opinions makes it easier for the receiver to figure out how to improve.
Don’t say : “I like your composition.”
Try instead : “Your composition is strong. The way that you have used the road to act as a leading line towards your subject really draws the eye into the image.”
Don’t say : “Your portrait shot is blown out.”
Try instead : “The expression on your subject’s face is great, but her skin looks a bit overexposed, which means some detail has been lost.”
It’s always nice to try and balance your feedback to include both positive and negative comments. Remember, constructive criticism isn’t about bombarding someone with as many negative points as possible. Try to offer a solution or an alternative for any areas that need improvement, but then balance out your feedback with some observations on what they did right, or what worked well. A little bit of encouragement is always well received.