Are You Ready for Critique?
There comes a time when it is time to seek critique on your photos. Let me tell you who is not going to do that for you. Your friends and your family will not tread into that minefield, even if they are competent at critique, which is highly unlikely.
When I made the decision several years ago that my growth as a photographer depended on getting outside opinion on my photographs, I found the perfect forum at lightstalking.com. It is called the Sharktank. It is free and its purpose is to provide constructive criticism of photographs that are posted to the Forum. I followed the recommended procedure to post on Sharktank. I started by introducing myself in the General Photo Chit Chat Forum. I then spent a few days reading the posts on Sharktank and finally posted my first constructive criticism. I quickly learned to be one of the first to critique a new photo. That way I got to comment on “the low hanging fruit” which are the really obvious short comings to a photo. I did not have many tricks in my critique bag, so to speak, so this was a necessary strategy. After about a week, I put my first photo up for critique. My advice at this stage is to choose rather carefully what you post the first time. If you post your most favorite photo, you are taking a real chance. Members of the Forum are quite committed to giving at least some constructive criticism and that criticism of your favorite photo might prove to be a particular sting. I think a better strategy, and one that I used, is to choose a photo that is not perfect but has potential. I do not remember what I posted, but I do remember thinking, “Well, at least I am competent in choosing the best crop.” Famous last words. I posted for a long time in that Forum and got better and better at offering meaningful critique to others. In fact, that was where the real learning occurred. As I thought through what I liked and did not like in other people’s photos, it was easier to set goals for myself in my own photography. I left the Sharktank to spend time on Instagram because it was time to put my creative effort out into the world. I also was a new street photographer and needed time to develop skills without criticism, constructive or not. I am now back on the Sharktank Forum. I had posted the image on the left in a couple of places. No one was drawn to it but me. I put it up on Sharktank for critique. After a lot of conversation I ended up with the image on the right, which I republished and got a good enough response to add it to last week’s blog about rain.
Time went by and I decided I needed to try photography contests. I chose the Lensculture Street Photography contest, which I have entered two years in a row. The first entry to the annual contest is free. Additional entries are $10 per photo. If you enter five, you get a complimentary portfolio review. In general, I think the reviewer works to give a largely positive review. Thank heavens. I found their suggestions helpful. I think I was a better entrant the second year than the first and I know I will be a better entrant in the Lensculture B&W contest. If $50 is in your budget, you will likely get a helpful critique on the photos that you enter.
My last source of critique is the new website developed by well-known street photographer, Eric Kim. It is arsbeta.com and the price of admission is participation. It started out as an up or down vote to keep or discard a posted photo. Talk about a tough crowd. I had a hard time getting any picture over a 50% keep. It is certainly something to think about. Now you can write a short anonymous critique with your vote. I like that a lot better. I will say that the first critique I got was scalding. The person who gave the critique said, “Ditch this picture, it is a banal, naive shot.” The picture is still over a 50% keep and I have gotten two positive comments on it. That is the world of critique.
The critique, however, did not go unnoticed by me. In reviewing my images at home, I have retrospectively come to believe this is a much superior image. The criticism was harsh, but it had more than a ring of truth to it.
Start doing mini-critiques of your own photos and photos taken by others. Find one positive thing and one negative thing about each picture. I do not recommend that you share unsolicited negative critique. And, of course, critique as you wish to be critiqued. I encourage you to critique one of my pictures on Instagram or Facebook. Please post to #dbwstreet. You can also critique one of my pictures in the Blog or one of the Galleries with a comment to the Blog. I am always open to constructive criticism.