Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The Importance of Critiquing the Work of Others

I'm pretty sure all of us are interested in improving our skills, whether they are photography skills or modeling skills. That's one reason why you come here, to the PGS blog: You're hoping I might accidentally write something that will help you improve. (You might also come for the pretty girl pics. Either way, it's all good.) And it's also why we visit photo forums, read other blogs, participate in workshops, read books and magazines that are on-topic to these interests, whatever.

Many of us who post images on forums, or show others our work, do so because we want feedback. Some of us share our work cuz we want pats on the back. Thoughtful feedback can be a valuable learning tool. Pats on the back feel good, but don't do much in terms of helping us grow our skills.

A lof of folks appreciate the constructive criticism their work receives. But what about giving critiques and feedback?

It's easy to give a pat on the back. It's easy to not bother commenting. What's a little more difficult is giving constructive feedback, whether you love the image or not. In other words, taking the time to detail, at least briefly, what you like or don't like about an image.

Let's get back to developing your skills. One of the skills you probably want to hone is your eye. You know, your critical eye, your eye for detail, your creative eye, all those eyes. Why? Because it's your eye, actually all those eyes I just mentioned, that will not only help you snap better pics but also help you edit your photos so that you choose the images that best reflect your work.

How do you develop your critical, detail-oriented, and creative eye? There's many ways. One of them, one big one, is by looking at the work of others and understanding what works and what doesn't work in those images. Yep, you guessed it, when you critique the work of others you're not only helping them, but you're actually helping yourself become a better shooter and editor. While critiquing the work of others helps them, more importantly, it helps you... maybe more than anything else in terms of developing your eye!

So next time you're gonna give an "attaboy" or an "attagirl" on some photo forum, take the time to say something that says WHY you like the image, not simply that you like it. When you do so, you're helping yourself become a better photographer or model while making someone else feel good and helping reinforce in them what works.

And when you're criticisms aren't so positive? Well, the same results occur when you provide constructive criticism: You develop and hone your own eye while helping others do the same.

Okay. That's it. I almost said, "Namaste" at the end of this but that would be so gay for me to do.

The pretty girl at the top is Katarina, flexing her stuff, from a few years ago.


Ron Davis said...

Good points Jimmy. I use this basic outline when giving others feedback.

Tell them something good about the image.

Give them the negatives.

Give the rest of the good.

I think it leaves people feeling they did stuff right, but there are a few things to fix. It's important not to just blast people.

I know one art teacher that says you should just tell specific things they do right and give no negatives. That people will do more of the good.

I doubt that would work ultimately, but it is important to say what works as well as what doesn't.

Javier G said...

I stopped doing critiquing since most people are only looking for a pat in the back. The minute you critique them its the minute they draw out their sword and either attack you, ignore you and comment, or simply delete your comment.

So now I only look at photos "laugh inside" and move on.

I do appreciate however when someone critiques me negatively, not only did they take the time to write something that bothers them but you learn in the process.

Positive comments and pats in the back come in loads, in the end they don't help you other than making your ego feel better.

Lee said...

Excellent advice. I always feel guilty about critiquing peoples photos if they didn't ask for critique, so most of the time I just don't bother. Some people get really moody and defensive, sometimes even angry, if you say anything other than "GREAT PHOTO! AWESOME!". But how does that benefit them other than boosting their ego?

Similarly, it really annoys me when someone leaves a comment saying one of my photos is good, but offers no criticism. I didn't take the photo so people would kiss my arse and tell me how good I am (I'm not).

I have become really particular and much more attentive to detail since I started critiquing other people's photos (either mentally or in actual writing)... It's helped me to think more critically about my own photos (and only recently I've started thinking that way BEFORE pressing the shutter button...)

Charles Wilson said...

Good article, however I would never have seen it if it wasn't recommended on flikr since I'm an amateur with no interest in glamour photography. Thanks for posting this but maybe you could think of putting this and similar items onto a more general interest site. It's extremely helpful as I always try to comment work posted online but usually just say "Well done, thanks for posting this."

Anonymous said...

Spot on in one of the biggest problems in forums and photo sharing sites and the "groups" inside them, they dedicate themselves to give and receive pats in the back and they get hell bent if someone dares to say something is wrong in their photos.

Of course one has to be polite enough to not fall in the unsolicited critique realm but if you were asked to give a critique give a good one: pointing what´s good and what´s not good in a photo and the same for receiving critique: encouraging people to tell us what´s good and what´s not good.

But you have to scrutinize the nature of the group, forum or site you are because the problem is most of those are created so they can receive pats on the back rather than getting some good ol´ fashioned critique and feedback and this is the first obstacle many have to sort out, finding a place of honest people, where jealousy isn´t to be found or they give you a harsh critique on revenge of you doing a commentary on their work.

Does such a place exists? well I would be glad to find it :P....

My best wishes Jimmy!


Damien said...

Sometimes it's hard to critique an image in a genre like yours (I wish I could call it my genre, too. Someday...until then, I'ma just be a pretty girlfriend shooter) because I've noticed some of the BEST photographers who shoot pretty girls have a very documentary type approach to their photography. I.E. While they do heighten and mold their images to be more pleasing to the eye, the best skill they have is that when you look at their pictures, unless you're looking for the cues you often don't even realize there was a photographer or lighting involved. It looks like a model just decided to prance around, and God recorded the image for posterity.

I never know what to say in those instances because both "That model has great boobs" and "Good job capturing how great those boobs are" seem silly. It's a paradox, when done well, the model looks great and the photographer is invisible!

Disclaimer: Just my opinion, sorry if it offends anyone, and there definitely are genres of photography that are more centered on the photographer's skill than portraying the model.