Saturday, May 14, 2011

Your Photograph Sucks

When I was a much younger Dad, I recall being a bit (cynically) amused with other parents who thought (and loudly voiced) that everything their kids did was absolutely, incredibly, undeniably fantastic: gold medal worthy accomplishments! In my opinion, those parents weren't helping their children learn the difference between what is a truly terrific accomplishment and what is something less than that.

I understood then, and still do, the need to build confidence and self-esteem in children. Doing so is especially true for parents. Kids constantly need approval, especially from Mom and Dad. As parents, we should often and pro-actively look for opportunities to offer approval as well as praise.

But let's face it, everything our kids accomplish isn't award-winning, fantastic, or exceptionally terrific. It might often seem so to us, they're our kids after all, but it's not. Trust me. It's not. The same goes for photographers. Every picture a photographer proudly showcases in which he or she thinks kicks some serious photographic ass doesn't. (Come close to measuring up to photography's butt-kicking status, that is.)

And yet, if you spend significant time on photography forums or social media sites and look at a lot of photos many photographers showcase, and then read the comments by friends and others, you'd think the majority of these pics are nearly of Pulitzer prize winning caliber.

They're not. Again, trust me, they're not. Yours aren't and neither are mine. They might be good, they might just be okay, they might be better than average but they're not all exceptional. BTW, the word, "exceptional," in this context, means unusually good; outstanding. I only mention this because I've seen enough photos that are exceptional in other ways, like exceptionally bad.

Obviously, no one wants to hear or read their photos suck. I know I don't. But then, I don't really want to hear that some photo I'm putting out there, one I think is just okay, is anything more than what it is-- good or competent or whatever other words indicate it's a decent enough image.

I've worked pretty hard at trying to develop a good sense of aesthetics; a good "editing eye" if you will. I think I have fairly good skills in recognizing the difference between a photo that sucks, a photo that's just okay, one that is good, and a photo that is better than okay or good, possibly exceptional. Unwarranted praise, as ego-building as it might be (not that photographers who need help in the ego department are a rare commodity) works against a photographer's ability to discriminate between work that sucks, work that is okay or good, or work that is exceptional. The ability to discriminate in those ways are important skills for any photographer to develop, very important skills! And they are learn-able skills rather than abilities you need to be gifted with.

BTW, if someone tells you your photograph sucks, you have three choices: you can either accept it, get over it, or deal with it. Or, you can do all three plus another thing: you can choose to accept it, deal with, get over it... and move on. (Hopefully, moving on in a direction that helps you learn to make photos that don't suck or, at the very least, to learn the difference between photos that suck and those that don't.)

The gratuitous eye-candy at the top is Allie. I don't think it's an exceptional photo but it works. It's okay. More importantly, my client thought it and others I snapped of Allie were okay, were good in fact, and that's what matters most to me... and that the check clears.


MarcWPhoto said...

Probably the best and at the same time the worst criticism I ever got was when I was at a photo workshop and over dinner the instructor offered to look at our books.

He had mentioned on the signup board that he might do this. I had spent hours agonizing over my book and had like 15-20 of my best shots to date in there.

He picked it up and started flicking through it. "Not very strong." "Not bad." "Needs cropping." "I wouldn't keep this one." "This one's okay."

I think the best a shot got was, "Not bad at all, nice composition" or something like that, and he liked maybe three of them.. Well, I didn't think I was the next Bruno Bernard, but I thought those were good pics and I was feeling a little shot down.

Then the next fellow brings out his book, which is a binder with probably fifty or more shots in it.

First picture: "That sucks. Get rid of it."

Second picture: "That sucks. Get rid of it."

This went on for the first several pages of the binder. At the end I think he didn't say that about maybe two pictures, and he stopped partway through and said, "There might be some better ones in here, but this is five times as thick as it should be. Edit it down and we'll try again some other time."

After that I didn't feel so bad with my "Not bad."

Bill Giles said...

I haven't entered any photos in competition for some time, but what I remember about some that I did enter was that the ones that were judged higher were not the ones that I thought were best.

Richard W. said...

I once presented an image of a young woman of particular build in a topless pose. I was very proud of it but got the comment of "She's well exposed". This garnered snickers from the audience. Man I felt a lot humbler and put off by the childish behavior of those in the back, in the dark. But that didn't stop me from presenting nude images then afterwards. I figured that if they could show crappy pictures of kittens and such I could show my own interest...beautiful women in states of undress.

If someone says, "This sucks"...well screw them. But if they say "This doesn't quite work" or "Next time try this..." then listen and learn. Assholes who think they are God's Gift to Photography forget that even they have had images that, in their words, "Suck".