Photography, much like other art forms is completely subjective in nature. As artists, we tend to view the world solely through our own eyes and rarely have the opportunity to have outsiders view our work other than family and friends. Since these viewers are familiar and aren’t usually versed in photography, they tend to just say positive things and that they like our images. It always feels great to receive praise though- who doesn’t love that feeling? You were working on an image for hours and when you finally show your spouse, they exclaim ‘How beautiful! We should frame this!’ Praise is important but all the compliments in the world won’t make you a better photographer. After a while, it’s helpful to hear the other side like what could be better and what you need to work on. Showing your work to photographers or other people who understand photography can be daunting- what if they don’t like your image? Even worse, what if they actually tell you they don’t like it? Being afraid to show your work is something that every photographer goes through at some point but getting over this is important to the development of your work. Part of getting over this fear is understanding how a typical image critique session is structured.
The Critique Session
In a usual critique session or image review, a group of photographers will display their work, either digitally or with printed images and take turns presenting what their ideas or thoughts were behind the photo they produced. Next, the instructor will try to elicit respectful and thoughtful comments from the group about the images- what works for them, what doesn’t and what can be improved. A good instructor will offer constructive criticism in a positive manner and will state why certain changes should be made. The WHY is important! By dissecting an image, you will begin to learn not only more about the technical and creative side of photography, but you will also begin to look at your own work differently. It’s important to understand that the prompted comments during a critique aren’t meant to be negative. When someone suggests you change the way you expose or compose to get better results, they are doing it because they want you to get better. When hearing comments, try to be open-minded and remember that your secret weapon is the word- ‘yes’. - "Yes, I could have composed that better - what could I have done differently?" - "Yes, those shadows are a little dark. How would I go about fixing that in Lightroom?" - Yes, that photo is a little blue looking. Color correction isn’t really my strong suit, how can I learn more about this topic?" Agreeing with comments and not getting defensive is crucial - be open to learning and admitting weaknesses. Nobody is perfect and every other image in that room will have flaws too. Try to remember that everyone there wants you to improve!
Benefits of Visual Literacy
Receiving advice and guidance for your images during a critique is invaluable but being able to talk about photos and having a visual literacy can benefit you as well. So if you are participating in a critique, it’s important not only to listen but also to speak up and voice your opinions. Cultivating a photographic language and understanding the best words and terms to describe an image will also help you become a better shooter. The more photos we critique, the more we become aware of what works well in photos and what doesn’t. That knowledge will automatically apply in your work, whether you realize it or not, as our brains become wired to notice all those little details we noticed in other people’s photos. The next time you are taking a landscape photo, you’ll unconsciously remember how John’s landscape image was better when that one tree was cropped out and you’ll instinctively pay more attention to your frame and composition. Opening up yourself to a critique or image review allows yourself to open up to ideas that you might not of considered on your own. Whether that has to do with your exposure, composition, the stylizing of your image or all of the above. The critique allows you to take suggestions that hopefully get you thinking outside of your comfort zone and ignite a creative side you never knew you had!