For photographers, the journey of learning and growth is an ongoing process. For new photographers of all ages, navigating the vast seas of technique, style, and expression can be daunting.
The traditional way to gauge progress is through seeking critiques or feedback on one’s work. While such evaluations can sometimes provide a few nuggets of useful information, there is something even more valuable to a photographer’s development: the act of seeking advice.
Photography critiques, by their very nature, are backward-looking – they lead people to criticize your work or simply be nice to you. They focus on what has been done – the shot already taken, the moment already captured. Feedback often dissects a photograph to discuss what works and what doesn’t, based on the critic’s personal biases and experiences.
However, for a photographer seeking to grow, this retrospective view can often be detrimental because it almost always comes without context and understanding of the choices made and the obstacles faced, and it rarely considers the photographer’s level of experience.
On the other hand, advice is forward-looking – it leads people to apply their experience to help solve your problems.
That statement isn’t just my opinion; it is a research-backed approach being embraced by successful business people and creatives worldwide.
To summarize, the Harvard research found that feedback often has no positive impact on our performance and can often have a negative impact. Conversely, asking for advice generated 34% more areas of improvement and 56 percent more ways to improve compared to those who were asked for feedback. In other words, asking for advice is much more likely to garner input, tips, and guidance that you can actually put to use.
What we also know about Photography Critiques
- Subjectivity and Bias: Critiques are inherently subjective. Two different reviewers are likely to offer conflicting views on the same image. This can lead to confusion and undermine the photographer’s confidence, especially if they are new to the craft and still shaping their personal vision.
- Discouragement: Negative criticism, however constructive, can be disheartening. It can lead to self-doubt and discourage a photographer from taking experimental shots that could otherwise lead to a breakthrough in their art.
- Stifling Creativity: Critiques often involve adhering to established norms and rules of photography. While technical proficiency is essential, following the rulebook will suppress a photographer’s creative instincts.
- Comparative Nature: Feedback sessions often compare one’s work to that of others or to an established standard. This comparison can overshadow one’s unique perspective, pushing photographers towards conformity rather than individuality.
- Ego Involvement: Critiques can become a field where egos clash. A photographer may become defensive about their work, while a critic may assert their opinions too strongly. This dynamic can transform what should be a learning experience into a battleground.
The Value of Seeking Advice
As previously mentioned, advice is inherently forward-looking and action-oriented. It implies a collaborative journey towards improvement and focuses on the future rather than the past.
Advice as a Catalyst for Growth
For new photographers, advice can act as a catalyst, sparking the imagination and leading to experimentation. It can help them refine their vision and technical skills in a way that critique often does not. With advice, the emphasis is on the journey rather than the destination – on learning and exploring rather than merely assessing.
When you ask for advice, you are seeking solutions to specific challenges. This moves the conversation beyond what’s ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ with a past image to what can be done to enhance future images.
Asking for advice often involves posing questions about techniques, perspectives, and methods. This inquiry process promotes active learning and problem-solving skills, which are critical in photography.
The Constructive Nature of Advice
Advice is more often tailored to the individual’s needs, taking into account their level of experience, personal style, and artistic goals.
Good advice is typically offered in a supportive tone, which can be motivating. It builds confidence and encourages photographers to push their boundaries and explore new territories.
The constructive nature of advice also teaches new photographers to approach problems with a proactive mindset. Instead of feeling disheartened by a list of perceived ‘flaws’ in their work, they are armed with practical tips and tricks to overcome obstacles and enhance their craft. In other words, they gain a better understanding of the HOWS and WHYS behind making great images. Gosh, that sounds familiar.
Advisory Over Analytical
While an analytical approach can explain why an image fails to resonate, an advisory approach can guide a photographer on how to connect more deeply with their audience. This distinction is critical for those who are still finding their voice and style as a photographer.
Tailoring Advice to the Photographer’s Journey
Every photographer’s journey is unique, and advice can be tailored to fit where they are on their path. For example, a beginner might benefit from advice on mastering the basics, while a more seasoned photographer might seek advice on conceptual development or storytelling.
The Role of Community in Providing Advice
When you seek advice, you open the door to ongoing mentorship. This relationship can be incredibly valuable, providing a steady source of support, inspiration, and knowledge.
For photographers of all skill levels, community is invaluable. In a supportive community, advice flows freely, and wisdom is shared without the competitive edge often accompanying critiques.
With platforms like my TOGKnowledge Community, Flickr, and even Facebook, photographers have unprecedented access to communities where they can seek advice. This connectivity has changed the learning landscape, allowing for real-time guidance and support that is not confined to traditional critique spaces.
Effort Is Required on Both Sides of the Advice
The key to my message and the research from Harvard is context. Advice tends to elicit more context.
With that in mind, if you are the photographer seeking advice, understand that the more context you provide in your questions, the better and more thought out the advice will likely be.
Lazy questions encourage short, lazy answers. Your task is to ask questions that turn the recipient into a coach.
Ex: Instead of “Is this good?” or “What do you think of this?” a more thoughtful question like “What is the one thing I can do better next time?” is a question that is likely to receive a more intelligent and information-filled response.
If you are the photographer providing advice, understand that the person asking doesn’t really want your opinion – they want your help. If you agree to respond, put in the effort and ask good questions that will inform you so that you can provide a beneficial answer – not just your opinion.
Remember: “Photography is not a competition – it is a passion to be shared.” Helping another photographer helps you and helps the industry to be better. But it requires effort.
The Final Frame
To the new and young photographers out there, I urge you to seek advice, not critiques.
Let your learning be shaped by positive guidance, your creativity be fueled by constructive suggestions, and your photographic journey be enriched by the wisdom of those who walk with you toward a future where every snapshot you take is a step toward mastering the art of photography.
I hope you found this information useful. Now go pick up that camera and shoot something! Because – “Your BEST shot is your NEXT shot!” — Joe Edelman