Photo Critique – STOP asking for Constructive Criticism and STOP being so quick to give bad feedback

Stop it, stop it, stop it! Posting your pictures on Facebook, Flickr, 500px or ANY website with those two horrible words – CC Welcome – is NOT helping your photography.

For years, I have watched photographers posting their works online with the caption “CC Welcome.” For those of you that may have missed it, CC stands for Constructive Criticism. Of course the irony is that when the criticism is posted one of two things happens: either the photographer strikes back and defends his or her choices or the comments mandatorily state that such and such is wrong and should be changed – because it’s a rule.

 
This makes it impossible to gather good information that will help you improve your photography. The fact of the matter is MOST people don’t know how to give good constructive criticism.  Full disclosure – I read an article this week on F-Stoppers.com about this very subject. Now I want to be clear, I am a big fan of F-Stoppers and the author of the article. I think that it is well written and makes some excellent suggestions – BUT, and by the author’s own admission – it is written from the perspective of how to give constructive criticism, not how to ask for it.

Many of you know that I started a Facebook group for photographers several months ago. When I launched the group, I made a commitment that it would be different, in fact so different that I actually expected it to fail because I didn’t think people would put in the effort. To my surprise, the group is flourishing and growing at a very rapid rate with members from all over the world.

So of course you are now asking; what makes it different?  The answer is: how we ask for and deliver constructive criticism.

Photographers are not allowed to just post a picture and say CC Welcome. Each post must contain details. Yes — the basic shutter speed, aperture, lens, ISO stuff. Also lighting, types of gear, modifiers, and placements. But that’s not the important stuff – all that technical crap is just reference data. The important part of the post is where the photographer explains WHY they took the picture. What was the intended purpose of the shot? Is the photographer happy with the shot? How about the subject – were they happy? If it were possible to revisit the scenario, what would the photographer do differently to improve the photo? And lastly, photographers are encouraged to ask a specific question about their own photograph so that those viewing it have a sense of how they can best help.

The point is that if you just slap a photo on a wall, you are asking a person to make a snap judgement based simply on its esthetic. The science of cognitive psychology teaches us the human brain is incapable of providing an unbiased opinion that has nothing to do with what legitimately makes a photograph good or bad.

By providing ALL of this information and then asking for review, you are framing the discussion around your experience, or novicehood, and giving the reviewer enough information to be able to actually help you based on their experience and knowledge.

Back to the Facebook group: when people comment on photographs, they are encouraged to NOT comment first but to ask questions first. Questions that will help them achieve a better understanding of what the photographer was trying to achieve and also what the skill level is of that photographer.

I have found that, more often than not, a photographer will wind up solving their own problem as they answer the questions that are asked of them.

So here are my 6 tips for making sure that you receive usable and well informed feedback on your photography:

  1.  When you post an image looking for constructive criticism, constructive feedback or critique start with a brief mention of your experience level. Don’t be self-deprecating, but do be honest if this was the first time you used off camera flash or you have only worked with a few models, etc.
  2. Provide all the tech details: shutter speed, aperture, camera lens, ISO, and lighting details like types of flashes, placement, power settings, modifiers, etc. The more detail the better.
  3. Explain why you took the shot. Was it practice? Was it for a client? Were you trying a new technique? But don’t be that person that posts a photo looking for feedback and starts the post by saying “I was just messing around….”  Why would you want feedback on something that you were messing around with?
  4. Are you happy with how it turned out?  How about the subject – did they like it?
  5. What would you do differently if you could do it over again?
  6. What are you hoping to learn by posting the photo and asking for feedback? Be specific! Saying that you are hoping to learn how to improve the photo is only going to invite those biased opinions.

I know – this seems like a lot of effort to put in to getting feedback. But if you are serious about improving your work, don’t you feel it’s worth the effort? Or are you just too lazy?

And that brings me to another point: STOP asking for confirmation that your work is good. Look at it yourself. Be honest with yourself, because half of those people pressing like or commenting online are not being honest – they are being polite, and the other half know as much or less than you do about photography. So how is that helping you?

If you are a photographer who is willing to share your knowledge and experience-BRAVO!  Here are my tips for you to be sure that your feedback that will resonate, educate, and inspire:

  1.  Ask before you speak! Understanding will always lead to better feedback. Even though I have outlined a better way to ask for feedback, many people will still post photos without providing background information. If you just offer an opinion with little to no understanding of the situation, you are most likely just adding to the problem.
  2. Be flexible. Remember that just because you like something doesn’t mean that another person has to. So when making comments it is important to remember that the only right or wrongs apply to physics; everything else is an opinion and you should phrase your remarks accordingly.
  3.  If you don’t have actual experience relating to the photograph you are commenting on, don’t spout off something you read in a book or saw in a video. By all means mention that you have seen articles or videos talking about the topic and suggest that the photographer check them out, but don’t pass off the information like it’s a rule because you read it somewhere.
  4.  Be detailed! YES – giving constructive feedback is actually a lot of work. So if you’re too lazy to do the work properly, don’t do it at all.
  5.  Webster’s Dictionary gives the example of constructive criticism in their definition of the word constructive. They explain: constructive: promoting improvement or development, constructive criticism. If you are going to give constructive feedback, understand that sometimes that means you are going to have to tell someone that their photograph sucks. But you can’t say it sucks. You need to be polite, yet honest. You need to give plenty of reasons and details as to why and, more importantly, offer helpful suggestions and guidelines as a way for them to improve.

Most importantly, you must provide encouragement. Without the encouragement, constructive criticism is just criticism. I’m a firm believer that helping others in their pursuit of becoming better photographers is a way of promoting the greater good, and that helps us all become better.

So until next time gang, remember that your best shot is your next shot, and in the meantime, keep learning, keep thinking, and keep shooting. Adios!