Nice shot.. great capture.. voted.. what does that all really mean? To me it really means nothing. Are these critiques of my work that I can learn from and make myself better? No.. just as much as someone commenting and saying "That sux" would help me get better.
Our digital photo world is full of meaningless comments and critiques of our work. It is all over Flickr, 500px, Instagram and just about anywhere people post a photo looking for some wisdom. When I first started with Flickr I loved seeing comments on my photos.. any comment. It meant people were seeing my work. And that is exciting for a newbie with his first digital camera. But being told "Nice capture!" "Good work" "Cool" "Great" by everyone who left a comment just made my head swell and did not actually provide me anything I could use to improve my photography and grow.
I recently deleted my 500px account for several reasons. A big one was that the only comments I ever seemed to receive were "Great work! Now please check out my photos and fave and vote!" I was not getting the feedback that I think I need. And that is constructive feedback.
How do we constructively critique another's work without seeming like we are tearing apart their vision? It is tough. Photography is such a subjective art. There are rules but when you know them you can break them... Beauty is in the eye of the beholder and all that crap. A lot of times people just don't want to hear constructive feedback. I know on 500px when I commented on someone's photo I wanted to write something that they could take with them. If I liked it I told them exactly why I did. And people appreciated it. If I did not like it I told them what I didn't like about it. And people usually deleted my comment. They did not want to hear it. The reason for that is because they probably were not used to hearing it. They were accustomed to "Great capture" "well taken".. well taken?? What a meaningless statement!
Honest criticism is a way for us to get an outside viewpoint on your art which you can take, or reject, to see your vision differently and grow from there. I read some comments on a forum about a gallery of photos I made over the summer. The comment wasn't directed at me as someone else had posted the link.. but I found it via my site's traffic analytics.. the commenter stated:
"The colours look so dull and boring. He should of never sold his dslr".
At first I was angry that someone would disrespect my work like that. But after the initial sting and cancelling a reply that said "f--- you!" I revisited those photographs. And he was right. I had gone too crazy with the film simulation presets in Lightroom. I went through the photos again and with a sober second look I did an edit I loved even more that was in tune with my style. I liked them much more this way. I did not do the edit for the guy commenting. I did it to be true to my visual style that I strayed from. I just needed a second opinion to point me in the right direction.
In the same vein someone can provide really positive feedback about a shot that I never really considered a keeper. They make their case as to why they like it and I can see their point.
Where can we go for honest, meaningful critiques?
This is a tough one. Especially the honest part.
So what I am going to be doing on my blog is what I will call a "Critique Exchange". I am putting out the call to photographers who would be interested in having a photo of their's critiqued by me. In exchange for them critiquing one of my photos. This is not going to be an exercise in patting each other on the back or an eye-for-an-eye. We won't be deconstructing the photos down to every pixel.
What we will be doing is giving our independent thoughts on the photograph(s) so that we can grow our art and get others to jump in as well.
I will be featuring the photos I critique on here and the other person can have the critique of my photograph on their blog. (or if they don't have a blog I would be happy to copy & paste their critique here)
So who is with me??!
If you are interested please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org with "Critique Exchange" in the subject.
Also share this article around. Hopefully we can slow down the epidemic of meaningless comments...