Handling Photographic Critiques

Posted on February 17, 2013


As a photographer, I am often told many opinions about my work. In some cases, I seek out people to let me know their opinions. Others are given without solicitation. Which do you listen to? Which do you ignore? How do you get a thick skin to take some of what people tell you? Art is in the eye of the beholder, right? I beg to differ with that opinion. Art is in the eye of the creator. Others may see a different piece of art when they look at it, but the art was in the creator first. Many opinions can hurt – it doesn’t include what you had in mind when you created the image you do and for that reason, it needs to be set aside. Keep in mind that the comments aren’t usually meant to hurt you, but a way to inject a person’s view on your art. You will find that their comments frequently have to deal with rules that were broken – so know the rules and when to break them. I often hear people comment that problems are because what was used was cheap equipment. Don’t believe them. More expensive equipment makes it easier, but you should be able to do almost everything on expensive equipment with less expensive equipment. Learn on the cheaper equipment and know it. That knowledge is beneficial to you.

First, you are the artist. When I create something – a picture or sketch – I am the artist. I am the one who chose to capture what I did. No one else. That means I shot what I thought was important to me or sketched what I thought was important to me. I am also the one who came up with the subject or worked in collaboration with someone else to create the idea of what I shot or sketched. I rarely shoot what is just in front of me – part of the reason I hate meet and greets. I want to know or have some idea of what I am shooting before I do. It is one of those things that weeds out models who work with me, too, as the one ones who just want to show up and shoot are the people who I don’t shoot. I work to create something – figure out where there is a place that conveys what I want, outfits that models will wear, weather that can contribute to the image, models that can demonstrate the feelings and emotions and personality that are important to the image, and editing the contributes to what we see in the final image. You as the artist, are responsible for creating all of this. Some photographers capture what is there or create something from what is around them – a typical example are street photographers. Each of us is responsible for our own vision, and it is our vision — no one else. The only opinion that really matters is your own and what you think: did the image accomplish what you wanted it to do?

Second, listen to the opinions of what people say but only if they are relevant. For instance, if you want cords and electrical outlets or power lines in your image – and it is important for what you wanted to capture (the cords and outlets), then comments relating to them need to be ignored unless they say something how it might have been captured to bring them out more or do what you want with them. Why do I ignore things that aren’t relevant? Because in my mind, I want to make the best image I can — I was the one who decided what was in the image. If someone tells me to scrap that idea and make it theirs, I am very resistant to listen. Do I completely ignore it? Never – it may present a new way of seeing that subject when I shoot it again – Yes, it gives me a new view point. But, for the image I created, it isn’t important. Also keep in mind that we all have brains that filter and automatically adjust and interpret what we see. Everyone does this. Listening gives me an idea of what others filter or adjust in the images I capture.

Third, try to stay within the technical rules but know when to break them. A good quality image is what we all are working to produce, but if the rules restrict what you are capturing, break them. But, you have to know them before you can break them. Spend the time learning your craft. You will find a good number of people will comment on your images based on the “rules” of photography. This is another reason to know them. Photography still comes down to the person behind the camera using their knowledge and how they apply it to solve their problems.

Fourth, equipment will make it easier to create the images you want. Don’t jump straight to the most expensive or complex equipment there is. Frequently, you will learn the most from figuring out ways and getting around the limitations of the less expensive equipment. It will also help you learn the technical rules. Learn from the cheaper equipment and savor the time you have using it. As it was stated before, photography comes down to the person behind the camera and how they apply their knowledge of their craft.

Hopefully, this post gives you some idea how to deal with comments and opinions that you hear. Some will be what you want to hear. Others will be something that you probably don’t want to hear. There will also be several people who are rude and just out to make you feel bad. If there is something to learn from them, then do so. Otherwise, know what they say but let it go. You are the creator of your art and the only thing that matters is your opinion.