Recently, I watched an online show where two photography/Photoshop experts offered “blind photo critiques” on portfolios submitted for that purpose. I was intrigued as this is something I desire for myself – feedback and input on how to improve my images.
For several reasons, my response wasn’t what I expected.
When the episode concentrated on specific suggestions – how a crop would have dramatically improved composition; how darkening the background or foreground would tighten focus on the subject – I found the suggestions extremely helpful. This was critique as I defined it. The photographer agrees to submit their work for review with an open mind, ready to accept and learn from the input provided, whether it is positive or negative. The goal of critique is to educate and mentor – to point out how to improve, what is working, what is not working with concrete examples of how that can be accomplished.
But unfortunately, the critique session also included what I felt were unnecessarily cruel and hurtful comments about certain portfolios – instead of providing specific suggestions on how the work could be improved, the hosts chose to ridicule the subject matter, and by extension the photographer. I was really thrown by this – if leading industry educators would resort to these tactics under the guise of “being tough”, did I really want to participate in such an exercise?
Where is the line between critique, which helps you improve, and derision? Shouldn’t critique provide you with the tools to progress and not simply tear you down?
I was so incensed that I wrote a critical comment response – something completely out of character for a conflict-averse person such as myself.
But even though I deeply disliked the delivery, many of the criticisms hit home. Any photograph not taken during the “golden hours” in beautiful light was completely discounted. As it happens, that would eliminate 98% of my portfolio as being unworthy. I spent the weekend in a funk, with “why-do-I-bother?” repeating itself on a continuous loop in my head.
In an effort to shake things up, I drove to a small picturesque town about thirty minutes away to give myself something “new” to shoot. At first, I was excited by the challenge. But then it hit me – here I was, again, out in the middle of the day when the shadows were harsh, everything was flat and washed out with no beautiful golden light to be found. According to the experts, my efforts were worthless. And that loop started up again. “Why bother?”
Most of the photos from that afternoon were deleted. But a few survived the cut. The image above was one of them. And I realized: I like this shot, harsh light and all. And regardless of what the experts say, I like many of my shots, no matter what the light conditions might have been. Here it was: my own little bit of rebellion against the “rules”.
At the same time, in the true spirit of learning from critique, I am making the effort to go out later in the day - seeking that special light.
And while I do not agree with the way these critiques were handled, I find I still desire critical feedback and input. Because my goal is to improve and grow as a photographer. I will simply seek it elsewhere.