Honesty and Critique – Part 2

The other day, I photographed a very simple image of a Starfish on a beach local to me – what fascinated me about the image was the amount of detail I could see when I zoomed in on the shot, and I wasn’t even using a macro lens.  The Starfish itself wasn’t something I had ever taken a photo of before, and I was quite pleased with the depth of information the camera gave to me.

The comment passed to me, on line, read as follows:-   “This could have been taken on a mobile phone, and been just as good”.  I was a tad miffed…. as with the file I had, I could have printed it up to probably A1 size, which I certainly could not have done off a mobile, but then the commenter didn’t know that.

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Zoomed in detail…

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The thing is, he knew scant little about what I had used to get this shot:- and therein lies the problem …… sometimes……

The other night, I visited a camera club and we talked,  in detail, about images, and what sort of shots would do well in competitions.  Members had brought along sets of DPI’s for comment, and we worked through them for the whole evening.  The intent from me was to make people think, and talk about photographs, in a constructive way, but also to acknowledge that some were not ‘keepers’ in the competition arena.

it was quite hard to get people to talk initially – There is a reluctance from some people to comment on an image – even in a ‘safe’ environment.  I think they may feel awkward, or not qualified to pass an opinion.

I’d love it if camera clubs ran critique sessions more regularly – to help members see what the common faults are.  Examples might be as simple as the main subject being out of focus, or aircraft in the air with ‘frozen’ propellers.  Small parts of trees, or other organic / inorganic things impinging on the edges of images, lamp posts growing out of heads, blown out areas – or simply a confusing image, where the focus of attention is lost.

Photographers have an invested interest in their work, I appreciate that, and they can carry a lot of emotional baggage.  Images mean a lot to them, and time and effort has been taken to get what is now being put in front of club and judge.  I try to explain that this effort and emotion doesn’t always show in an image to an independent third party, who has no idea of the mud they trudged through, or the agonies and pain to get THAT shot.   The photographic idea can be as brilliant as can be – but if not executed properly will fail, no matter how much the photographer loves it.  In the end, it’s the photograph that is shown, with no history that the observer sees.

A gentleman was at great pains to explain to me exactly how he got his shot – but in the end the difficulty level doesn’t gain extra points.  As one judge said to me, some years ago – “difficulty level ? – that isn’t my problem”.  At the time I was quite put out, but with hindsight (which is a marvellous thing), he was absolutely correct.

In the end it goes back to what I said in my previous blog post – you need to trust the people you ask about images – but sometimes listen to what other people say too – listen, and don’t just ignore the comment – for all you know, at that moment, they might be right, even if you don’t realise it for a long time afterwards!


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Honesty and Critique

I’ve spent a bit of time these last weeks, reviewing another photographers portfolio of work.  The task of looking at work, both for me, and the photographer, is that we both have to be honest about what we are looking at.

One image, the photographer kept telling me, was really hard to get – the subject matter was hard to find, and even harder to get a good solid photo of.  When I looked at it, it was a messy construction and clearly not that good.  The photographer though had invested a lot of time and emotion in the image, and would not let it go.  He was convinced it was good, and nothing I was going to say would change that point of view, but the fact is that the image is going to be perceived by others on an entirely different level from that of the photographer.

Which takes me on to the question of feedback about your work.  What kind of feedback do you REALLY want? and importantly, what is your response to that feedback?

If you really respect the person who is looking at your images – it can be upsetting to hear that they don’t like it.  After all, you want them to like what you have produced, that’s why you show it.

So, what should your response be, when someone you know and trust, doesn’t like your work.  It’s hard, because maybe the work is bad, and maybe you just need to be told that. Maybe you need to listen to their advice and go away and change something, or even forget that image, and replace it with a new one.

You should remember though, that maybe the person looking at your work just doesn’t like the subject matter.  Though in fairness, they should tell you that right from the start.  I would hope that the good critique maker, should be able to look past the personal likes and dislikes and see the image for what it is.

So it’s up to the photographer to ask the right questions at this point, and so you need to ask the reviewer what it is they don’t like about the image.  This is then hard, as the reviewer might tell you what they would do to make the image better, and that then might make it more their work, than yours.  So you have to be careful.

If I show my work to someone I trust, and say that it is to inspire calm, and they say it looks like a battle is about to break out – then I think I can safely say I missed the mark on that one – and if this happens consistently then maybe I’d need to rethink my entire strategy or portfolio.

When I judge competitions – I try hard not to say whether I like it or not – at least not at first – what I try to do is work out how an image makes me feel.  Sometimes I will say of a picture (let’s assume of an animal or bird for arguments sake), that by looking at it, I know how it would feel if I could run my fingers through the fur, or feathers, or grass, or whatever.  Then I might say what emotion it gives – peace, excitement, confusion and so on.

The title of the piece helps direct too.  An image can be confusing till I know what it’s called – then a combination of title and subject matter can bring together a unity of purpose.

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RSPCA Young Photographer Awards

The Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) is calling for young photographers to enter this year’s prestigious RSPCA Young Photographer Awards. This year there are two new categories: the first one is for photos that illustrate how animals make people’s lives better, while the second one is called Garden Wildlife. A brand new website has also been set up to make it easier to take part and stay up to date with the competition. The overall winner of the Awards will go on an amazing three-day photography break with top wildlife photographer Danny Green, courtesy of Natures Images. Olympus cameras worth up to £500 are also up for grabs for the winners and runners up in each category. For more details and to enter visit the website below.

http://ypa.rspca.org.uk/