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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Musings……..

A few weeks back, I was having a conversation with another photographer about images. A conversation which eventually turned into one about photographic art.

One of the things that we talked about was how can we be honest with ourselves about the images we make. It’s hard to be self critical without being over-critical, and it is somewhat easier to talk about other peoples work when it isn’t our own.

We do look sometimes though at other peoples work and cringe, and they think we don’t understand, and become self-congratulating artists. On the other hand there are photographers whose opening lines are always “I know I can’t do this”, or “You’re a much better photographer than I am”, and “I’ll never be any good”…. what I want to say to those that start off like this is “If you really believe that, then go get another hobby”….. I know you can’t always say that, but I’d really like to.

We have all had conversations with photographers who see no room for improvement in their work. They have the ‘best’ gear, and of course then take the ‘best’ pictures. They will defend their work to the death at the slightest hint of a contrary opinion. Or they will immediately start to explain exactly why the image is not as the viewer would see it. The excuses fly, and our comments become futile.

So, next time you look at someone’s images, why not ask them first if they really want your honest opinion. If they say no, then walk away. If they say yes, then it might be worth asking if they just want you to tell them what you LIKE about the shot, or would they be interested in knowing what you would have done differently.

I am happy to offer my opinions, but that’s all they are. People can accept or reject advice as much as they please, and I want them to know that I won’t be bothered or offended if they take no notice – it is always the author who has the final say, and not the judge.

Failure is just a way of learning what doesn’t work, and I’ve found hundreds, maybe thousands of ways…..

To Like or Not to Like, that is the question..

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Every now and again someone will ask me “where did you take that picture?”  It’s usually easy for me to tell them,  as I can remember most locations.  However, sometimes I’m asked “WHY did you take that picture?”

The image above generated this second question.  It was taken on the beach, close to West Kirby, and the chap had been wind surfing.  The dog had been bounding around on the beach, and this was the greeting the owner got when he sat down.  I was just taken by the moment shared between man and dog.

What’s interesting, is that the next person to look at this shot might say that it doesn’t do anything for them.  They may not like the composition, or the colours, or the expression….

This is the point – there is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way – it’s all to do with how the viewer has been educated by books, art, and photography.  It’s about how they have been ‘judged’ in the past on their own work.  It is also to do with how much influence an individual has had in their photographic journey.

If you are constantly told that the photographic rules have to be followed, and that deviation means it’s wrong – then it’s possible that the photographer will not be as creative.

You need to know the basic rules, yes, but you also need to be aware that it is OK to break them when YOU want to.

Your own views will be constantly changing, provided you are open to change. And the truth of the matter is that you have only one person to please that really matters……. YOURSELF.