Monday, May 24, 2010
How To Learn From An Online Image Critique—05/24/10
Improve as a photographer by showing your work online, but be prepared
There are plenty of places online where you can display your pictures. Flickr and Facebook are two of the most popular social-networking photo-sharing sites, but just about every photo-related web site offers some sort of user-driven forum especially built for critique. Outdoor Photographer’s web site has a robust set of forums for people just like you—no matter what skill level you’re at—to seek the advice of others. Photo.net is another active online photo community, and many others are just a search away. The point is, there are plenty of online photo-sharing options readily available.
The good news about sharing your work online is that you really can learn a lot. Perhaps the suggestion to shoot from a different vantage point hadn’t occurred to you. Or maybe the critique will reveal the consensus that your photo is too contrasty, too saturated or too flat. Perhaps another user has a suggestion for a particular technique with a subject in your image that they’re very experienced with. The photo critique is a staple of any successful photographic education, and thanks to the Internet you can get that education from the comfort of your own home. And thanks to the anonymity of your user name, nobody ever has to know who you are.
The bad news about subjecting your work to an online critique comes from that very same anonymity. Be warned: Some online “experts” seem to get their kicks being mean and deliberately belittling the work of others. They seem to operate under the impression that if they’re mean, they’ll feel better about their own work—or at least they think it makes them sound like an expert. You’ve got to be prepared with a thick skin and know how to let rude and inappropriate criticisms roll off your back.
Whatever opinions you receive about your work, remember two things: First, they’re just opinions. You know what they say; everybody’s got one. And secondly, the folks who offer those opinions don’t make the rules—no matter how experienced they are. You’ve got to take everything said with a grain of salt, even the good stuff. Just because one online user loves your photo doesn’t mean you’re the next big thing, and just because somebody hates your shot doesn’t mean you should give up either.
Keep in mind that there are no hard and fast rules for what makes a good photograph. Sometimes, online forum users seem to forget that. They tear apart even the most amazing photographs looking for the tiniest imperfection. If Ansel Adams had submitted his famous moonrise image they likely would have said the sky looked fake and his Photoshop skills need improving. Dorothea Lange’s iconic portrait of a migrant mother might have elicited the advice that the image wasn’t sharply focused, or that it would have worked much better in color. And Edward Weston’s sublime pepper portrait might have been too confusing and abstract for an online audience. So whatever happens, while there’s a lot to be learned from a constructive web critique, you’ve got to keep it in perspective. Don’t base your photographic self-esteem on the anonymous comments of strangers—especially if they’re rude.