Many times during my workshops, the discussion of image critiques comes up. We discuss everyone’s thoughts and feelings and many times I hear how some people have not submitted images that they like, to their camera club because it is not an acceptable image for the club. They have even stopped taking those types of images because they are frowned upon. The thought of this makes me ill. I can’t imagine anyone not following through with their vision because someone else told them not to.
What is the value of an image critique? Critiques should be helpful, they should not be nit picking and they should be given gently. Critiques should offer ways to improve but not change the image content. They should be given only when asked and critiques should not carry the personal feeling of the person giving them. For example, if I don’t like the color red, I should not allow that feeling to interfere with my critique.
When are critiques helpful? For me, when someone is starting out with photography and they would like to learn the guidelines to understand what may be appealing to others; this is a good time to listen to critiques from photographers that are more experienced. When you are at the beginning stages in your photography; it is also a good time to try to critique other folks images, this will help you look at an image more carefully and allow you to see flaws within the image and decide for yourself if they negatively affect the photo. Critiquing should be a learning process on both ends. I spent years on an online forum listening to and giving critiques in an effort to learn. And I have learned a lot through that process, but most especially I have learned when to walk away from those type of forums.
When are critiques stifling? There comes a time when the artist/photographer no longer needs to learn those guidelines and would like to step outside of those lines to create something out of the ordinary. An artist can express whatever they like and there is no right or wrong, it is art and it is subjective…photography is art even if some don’t agree with that thought-it really is art.
Do I care about or listen to critiques? Absolutely not, it matters zero to me if someone likes or dislikes my photograph. My image or art needs to touch my soul and never needs to appeal to others. That said, yes, I want others to like my work and connect with it. But it is not what guides me. If you follow guidelines to the nth degree then you will most likely never stand out from the crowd or create something unique. There are so many things to consider when creating an image, other than placing your subject in a rule of thirds, correct head angle or bright spots on the edges, etc.. For me, it is far more powerful to think about the flow of the image, the visual impact, the statement that the photo may convey, the connection between the subject and the viewer, the overall feel and artistry of the image.
Go out and create, worry not what others may think or say, be free to be yourself. There is only one you-show the world what you have…
The above image was created in Japan. It is snow drifting on reeds. It does not conform to many of the rules that some impose. However, it is in the final round of Wildlife Photographer of the Year. I suppose because it’s different.