We go through such great pains to get an amazing picture. Like, a super amazing picture!
And then someone critiques it.
“You should have done this. And this. And oh, this too. And this, of course.”
We respectfully nod our heads.
But inside, the storm rages! “You don’t understand! It was impossible to do that! And there was no way I could have done that. And that….like, if only you were there you would understand!”
I get it.
Listening to critique is hard. Critiquers (I’m making up my own word here) misunderstand a lot of things.
But that’s ok.
And here’s why.
There are two equally valid truths butting heads in the mind of a photographer as they listen to the critique of their picture:
1: The truth that their picture truly isn’t perfect (ouch)
2: The truth that they truly couldn’t have implemented the suggested critique
If I can just keep these two truths differentiated in my mind as I listen to critique, then oh, it suddenly become so much easier to receive!
I can sit back and respectfully nod (with actual respect), knowing that there is truth in what the critiquer is saying, and at the same time, quell the internal storm knowing that there is truth that the critiquer doesn’t know about.
Though seemingly contradictory at times, truth is truth, and there is freedom to be had in knowing it.
So, with this in mind, it’s a good thing for me to step back and look at the backstory behind some of the pictures I critique. As the critiquer, when I am reminded that there are aspects outside of a photographer’s control, it helps me to be more understanding and diplomatic in my critique.
I critique a lot of pictures. I say, “Do this. And this. And oh, this too.” And most of the time I never really know much of the backstory.
Well, after a recent critique webinar, Morgan gave me some backstories! I thought her short, informative comments about her pictures I critiqued were interesting and kinda funny, so I thought I’d share 5 of them with you here:
James: It’s nice that this was shot at golden hour (I assume it was golden hour?). It makes things look more beautiful naturally….even weeds! Good contrast and focus. I’d probably crop some off the top to keep it from being dead center.
Morgan: Yes, it was shot during golden hour…my favourite time to shoot!
(Hey, I got it right that time!)
James: I have NO clue what this is a picture of! The edge of a side of an old book, close up, was my first impression. Maybe it’s a water fountain or waterfall?! There’s enough story to make me feel like there’s supposed to be a story, but not enough story to tell me what the story actually is. Zooming out would help give more context, or zooming in would keep it in the abstract/texture category.
Morgan: You’re right, this is a difficult image to figure out without knowing the background. It’s a water fountain in a park in Kelowna, BC. We were taking a walk at sunset and it caught my eye! I was on the fence about the strip of sky at the top…but it didn’t look right to me without it. I had zoomed in due to interfering buildings and surrounding, but I guess that was too far. 🙂
James: Phenomenal shot! Looks like you’re in a forest/jungle in the pouring rain. Well-defined lines, shape and natural colour.
Morgan: This is in my backyard…not quite a jungle, but pretty close. 🙂 I don’t remember if that was natural rain…or if I had purposely sprinkled the leaf for the sake of the picture.
James: Great subject! Flowers going the same direction and sharp focus. It would be interesting to know what factors played into the choice of that flower in particular. Great colour contrasts! Isolating the central flower to avoid it overlapping with the other flower behind it is something I might try to change with repositioning.
Morgan: I can’t remember exactly why I chose that particular flower…it was likely due to being pretty much in the middle of the tulip patch where I was shooting so I could get a good contrast shot of red/yellow tulips with a zoom lens. I definitely wasn’t paying attention to that yellow flower in the background…and I don’t have another shot without it. Oh well!
James: First of all…it feels crooked. Fix the tiny details first and then move on to the large things. You’ve got another mix between story and texture…I’m not sure what to think: white glowing glob at he top and black “no-man’s land” in the top right. Maybe try cropping to zone in on only the shimmering aspect? Try getting closer down to the rocks to include more concrete information? Good combination of textures in water and rocks there, and well-developed starbursts as well.
Morgan: My crooked horizons…to be perfectly honest, I don’t notice them due to having a naturally permanent head tilt to the left. I’m going to have to practice making my head stay straight in order to fix that! 🙂 The black background was edited in due to a chromatic aberration/bad lens flare on the bank on the other side of the river. I guess I should probably try to edit that differently to avoid the “void” look. The water was pretty muddy (due to certain siblings running through it at intervals, haha!)…but I could work on changing that to make it look less brown. Definitely not an earth-shaking place to shoot…brown rocks, muddy water, and not so attractive river bank…might have to try again this summer!
(Well, for a location that difficult, it’s a better shot than I thought!)
So, anyway, let us continue to embrace critique!
If you’d like to critique some of my images, feel free to leave some comments on any of the 44 photos in the 2019 Lenspiration Calendar Possibilities album.
And if you would like to get some of your images critiqued in Lenspiration’s next Photo Critique Webinar, here’s more info on that:
Well it always helps you get through the inward battle when the “critiquer” critiques in a genuine, but kind manner! 🙂 Plus, yes truth hurts sometimes, but it also feels better in the end. It happens all the time in our family music ministry. There’s those people who come up after a concert – “Oh your music is amazing” “Oh you’re so talented”, and we thank them, but inwardly, “uh huh, yep, thanks, ok….” But when a gentleman who was a music teacher for years came up to us in the past and told us “You guys need to smile more” – ooch! That hurt. Sure we’re more nervous when he’s listening to us play, but now if he compliments us – Ahh it feels good. He knows what he’s talking about, and it’s GENUINE praise. Plus, we know that we’ve benefitted from feedback he’s given and there has been improvement that happened since then, and that’s a great feeling to have too.
I’m going be much more excited when I receive praise from someone on Lenspiration – I know (and hope!) that they would tell me if the photo needed help, rather than the average gushy photo-viewer who will tell me that ALL my pictures are simply amazing, when I know that they are not.
Fun blog post! Thanks Morgan and James. 🙂 It’s so realistic and true, it made me smile and think – I’m glad I’m not the only one. lol 🙂
One thing that helps me a lot to receive critique is waiting a few days after I take a seemingly perfect photo to post it here. After a few days (sometimes it takes longer!), the exited “perfectness”of the picture fades and I’m more apt to receive critique on it.
Great points, Logan and Lydia!
One of my favourite things about the Lenspiration photo critiques is the way the “sandwich principle” is applied. James mixed praise and criticism in such a way that leaves me challenged and encouraged instead of downright defeated. I’ve found the whole Lenspiration community to be this way, too. 🙂
Completely agree, Morgan! It’s a very encouraging environment!
Totally! The constructive criticism is so helpful. I never come away away from a webinar or the forums feeling like I’m a total failing photographer. Instead I come away knowing that no, I’m definitely not the perfect photographer and need to improve lots of things, but at the same time I feel encouraged and like getting out there and trying again. I love the environment.
Thank you so much for your encouraging comments! I learn so much from you guys too.