Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Getting Critique

LSD at night 2
(Click on image to see the larger sizes and EXIF data.)

Getting critique on your photos is one of the best things you can do to improve your photography. It helps you take a more critical eye to your work, which can be difficult, but it also helps you see what you are doing right. Eventually the good outweighs the bad, and you'll be amazed at how far you've come. It's important to take critique in the right light, though.

You know how they say "Opinions are like ___ -everyone's got one"? It's no less true in photography. That's why it's important that you always evaluate the critique you get. A good way to do this is to become an active member in a group or forum where you can get to know your fellow member's personalities as well as their work. Then, if Bob says he doesn't like your photo, you'll know that he's hard on everyone, and you can just ignore him. But if John says he doesn't like it, maybe you'll listen because you love his work and respect the advice he's given to others. And although Mary says it's the best photo she's ever seen, you know she said the same thing 2 minutes ago to Bob about his photo of his dog licking his backside. Point is, it helps to know your audience.

On the other hand, random critique is fine too as long as you don't put too much weight on one person's opinion. If you don't agree with someone's advice -even if you consider them a better photographer then you, it comes down to your photo being your OWN art. Take only the advice that works for you, and leave the rest behind.

Sometimes it helps, though, to wait a week or so before posting a photo for critique. You know that "high" you get from capturing a great image? There's nothing worse than reading critique on that image while you're still caught up in the attachment of how you took it and what it means to you. It may be best to wait until you're not as attached to the photo so you can consider the negative things about the image in order to learn from it and improve your skills for next time. In short, critique is about learning what you did wrong, so you have to be willing to hear it.

Finally, don't be afraid to post bad photos. In my experience, you learn more from your bad photos than you do from your good ones. Posting a "why didn't this work?" image can lead to leaps in learning that can save you weeks or months of experimenting and learning on your own.

My personal story about the photo attached to this post:
I posted this image in two different places for critique. I ended up with a lot of positive feedback, and the following 3 responses that offered advice for improvement:

1.) One person said the photo broke the rule of thirds and I should have put the horizon line 1/3 of the way from the top of the photo. This was well intentioned, but bad advice. I'll explain the rule of thirds tomorrow, and then why I broke it in this image on Thursday.
2.) Another person suggested I move the moon to the left side of the photo for better balance in the image. Others agreed with him, and I think his advice may have merit, but after careful consideration I've decided that I like the moon as-is. So, I have taken his critique as a lesson on balance, but I will not be altering this particular photo as a result.
3.) The last person suggested I try making the image a bit darker and removing a couple of dust spots near the moon. This advice was definitely helpful. I removed the spots that I had missed before and I also tried darkening the shot a bit. The result was subtle, but definitely better so I kept it.

So, in the end only subtle changes were made to this particular image, but I've benefited from posting it because person #2 really got me thinking about the use of balance in an image. Not every photo you post will lead to you learning something, but it's more probable than if you never post anything at all. -If you don't belong to a photo group and you consider yourself a beginner, try joining my Photography_Beginners yahoogroup here!

Of course, if you aren't that brave yet or if you have nothing to post, you can learn from looking at other people's images and watching the critique they get. A great place to do that is by watching a Pro (Craig Tanner) critique a new photo every weekday via the Radiant Vista's Daily Critique.

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