Nov 25, 2013

Getting The Most Out Of A Critique

One of the most useful tools a growing artist has at his or her disposal is the ability to gather critique. It doesn’t matter whether the critique is coming from an expert, peer, or even a customer. A fresh pair of eyes always offers insight into our own creations that can help you become better at what you do.

Critique, however, is very difficult to accept both honestly and usefully. Before the critique we gather up our courage and boldly ask someone to offer their honest opinion on that which we have invested our souls in creating. We naturally will encourage our reviewer to be honest, even going so far as to encourage brutality in pursuit of a real opinion.

But really, we don’t actually want to be told that we suck. Secretly, we want our reviewer to take a look at our work and shower us with adoration. We want to be deemed perfect.

We can’t be perfect though. No matter how hard we work. No matter how much experience we accumulate. Perfection will always be beyond our reach. Perfection does not exist and even if it did, perfection wouldn’t even be perfect because it would be boring.

Never Let The Critique Stifle Your Creative Vision

There are two aspects to your photo that your reviewer can comment on. A critique can provide feedback on technical and creative aspects of your photo and It is absolutely critical that you become adept at being able to differentiate between the two as that disparity will allow you to leverage the benefit of critique without ceding your creative control.

There is no one in this world better at being you than you are and that is where your value as an artist lies. If, during a critique, you let the creative opinion of someone else impact your work then you are essentially sacrificing your vision to mimic the vision of someone else.

As a group, we photographers like to think of photos of being on a scale of bad to good. In reality though “good” is only a matter of opinion and what might be a fantastic image to one person will be a terrible to another.

When listening to critique make a point of thinking about each suggestion and evaluate whether the critique is about an active creative decision you made during the shoot or not. If the criticism is about something you forgot to consider or didn’t even think about during the shoot then it is something you should take into account. If the critique, though, is about something that not only you chose to do but also like about the photo then strongly evaluate whether the critique is useful or if it is merely a clashing of creative vision between you and the reviewer.

Never Take a Review Personally

It doesn’t matter if the critique is by your best friend or the senior editor at Vogue, there is no good that can come of you letting the review have a negative impact on you.

If the review is negative because the reviewer is giving honest feedback then all you need to do is evaluate whether you agree with the suggestion or not. If you do adapt your future work with that agreement in mind.

If the review is negative because the reviewer is trying to hurt you or make you feel bad then all you need to do is ignore them.

Why Having Some People Hate Your Work Is Actually A Good Thing

Did you know that having polarized opinions about your work is actually much better than having everyone agree that your work is just “pretty good”?

Extremely polarizing work draws attention and actually is much more likely to get noticed. Your goal for your photos should be to invoke strong feelings from your viewers rather than to simply gather their approval.

Viewers will rush to share things that they “love” but will often ignore things that they “like”. Meanwhile, people are extremely likely to complain about things they “hate” which ironically might help expose your work to those who enjoy it.

Push limits. Break boundaries. Take risks. Discover how by teetering on the edge that you will create images that you might never have felt would be possible.

And never forget that the most valuable thing you bring to the table as an artist is your creative vision.

So Get Out There And Find Some Critique

What are you waiting for? Head out into the world and get your portfolio into the hands of some honestly brutal reviewers so that you can start reaping the benefits their opinions may endow.


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  • user image

    Commenting on this pretty late. I just discovered phlearn today and I really like the site. This article is good about what an artist should expect and consume in terms of critique but falls short on where to get critiquing. There are many social sites for photography most of which, I’m afraid, are more social and less about the medium. SuggestIons about where to get (and give) critiquing is critical. After weeks of searching I’ve found zero sites (thus far) where “critiquing” is about actual constructive feedback rather than social back scratching or group think. Perhaps that is a nirvana that doesn’t exist online?

    • user image

      Thanks, Ryan. I can’t reply to your post so I’m replying to my own. This was helpful information. You hit the nail on the head. I’m not interested in being showered with compliments as that won’t help me improve. 🙂 I’ve also decided to try providing critiques where I can in the same fashion as I’d like to receive. Looking at and (constructively) critiquing others work will help me some in improving my own photos and technique.. at least to some degree.