3 Ways to Know if Your Work is Good - Digital Photography School

3 Ways to Know if Your Work is Good

Your family and friends are raving about your work. Your Facebook friends are giving you thumbs up when you post your images.  But is that enough feedback to know that your work is actually good?  Given how many different images we see every day, shouldn’t people be able to recognize a good one from a bad one?  And how can you be sure that your work measures up to the work of others?  Here are 3 ways to help you:

1. Enter competitions.  The moment you enter a competition, you must look at your work with a more critical, less personal eye. Be careful to not get too emotionally attached to the images you submit.  Put yourself in the judge’s place and imagine their step-by-step critique regarding the composition, the depth of field, the lighting and so on. You can increase your chances of standing out by photographing an unusual subject or shoot something ordinary in an unusual way. Enter free competitions, learn the ropes, and look at the other entries.  Competitions – and the rejections you are sure to get at first – are good ways to improve your photography, to push yourself towards new ideas and to get out of your comfort zone. And, of course, winning a prize in the process is fun, too!

2. Submit your work to stock agencies. Most micro stock agencies will ask to see a few test images before you can start submitting your work to them regularly. But beware! Stock agency standards are very high, so hold off on this step until you’ve acquired some thick skin and are truly ready to learn from this process.  Whether you are a beginner or a seasoned photographer, take their feedback as a valuable lesson. If your images are rejected – and at first many will be rejected – most agencies will tell you why. This is an incredible opportunity to learn how to examine your work more critically and improve your craft.

3. Portfolio review.  At some point, every photographer feels the urge to send their portfolio to a professional and request a review.  Don’t do it!  They get dozens of such requests every day and cannot possibly be expected to spend hours reviewing images for free. Would you? Some reputable photographers will provide portfolio reviews for a fee, but ask first.  Their professional feedback is another good way to get an idea of what your work is worth and of how you can improve it. Photography trade shows and mini-conferences often offer portfolio reviews, so be on the lookout for those opportunities. If you are in the US, check your local American Society of Media Photographers chapter for their events which might include portfolio reviews.

The most important thing to remember is that we, as photographers, need to be always learning and experimenting.  Getting feedback from contests, stock agencies and portfolio reviews are ways to improve!  Encouragement from friends is fine, but feedback from objective sources is critical.

Have you tried any of these ideas?  If so, please share them with other dPS readers.  We can all learn from each other!

Read more from our Tips & Tutorials category.

Valerie Jardin I live and breathe in pixels! Photography is more than a passion, it's an obsession, almost an addiction. I am pleased to be a new master of street photography at The Arcanum. When I'm not shooting or writing, I spend my time teaching this beautiful craft during photo workshops all over the world! Visit my Website Follow me on Facebook , Twitter , Google+.

  • http://hs-fotografie.nl Harry

    Wow thank you Ritz

    Though I have my 3rd Canon camera now and know about this forum
    somehow I never thought about joining it. An eye opener! Thanks!

  • TheBeatKat

    For all you Nikon shooters, have a look at The Nikonians website, if you haven’t yet….they have forums grouped by camera model, contests, personal space to upload pics, and a wealth of other tools and information…..and 99.9% of the users are friendly and tolerant. MANY good photographers up there who will gladly engage in critique, field technical questions, and a decent feeling of camaraderie….and a good mix of skill levels of members…create a profile and find others close by as well- Cheers.
    http://www.nikonians.org/index.php

  • Pam

    Can you tell me where I can enter my photos in contests?

  • http://www.valeriejardinphotography.com Valerie Jardin

    @Pam, you can google ‘Free Photo Contests’ and you should be able to get a list. Make sure you read the fine print. Good luck!

  • Aaron Bouverette

    I think one of the things overlooked in this discussion is to put your work for sale. A good photograph is one that creates emotion for the photographer first, then the viewer. Pick out your best work and sell it. Go to Art shows, farmers markets, and craft fairs. Good photography sells poor photography doesn’t.

Some older comments

  • Aaron Bouverette

    April 17, 2013 01:08 am

    I think one of the things overlooked in this discussion is to put your work for sale. A good photograph is one that creates emotion for the photographer first, then the viewer. Pick out your best work and sell it. Go to Art shows, farmers markets, and craft fairs. Good photography sells poor photography doesn't.

  • Valerie Jardin

    December 29, 2012 08:34 am

    @Pam, you can google 'Free Photo Contests' and you should be able to get a list. Make sure you read the fine print. Good luck!

  • Pam

    December 27, 2012 02:44 pm

    Can you tell me where I can enter my photos in contests?

  • TheBeatKat

    May 15, 2012 01:33 am

    For all you Nikon shooters, have a look at The Nikonians website, if you haven't yet....they have forums grouped by camera model, contests, personal space to upload pics, and a wealth of other tools and information.....and 99.9% of the users are friendly and tolerant. MANY good photographers up there who will gladly engage in critique, field technical questions, and a decent feeling of camaraderie....and a good mix of skill levels of members...create a profile and find others close by as well- Cheers.
    http://www.nikonians.org/index.php

  • Harry

    May 5, 2012 05:20 pm

    Wow thank you Ritz

    Though I have my 3rd Canon camera now and know about this forum
    somehow I never thought about joining it. An eye opener! Thanks!

  • Rick Ritz

    May 4, 2012 10:28 pm

    One of the absolute best places to obtain critiques is the Canon Digital Photography forum (not really limited to only Canon shooters though) - http://photography-on-the.net/forum/forumdisplay.php?f=6. There are over 120,000 members across the world and 17 different photo-sharing forums from kids, sports, birds, etc. all the way to glamour/nude (which has restricted entry as well as the highest level of photographers). There are also equipment and know-how sections and search functions. If you want to connect with a huge number of fellow photographers willing to provide ideas and feedback quickly, the Canon forum is excellent in my opinion.

  • Valerie Jardin

    April 25, 2012 11:37 pm

    Thank you for all the responses and tips. Keep them coming! If you've had good experiences with forums or competitions don't forget to link to their site. Thanks again!

  • Harry

    April 25, 2012 11:30 pm

    Thanks for your replies!

  • PaulB

    April 25, 2012 10:13 pm

    Of these three options, I think I've found the stock agencies the hardest. I've been published, won several competitions..... but never sold a photo via a stock agency!

  • fey

    April 24, 2012 04:46 am

    hey! i was wondering it anyone could take a look at my photography and tell me if its good or not... and what i need to change.. I know i still have a lot of learning to do... but it would be greatly appreciated. http://thoughtsofacapricorn.blogspot.com/2012/04/portfolio.html thank you so much! :)

  • Joan Benham

    April 24, 2012 12:23 am

    I am just learning the ropes right now and always looking to improve my skills. I joined a website called wwwfanartreview.com. I have received great feedback and advice from fellow hobbyists as well as pros.
    They have contests and great opportunity to see lots of other's work. Have had no issues with this site
    thus far. Check it out.

  • Sam Docker

    April 23, 2012 05:42 pm

    Don't always listen to family, don't ever think you know it all, always source inspiration and be inspired by others, ultimately, if you are any good, time will tell and the orders will show for it.

  • Dian Verrell

    April 21, 2012 01:59 am

    I too have entered local photography at county fairs. The have LOTS of categories. I entered 5 and placed with 3 shots, the top shot got 2nd place in "animals". It was feeding geese at a local park. You could of knocked me over with a feather when it placed. Judging is do subjective. I've also enter "Capturekerncounty" book contest & out of 250 pics, got 3 published. Ten thousand entered the book contest, butI still don't feel professional when I see the works of others. I guess that's life in general. There will always be people who are better than you, and some who are not. Nonetheless, I was pretty proud on being "published". It's a great feeling, that hey I guess I'm better than I thought.

  • Jim

    April 21, 2012 12:29 am

    Try this thought, here we have a TON of new people trying to become photographers so they enter a contest looking for approval from a pro but yet no one wants to work for one and ACTUALLY learn the profession. Nowdays they all want to learn on the fly. The other oxymoron being, many are GIVING it away free to build their portfolio - yet the person who took you up on your offer hired you because you were free not by looking at your portfolio. So why are you building that folio again?
    I thought photography was open to interpretation ? so why does it matter what a judge says - good or bad?
    Here's the thing, I have been a pro for 26 years and have NEVER entered a contest to let someone else tell me if I am good or bad. I have NEVER had a client turn around and walk out because I did not have any degrees or ribbons on the wall. Your clients ARE your judge. They certify you from good or bad. And when has a pro ever paid you for your time in entering a contest? And furthermore why did you enter "that" photo in a contest? you would have never entered it without already knowing it was pretty good - right?

  • Michael A. Nowotny

    April 20, 2012 09:52 pm

    Correction thats: www.artshow.com

  • Michael A. Nowotny

    April 20, 2012 09:49 pm

    www.artwork.com gives a complete and ongoing list of juried, art shows, etc on a international stage. Will be specific in indicating which mediums are suited per event.

  • Harry

    April 20, 2012 05:59 pm

    I'm trying to find a forum where I could get some serious reactions on my photography
    All those "likes" on Facebook, "respects" on Hyves and "favorits" on deviant Art (I left dA already) do not really help me any further. I would like to hear WHAT they like in it and WHY they like it, or even better why they DON'T like a certain picture.
    Any suggestions..?

  • Calin

    April 20, 2012 03:30 pm

    Thank you for those tips, I'm on that road now..but nothing so far...
    About contests you may want to check this site, I use it now and then but didn't won any contest so far ;)

    http://www.photographycompetitions.net/

  • Pauline Minnis

    April 20, 2012 10:31 am

    I joined a camera club and have found that very valuable for learning new ideas. I am in the Beginners grade but they have an Advanced beginners and Advanced grade. We have set subjects each month which really makes you think and plan. It is a great fun way to learn.

  • Alec Salisbury

    April 20, 2012 10:02 am

    On this forum there is a section called the whipping post where other photographers critique your photos. It's easy and free to sign up!

    http://forum.myprofoto.com/index.php

  • Rob

    April 20, 2012 09:54 am

    Join a photographic club as they usually have competitions in different grades. All judging is done "blind" as judges have no idea whose images they are. Only if the image gains merit does the author get disclosed. It's a great way or comparing your work with others and you learn so much form other images, as well as from a judges comments.

  • Kathie M Thomas

    April 20, 2012 09:15 am

    I've won in local competitons, having my photos in local calendars depicting the area in which I live. I do nature photography. I'm yet to be successful in bigger competitions but am working on it. I've also got many shots at stock photo sites and have sold several images, some of them over and over and over again.

    Didn't know about the portfolio option though so that's worth knowing about.

  • Rick

    April 20, 2012 08:39 am

    #4: Post on Facebook and see how many 'Likes' you get.

  • Madeline

    April 20, 2012 05:53 am

    Jeff,

    popular photography holds online photo contests constantly, and they are great!

    Here is a link to their contest page, hope it helps.

    http://www.popphoto.com/contests

  • vaibhav

    April 20, 2012 05:28 am

    very good ideas
    thanks

  • Draku Zeos

    April 20, 2012 04:13 am

    When soliciting advice, whether from an individual or in a public forum, keep in mind the point of view of the person providing input. There's a BIG difference between the kind of advice you'll get from someone who shares a similar artistic and/or commercial outlook than what you'll get from someone who's coming from a very different point of view. And while differing points of view can be educational, those new to photography can be overly impressionable when it comes to the input of others. I've seen newbies take their style off in a direction that had nothing to do with themselves because someone they admired told them "you should do it more like this". The key is to find folks who can give you feedback that will help refine your ability to consistently deliver on and expand your own vision. Learning to reproduce someone else's idea of great images isn't going to help you create and mature your own style.

  • Michael A. Nowotny

    April 20, 2012 03:45 am

    Best advise don't count on friends for their input. They will 99% of the time say something favorable about your photography. After all they are your friends. Your three tips are all so true. One I would like to add is get involved with a photo organization in your area that is one step above, just a camera club. I belong to one (Coalition of Photographic Arts www.copamilwaukee.com ) that has their own competitions, shows, and relies on outside resources to inhance the photograpic experiance. They even bring in professionals to review portfolios.

  • Dale Reynolds

    April 20, 2012 03:45 am

    I joined the local photographic club last September which runs printed and digital competions that have external judges. These have provided me with lots of feedback on my photos as well are picking up tips from the comments made on other peoples photos.

    Redbubble is a site I use because some of the groups run challenges which can be fun to enter. These are voted on by other members of the site. They can also put comments on your photos.

    Flickr is another site were you can get feed back on your photos particularly if you put your photos into the many groups.

  • Kathi Baker

    April 19, 2012 11:12 pm

    In America we have local guilds in most cities and states sponsored by Professional Photographers of America (PPA). Start by joining there because they have guild competitions and state and national ones.

  • Valerie Jardin

    April 19, 2012 10:50 pm

    Some valid points, thanks for chiming in! This article was more geared towards beginner photographers but, I do believe that the most successful photographers out there are always looking to better their work. There is always room for improvement, no matter who your are and whether your work sells or not. If you do children portraiture for example, a new mom may love the pictures of her child because it's her baby and she will spend $$$ in prints, but it doesn't mean that the pictures are great. Objective feedback is important to continually improve your craft.

  • shawn O

    April 19, 2012 10:29 pm

    I put some images in a photo contest site for a book here in MN (for the first time) where they printed the best 200 and I made it in the book is Capture Minnesota.

  • Neil Hargreaves

    April 19, 2012 09:48 pm

    there's nothing like proof-reading your post ;-) - "local camera clubs have regular comps " !

  • Neil Hargreaves

    April 19, 2012 09:45 pm

    I couldn't agree more with the author's opening statement. It really is best to completely ignore all those "likes" and "great pic!" comments that you receive from family and friends. They are hardly objective and, most often, based on little or no photographic knowledge!

    I'm in two minds about the value of entering competitions - my reason being that you'll generally get a yes / no response to your entry: yes - congrats you won, (but often they haven't provided any info about why) or no - you haven't won, and there were to many entries for us to consider giving you any feedback on why you didn't win.

    The exception to this is, IMHO, the local camera club type competitions, where I'd hope that a judge would take the time to provide feedback on each image.

    There's probably more to be gained from listening in on a live judging and hearing comments on a range of images (local camera clubs have regular clubs and often professional bodies (such as the AIPP here in Australia) web stream their state and national comp judging so you can view the images and listen in to the judges commentaries live.

    I've been judging photo comps for sometime now and always provide some feedback about how I might have approached the shot, or how the author of the image might do something differently next time. It would be quite unusual for me to find a "perfect" image, which couldn't be improved in any way!

    Hearing feedback on other people's images can be as informative as that provided on your own images too. Once you start to think about how judges go about assessing and critiquing images, you'll find yourselves looking at your own images in a completely different way - and hopefully improving your art.

  • Doug McKay

    April 19, 2012 08:12 pm

    I enter and win some photo competitions, but I do nature and natural history more then people in my public collection so do not fair well with stock photo sites.

    I was surprised to see one of my images on the wall of an up scale international restaurant chain. At first I was just wow and wondering how I never looked at that wall before. Then began to wonder how and where they got it. Now I am getting another image of the same falcon on of 200 or so that I took of the course of several days ready to give to the General Manager of this particular branch. This one has me and the bird looking at each other - I will present it with the two of us standing with the wall and "my picture" clearly in the back ground in a photo. I have to admit I was thinking -I could have made some money, but realize it probably would not have been much and this way I have something that could be far more valuable than having been paid-a silent testament to my nature photography.

  • Kim Kravitz

    April 19, 2012 08:00 pm

    Great post! Thanks for sharing!!

  • Bharat Justa

    April 19, 2012 07:59 pm

    Great!
    i never thought of entering a competition, but now I think I should.
    Are there any competitions for mobile phone photography? :D

  • Ruby

    April 19, 2012 06:07 pm

    I agree with the previous comments that, for a professional, the real test will be if your images sell. But if you're an amateur trying to decide whether you really have what it takes to go pro, then these might be good ideas for you. Another one: join a local camera/photography club. They offer a friendly and supportive environment (no overly-thick skin required) and usually have frequent informal competitions. You'll quickly learn how you stack up to other local amateurs and semi-pros. If you're consistently on top, then you may do well professionally too.

  • steve slater

    April 19, 2012 05:55 pm

    If this is aimed at professionals then surely the key to knowing if your work is good is if it sells:

    http://wildlifeencounters.photoshelter.com/gallery-image/African-Mammals/G0000FIcyAEFOesQ/I0000L1e6bLMYQnU

  • Alexx

    April 19, 2012 04:47 pm

    I'd love to enter a photography contest!

    Does anyone want to give me a portfolio review? Lol.

    http://disney-photography-blog.blogspot.com/

  • Mridula

    April 19, 2012 04:38 pm

    Ye ye I score on the second one. This is a picture with one of the stock agencies.

    http://blogs.gonomad.com/traveltalesfromindia/2011/12/red-chillies-and-a-lemon.html

  • scott schaffer

    April 19, 2012 03:28 pm

    Your State Fair or local County Fair probably has a photography competition.
    The Iowa State Fair allows you to submit a few photos to be judged.
    You wont get feedback, but it will force you to be more critical of your work,
    You'll also get to see the photos that did win and may others the judges found interesting.
    You might win a little prize money or a ribbon, but just having your photo chosen (from literally thousands of entries) to be on display is an honor unto itself.

  • Linda Fury

    April 19, 2012 03:06 pm

    The best thing I ever did with my photography was to do a couple of things. Go on a photography holiday with a professional that allows of one on one time, this helped me so much.

    Another thing I did was to join the local camera club. This allows you to show your photos and have them judged. There are also tutorial nights and weekend outing that you can go to as well.

  • raghavendra

    April 19, 2012 12:45 pm

    Misleading popularity in social networks

    Many people post the pictures in social networks and often they likes, +1's They have a illusion that they are good, problem arises when they go out of the realm.
    Those likes comes from your friends, Misleading popularity in social networks, it must be treated as a pinch of salt.

    The list in entering competitions, submit photos to stock and portfolio review is very good.
    Thanks for this wonderful article Valerie Jardin

    http://raghavendra-mobilephotography.blogspot.com/search/label/best%20shots

  • Max Almonte

    April 19, 2012 12:31 pm

    Out of the 3 options I can tell you will get to know more how to interpret your work from #'s 2 and 3. I don't Really go for number one, since you are always competing with Professionals who outdo even their own work professionally and then some. Competitions do give you something to brag about if you are mention or even if you win. You get to show the world that your work is a competition winner, and then again people are not impressed when you brag about yourself. This is the double edge sword of this one. 2 and 3 give you the bread and butter of what you should look in your work before presenting it to agencies or even clients. Like that you have a solid portfolio to show and then again some clients will be impressed and some will have seen better. Getting to know how to cater to your clients in each and every way is how you know if you are good.

  • Valerie Jardin

    April 19, 2012 12:14 pm

    @mei teng, I wish it were that simple. The reality is a bit different in most cases. There are more talented photographers trying to get noticed than ever before and they have to get out there and promote their work. They need the confidence that their work is good enough to sell before they try to market it.

  • Mei Teng

    April 19, 2012 10:42 am

    I believe if you're good, your work will sell. Or put it another way, people would come knocking on your door and pay for your expertise. Just my two cents.

  • Scottc

    April 19, 2012 09:34 am

    I don't see "3 ways to know if your work is good" here. Techniques to develop a "thick skin" perhaps. I think a photographer "knows" if they're good when their work sells (if they sell it, I've seen great ones who don't).

    I don't mean to criticize, I don't sell anything and never even try. All of my photos are under a CC license and I just do it because I enjoy it.

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/lendog64/

  • Lara White

    April 19, 2012 09:04 am

    I recommend having a group of other photographers (friends) to review your portfolio. We did this years ago with photographer friends and visited each other's websites as a group-the feedback was invaluable-at the time, people saw images on my website that related to fun, funny moments, etc. and what was interested was that I had never seen that before-and I didn't personally identify with that feeling in my imagery-so I removed those types of images and replaced them with images that were more inline with what I wanted to create and what I personally connected to-images that were more moody and dramatic. It was seeing the portfolio through others' eyes that really helped me to zero in on my style.

  • Allie

    April 19, 2012 08:55 am

    "But beware! Stock agency standards are very high, so hold off on this step until you’ve acquired some thick skin and are truly ready to learn from this process. "

    Or just submit to several, like I did, and all the photos rejected by some agencies will be accepted by other agencies...

  • Kim

    April 19, 2012 08:50 am

    Careful when doing contests. Make sure you are okay with the fine print.. if it matters, find out if you can still sell your image to make a profit. You dont want to sign your image rights away..

  • Elizabeth

    April 19, 2012 08:02 am

    These are great suggestions! Does anyone know if you can submit pictures of Disney World to the stock agencies?

    http://funmommie.blogspot.com/2012/04/photographs-disney-magic-kingdom-castle.html
    http://www.explore-disney-resorts.com/index.html

  • Vrinda

    April 19, 2012 07:59 am

    Objective advice is a valuable way to learn, and that's something really difficult to get from family and friends.

    I've been taking part in a beta for a new photography critiquing site and I'm very very excited about what I see developing. I've learned so much already in the short time I've been there.

    I'm not certain how open to the public it is so far, but watch this space:

    http://photic.beta.ahlgrenwebdevelopment.com/

  • Jeff E Jensen

    April 19, 2012 07:27 am

    Good suggestions. I've dabbled with the stock stuff a bit with mixed results. I'm working on a new round of images for that. I'd also be interested in suggestions on competition sites. I currently participate in the monthly contests at betterphoto.com but would be interested in others.

  • Valerie Jardin

    April 19, 2012 07:25 am

    Check out this list: http://www.pixiq.com/article/the-top-50-photo-contests-for-2012

  • Jeff

    April 19, 2012 07:20 am

    Suggestions on good sites for photo competitions?

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