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Become a Better Photographer Through the Critique of Others

The following tip was submitted by one of our readers Mort Metersky. Mort emailed me some of his experiences of improving as a photographer last week and I asked him to share more. As a 74 year old photographer I thought his wisdom would be something many of us could learn from. You can see more of Mort’s work at his website.

Image by Swansea Photographer

Image by Swansea Photographer

What is the “BEST” way to learn how to become a better photographer? The answer, I believe, is there isn’t because we all learn in different ways. According to communications theory, to remember anything it must be repeated five or more times. I can only relate to you how I learned to become a better photographer.

It has to do with the repetitive idea of communication theory.

When I retired after 36 years of working for the U. S. Navy as a civilian, I joined a photography club. By that time, I owned a Nikon FA. The club had photo competitions once a month (we met twice). Every other month we either had a theme or open competition. Paid judges critiqued the images and points were given based on the image being picked first, second, etc. We had three levels of competition, beginner, intermediate or advanced. I started out as a beginner and my images were judged against other members in that category. You needed a 100 points to move up a level. After the third year, I moved up to intermediate and two years after to advanced.

The point of this story is that I took hundreds of slides and many of them got critiqued. The critique was ALWAYS how to make the image better. Critique from a knowledgeable photographer is how I got to the point I am now. I never stop learning, either from my students or other photographers. Self critique will NOT make you a better photographer. I still ask for my images to be critiqued.

Join a camera club in your area. I’ve never met a photographer who wasn’t willing to help me.

I teach photography and have been for the last five years. My students range in age from 10-71. The first lecture is on the basic rules of composition. We take field trips and they show me their images and I suggest different perspectives, etc. The students MUST take pictures during the week and I critique them. Class after class we do the same thing.

Every image can be made better in some way. Of course, now with Adobe PhotoShop (we use Elements 6 on an iMAC) there are a lot of tools that can help correct most “mistakes.”

Read more from our Tips & Tutorials category.

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  • http://cjonesphotography.blogspot.com/ Carl Jones

    I think this nails one element of photography on the spot!

    Also with this coming of the ‘digital revolution’ with the likes of DPS, Facebook, Flickr, Blogger and more it’s even easier to get exposure and feedback and also get it from a whole range of people with different opinions.

  • Larry

    I joined a camera club this year. It’s not just hearing critiques of your work, but looking at others’ images, forming your own impressions & comparing your reactions to the feedback of the judges. Like the move from film to digital, the “instant feedback” on more images can help you progress rapidly.

  • http://www.eyeworksphotography.com Brian DeMint (Eyeworks)

    Although I completely respect the photographer’s viewpoint and experience I whole heartedly disagree with the content of the article… I believe that self-critique CAN make you a better photographer if you are completely honest, educate yourself on the elements of design and visual art and set your goals high.

    I fear that by being influenced to much from others iealolgy of what is visually correct you can lose your own vision in the process… what makes an artists work stand out is their ability to be dynamic and unique… to unchain themselves from the parameters of their peers… to disregard the crowd in respect of your own individuality…

    Brian DeMint
    eyeworks

  • http://foodientravelbug.blogspot.com MeiTeng

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts. Seeing something from another person’s perspective can be helpful.

  • Peter

    Thank you for those very nice tips for us to discuss. The article seemed a little short for my taste, and just the fact that the contributor has ‘wisdom’ made me pay more attention. I thought this was a very good article overall because it emphasized the importance of critique.

    @Bryan Demint
    I think you’re absolutely right with regard to the ‘self-critique’ point. A nice balance of both view points is useful. We learn from others, and appreciate their good qualities as photographers, but at the same time observe our own work and analyze it. One does not need to loose his/her identity as a photographer either, but one can definitely learn from our selves, always. Otherwise, why have a personal opinion about our work in the first place?

    Very nice article overall, and nothing less is expected from our DPS. Thank you.

  • Martin Barabé

    I agree totally with this post for the critique of others, but the other way arround, meaning that you making critiques of other photographs also makes you a better photograph, i believe it workes for me. I believe i am a better photograph than i was when i got my camera 7 months ago because i looked at and critiqued photos of others and doing so makes me think before i take the shot. Is there anything distracting in foreground or background? Is there a different angle i can take to make the shot better and so on… I am always around the critique my shot section of this blog trying to help out others by critique and at the same time helping myself. I do post shots for critique also because there is always room for improvement and i want to learn what others think of my work .

  • Gurgen Bakhshetsyan

    Yes, Critique is very important in improving photographical skills! But I think that the article is a bit short!

    By the way critique my photos:)
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/14577925@N08/

  • http://www.sudhakar.com $udhakar

    110% concur with it. (Constructive) criticism makes things better. Learned that way a lot.

  • http://poagao.org Poagao

    On the other hand, it’s also a way to produce completely mediocre photography, as most people don’t honestly know what makes a good photograph or are unable to express themselves and are reduced to things like “you cut off the top of her head” and “The horizon seems slightly tilted to me”. Critique by the right people is valuable, and difficult to come by. Anyone can critique any photo; remember when someone posted a classic shot by Henri Cartier-bresson onto a Flickr critic group and it got torn to shreds? But once they know it’s a “master” then suddenly it’s brilliant.

    Impress yourself first, then others.

  • http://www.MoreSatisfyingPhotos.com Jeffrey Kontur

    It’s important that critiques come from someone KNOWLEDGEABLE. This should be evidenced by the results they themselves produce. I’ve also found that many people, especially on Flickr, simply want praise and not a “real” critique. This is usually true even from those who specifically ask for a critique. It’s so true that I no longer voluntarily critique others’ photos for free. When I charge people for it, they take the feedback much more seriously. And learn from it.

  • http://danferno.deviantart.com Danferno

    A good idea is to look at your photo’s again, 3 months after you finished them (published on deviantart/flickr or just postprocessed to your liking and stored on the computer). You will look at them with new eyes (flip the image horizontally if you don’t) and will see things you didn’t notice at first.

  • http://www.edwud.com Ed O’Keeffe

    I am a big fan of photography clubs, my dad and I go every Thursday night to Sale Photographic Society where we regularly enter competitions. I am also a member of the Royal Photographic Society which I get a lot out of in terms of help, advice and lectures.

    Joining a club was one of my first steps towards becoming a full time professional photographer.

  • http://www.niels-henriksen.blogspot.com/ My Camera World

    I can’t rememger right now who said this but.

    Seek criticism, not praise to get better

    Niels

  • http://www.flickr.com/photos/pmjackson Paul Jackson

    I am a member of a camera club in the suburb of Fairfield, in Sydney NSW Australia. We have two meetings per month, one an evaluation/critique by an independent judge and the other usually a workshop on a variety of photography hints. We also have a couple of field trips and outdoor portraiture workshops on some weekends outside of the usual twice monthly (Wednesday evening) meetings. This in my opinion proves better than any formal qualification training in photography as, at the end of the day, it’s all about the quality of the photo one can produce NOT the piece of paper one holds that says “Diploma in Photography” or similar.

    Even though I take on board some of the constructive criticism from our judges, most of the time I brush it aside in silent disagreement because it is ultimately MY PHOTO. No disrespect intended towards anyone providing such criticism, I am just saying that a photographer should decide upon a balance between advice and their own personal vision.

    Enjoy photography, it’s the absolute best artistic activity!!

    Paul

  • http://ESCapade.zenfolio.com Tanny

    My gallery is wide open to everybody critiques.

  • Chris David

    I think that this advice is dead on. Over and over I find myself choosing an image that is technically flawed because of some detail that I am personally emotionally attached to. Often the photos I grow to like the most are those with details that others pointed out to me. The person who commented about looking at photos 3 months later was right. when time has passed I am a better judge of my photos. I believe individual vision grows out of a strong understanding of your craft , and that understanding grows out of the feedback that the author of this article described.

  • http://www.onegoodphotographer.wordpress.com Bridget Casas

    I am always willing to listen to what other’s have to say about my photography. I appreciate it very much. Sometimes you need some fresh, new eyes to look at something. If I have been working on an image for a long time, I can’t really “see” it anymore. That is why I like to save my images with all the layers. When I look at them days, weeks or months later, I have somewhat of a fresh eye. But it is still not like having someone else look at it. Just keep in mind, I also listen, but I do not always agree!

  • http://urbandaisy.wordpress.com/ beyond bluestockings

    I find it difficult to find people who will give you an honest critique of photographs.

    The statement about waiting a few months is very true for me. Sometimes I love a shot to bits, but if I wait a few months so I am not so wound up in the event/person/subject, I can see the photograph a lot more objectively.

Some older comments

  • beyond bluestockings

    June 30, 2009 01:19 pm

    I find it difficult to find people who will give you an honest critique of photographs.

    The statement about waiting a few months is very true for me. Sometimes I love a shot to bits, but if I wait a few months so I am not so wound up in the event/person/subject, I can see the photograph a lot more objectively.

  • Bridget Casas

    June 29, 2009 06:05 am

    I am always willing to listen to what other's have to say about my photography. I appreciate it very much. Sometimes you need some fresh, new eyes to look at something. If I have been working on an image for a long time, I can't really "see" it anymore. That is why I like to save my images with all the layers. When I look at them days, weeks or months later, I have somewhat of a fresh eye. But it is still not like having someone else look at it. Just keep in mind, I also listen, but I do not always agree!

  • Chris David

    June 28, 2009 03:25 pm

    I think that this advice is dead on. Over and over I find myself choosing an image that is technically flawed because of some detail that I am personally emotionally attached to. Often the photos I grow to like the most are those with details that others pointed out to me. The person who commented about looking at photos 3 months later was right. when time has passed I am a better judge of my photos. I believe individual vision grows out of a strong understanding of your craft , and that understanding grows out of the feedback that the author of this article described.

  • Tanny

    June 28, 2009 02:38 pm

    My gallery is wide open to everybody critiques.

  • Paul Jackson

    June 26, 2009 09:17 am

    I am a member of a camera club in the suburb of Fairfield, in Sydney NSW Australia. We have two meetings per month, one an evaluation/critique by an independent judge and the other usually a workshop on a variety of photography hints. We also have a couple of field trips and outdoor portraiture workshops on some weekends outside of the usual twice monthly (Wednesday evening) meetings. This in my opinion proves better than any formal qualification training in photography as, at the end of the day, it's all about the quality of the photo one can produce NOT the piece of paper one holds that says "Diploma in Photography" or similar.

    Even though I take on board some of the constructive criticism from our judges, most of the time I brush it aside in silent disagreement because it is ultimately MY PHOTO. No disrespect intended towards anyone providing such criticism, I am just saying that a photographer should decide upon a balance between advice and their own personal vision.

    Enjoy photography, it's the absolute best artistic activity!!

    Paul

  • My Camera World

    June 26, 2009 12:54 am

    I can't rememger right now who said this but.

    Seek criticism, not praise to get better

    Niels

  • Ed O'Keeffe

    June 26, 2009 12:49 am

    I am a big fan of photography clubs, my dad and I go every Thursday night to Sale Photographic Society where we regularly enter competitions. I am also a member of the Royal Photographic Society which I get a lot out of in terms of help, advice and lectures.

    Joining a club was one of my first steps towards becoming a full time professional photographer.

  • Danferno

    June 25, 2009 11:25 pm

    A good idea is to look at your photo's again, 3 months after you finished them (published on deviantart/flickr or just postprocessed to your liking and stored on the computer). You will look at them with new eyes (flip the image horizontally if you don't) and will see things you didn't notice at first.

  • Jeffrey Kontur

    June 25, 2009 11:01 pm

    It's important that critiques come from someone KNOWLEDGEABLE. This should be evidenced by the results they themselves produce. I've also found that many people, especially on Flickr, simply want praise and not a "real" critique. This is usually true even from those who specifically ask for a critique. It's so true that I no longer voluntarily critique others' photos for free. When I charge people for it, they take the feedback much more seriously. And learn from it.

  • Poagao

    June 25, 2009 05:35 pm

    On the other hand, it's also a way to produce completely mediocre photography, as most people don't honestly know what makes a good photograph or are unable to express themselves and are reduced to things like "you cut off the top of her head" and "The horizon seems slightly tilted to me". Critique by the right people is valuable, and difficult to come by. Anyone can critique any photo; remember when someone posted a classic shot by Henri Cartier-bresson onto a Flickr critic group and it got torn to shreds? But once they know it's a "master" then suddenly it's brilliant.

    Impress yourself first, then others.

  • $udhakar

    June 25, 2009 03:26 pm

    110% concur with it. (Constructive) criticism makes things better. Learned that way a lot.

  • Gurgen Bakhshetsyan

    June 25, 2009 01:32 pm

    Yes, Critique is very important in improving photographical skills! But I think that the article is a bit short!

    By the way critique my photos:)
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/14577925@N08/

  • Martin Barabé

    June 25, 2009 12:20 pm

    I agree totally with this post for the critique of others, but the other way arround, meaning that you making critiques of other photographs also makes you a better photograph, i believe it workes for me. I believe i am a better photograph than i was when i got my camera 7 months ago because i looked at and critiqued photos of others and doing so makes me think before i take the shot. Is there anything distracting in foreground or background? Is there a different angle i can take to make the shot better and so on... I am always around the critique my shot section of this blog trying to help out others by critique and at the same time helping myself. I do post shots for critique also because there is always room for improvement and i want to learn what others think of my work .

  • Peter

    June 25, 2009 12:19 pm

    Thank you for those very nice tips for us to discuss. The article seemed a little short for my taste, and just the fact that the contributor has 'wisdom' made me pay more attention. I thought this was a very good article overall because it emphasized the importance of critique.

    @Bryan Demint
    I think you're absolutely right with regard to the 'self-critique' point. A nice balance of both view points is useful. We learn from others, and appreciate their good qualities as photographers, but at the same time observe our own work and analyze it. One does not need to loose his/her identity as a photographer either, but one can definitely learn from our selves, always. Otherwise, why have a personal opinion about our work in the first place?

    Very nice article overall, and nothing less is expected from our DPS. Thank you.

  • MeiTeng

    June 25, 2009 10:50 am

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts. Seeing something from another person's perspective can be helpful.

  • Brian DeMint (Eyeworks)

    June 25, 2009 10:19 am

    Although I completely respect the photographer’s viewpoint and experience I whole heartedly disagree with the content of the article... I believe that self-critique CAN make you a better photographer if you are completely honest, educate yourself on the elements of design and visual art and set your goals high.

    I fear that by being influenced to much from others iealolgy of what is visually correct you can lose your own vision in the process... what makes an artists work stand out is their ability to be dynamic and unique... to unchain themselves from the parameters of their peers... to disregard the crowd in respect of your own individuality...

    Brian DeMint
    eyeworks

  • Larry

    June 25, 2009 08:44 am

    I joined a camera club this year. It's not just hearing critiques of your work, but looking at others' images, forming your own impressions & comparing your reactions to the feedback of the judges. Like the move from film to digital, the "instant feedback" on more images can help you progress rapidly.

  • Carl Jones

    June 25, 2009 08:30 am

    I think this nails one element of photography on the spot!

    Also with this coming of the 'digital revolution' with the likes of DPS, Facebook, Flickr, Blogger and more it's even easier to get exposure and feedback and also get it from a whole range of people with different opinions.

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