A guest post by Nicholas Moegly
As a photographer, you have most likely posted your work online or at least thought about it. When and if you do, you are going to get some sort of response from friends, family, and even complete strangers whether you ask for it or not. This is what is so great about posting photos online; you can get immediate responses and a large amount of them as well. Unfortunately, a decent amount of that feedback is going to be useless to you and can sometimes even be hateful. Trying to make sense of poorly written, negative, and even seemingly helpful feedback can be frustrating and difficult. This guide explains how to filter all of that feedback so you can actual benefit from it.
There are dozens of sites online where you can post your work and get feedback from other photographers, such as Flickr, 500px, Facebook groups, Twitter, photography forums etc. Feedback and criticism can be one of the best ways to help better your shots and help you grow as a photographer, but in order for that feedback to truly help you it has to be 3 things; constructive, valid and relevant.
Constructive or Unconstructive?
The first question you need to ask yourself is, “Is this feedback constructive?” which means, did the person giving the feedback make a specific point or suggestion, and if the feedback was negative, did they offer a solution? People love to leave short comments online like, “This is awesome!” or “This sucks” but unfortunately, neither is very helpful. Positive feedback in this short format can be nice, but without knowing what it was exactly that made them enjoy your photo it doesn’t really help you hone that skill or repeat whatever it was that they liked. Negative feedback in this form is always disheartening to see, even if you know you should ignore it. Know this though, anyone who posts negative feedback in an unconstructive manner typically isn’t educated about photography, if they were they would have been able to elaborate on exactly why your photo isn’t good. Also, professional and skilled photographers typically don’t search through the internet putting down others. Only focus on feedback that is constructive and where a point is being made, or a suggestion is being offered. Which brings us to another point, validating the source of the feedback.
Who is Giving You Feedback?
If the feedback you receive is constructive, whether it is negative or positive, you should also validate whom it came from. Imagine this, you are on one side of a solid door and on the other side of the door are twenty people of all different ages, skill sets, and education levels. You slip your photo under the door and those 20 people write anonymous notes on what they think of it and slip them back under the door to you. That is what receiving feedback on the internet can be like sometimes, especially if you post your work on sites like Reddit or forums. Obviously anyone can make a good point or give good advice, but for the most part, taking advice from a skilled photographer is going to be more helpful than advice from someone who’s never held a camera. So if you can, try to find out who is posting the feedback and take a look at their portfolio. Don’t be afraid to ask to see work from someone, because you owe it to yourself to find out if you should consider what he or she is saying before you change your style or process. Try to receive feedback through an open door.
Is it Relevant?
The last thing you need to ask yourself is, “Is this feedback relevant to what I’m trying to do?” There are so many types and styles of photography, which means that there are different preferences as well. For example, some photographers like vintage, old film looking edits, and a lot of people really enjoy that style, whereas other photographers like very simple, clean, lightly edited shots, and a lot of people really like that style too. A skilled photographer who likes the more basic and simple style may look at a vintage, grainy edit and say something like, “I would recommend to take away the grain and light leaks, I think it’s distracting from the subject and it’s somewhat obvious that they were done in post”. Although that comment is constructive and they’re a skilled photographer, their style preference doesn’t match the other photographers, so that feedback isn’t necessarily relevant. Again, take a look at the people’s work that leave you comments, and based on what their style is you can see if their feedback was based on a stylistic preference that matches your own.
Using these steps you should be able to quickly go through comments and feedback and filter out what’s not useful to you and focus on the feedback that is. To summarize: ask yourself, “Is this feedback constructive?” if no, then filter it out and if yes, move onto the next step. Next, validate whom the feedback came from, anyone can give great advice but those who are successful in the industry will usually be the most helpful. Lastly, find out if the feedback is relevant to what you’re trying to accomplish or if it’s just based on a different style preference. The remaining comments and notes should be advice that you can actual consider when it comes to adjusting how you shoot and edit.
Now, with all of that said, do not use these tools to ignore all negative feedback and only consider positive feedback. The point is to filter out the feedback that isn’t actually helpful to you and leave you with the beneficial feedback, whether it be positive or negative. You’ll be amazed at what listening to a few bits of useful feedback from skilled photographers can do for your work.
Nicholas Moegly is a portrait and lifestyle photographer from Cincinnati, OH. He currently freelances and shoots for the magazine The Original Makers Club. His work can be seen on his portfolio site and his facebook page.