How to Win Friends and Influence People – A Guide to Commenting on Other People’s Photos
Don’t just parrot the same comments over and over.
© Neil Creek
One of the ten things I hate about Flickr is people who don’t know how to comment on photos. In a recent post to my blog, I lamented the number of comments I receive on my photos which consist of only one or two words: “Frankly, I don’t care if you think my photo’s “Awesome!”, I care even less if you think it’s a “Cool photo”. I’ve put a lot of work into it, I’d genuinely like to know what you think of it and why. If you’re going to comment, why not take the extra 30 seconds, engage your brain, and say something insightful.”
In the lively discussion that followed, it occurred to me that these commenters may not just be lazy. Some said they don’t feel confident enough, or have enough knowledge to feel worthy of making a comment. Others said they have a hard time expressing their feelings. And some simply don’t know what to say. I want to help fix that.
Even though a discussion about Flickr prompted this guide, and the examples I use are all from Flickr, it applies equally well to any online photography or art community, where people comment on the works uploaded by others.
Comments on a photo really help the photographer. They can give confidence, offer suggestions and give ideas for future photos. A good comment can forge friendships, develop ideas and educate. Not every comment can be deep or insightful, but just expressing how a photo made you feel is very valuable to a photographer. Thoughtful comments encourage photographers and build communities, and that benefits us all.
What to say?
Starting from the assumption that you want to say something about the photo, ask yourself why?
To express your emotions
Obviously you can’t comment on every photo you see, but when a photo stands out to you, makes you think “wow!”, or makes you wonder how it was done, then it’s only fair to let the photographer know. They have moved you with their work, so you really owe it to them to return the favour. And if you’ve been moved, then you should have something to say. Don’t feel like you’re unable to express yourself in words, just think about it and write what comes to you.
- What feature of the photo did you like most and why?
- What emotion did the photo stir in you?
- Did the photo remind you of something cool?
- Is the subject dear to you?
- Is the photo controversial, or does it get you worked up?
- If you get stuck, use a thesaurus, seriously!
Here’s how I expressed my emotions about this photo:
What a wonderfully lively and free image. It brings memories of a carefree childhood, when an open space was an impossible to ignore invitation to run for the sake of running. You did a fantastic job catching the seagulls take flight, and I’m impressed with the composition in such an action-packed shot. Thank you for sharing!
To ask a question
Photo communities are an incredible resource for learning photography, not just by participating in the many photography learning groups, but also by seeing how others take their photos. Many photographers thoughtfully include a lot of detail about how they took their photos, but this can be a lot of work, so it’s often left unsaid. If you see a striking photo and you’d like to know more about it, here are some of the type of questions you might ask.
- What was the creative drive behind taking the photo?
- How was a particular effect achieved?
- Were the camera settings an artistic decision, and what was their effect on the result?
- Why was this particular subject and location chosen?
- How were you able to get a natural expression from the model/s?
- What lessons did you learn from taking this photo?
Here are some questions I asked about this photo:
Absolutely striking photo! You described the process as including compositing multiple exposures. Was the model present for all exposures? The shadows appear to be clearly from a left and right source only. I love the starfield, was that a separate exposure, or was it in one of the other element photos? And finally, how did you achieve the evenness not only in the spacing of the lights, but also the smooth curve with their distance from the camera always being constant? Thanks for showing this beautiful photo and for giving so many details!
To offer a suggestion or constructive criticism
Just as you shouldn’t feel shy to ask questions, nor should you be shy to offer suggestions or criticism. Whether your suggestion is just a personal preference, a neat trick you have learned, or based on experience, most photographers welcome input that can help improve their photos. It’s important of course, not to be arrogant or derisive, but if you feel you have something constructive to offer, go right ahead! It’s nice to start by saying what you like about the photo, or you could end up sounding too critical.
- Suggest a more effective crop.
- The photo may inspire a cool related idea for another photo.
- Politely mention a technical flaw that the photographer may have missed, such as a tilted horizon.
- Suggest an alternative colour scheme, such as black and white or a particular monotone.
- If the photographer asks a question and you can help, jump right in.
- Suggest a creative element or subject that would work well with the photo.
Great photo! The low angle is creative and the buildings have interesting detail. A suggestion for when you try this next time: tilt the camera up slightly so the horizon is at the bottom third. Then you’ll see more of the interesting buildings while preserving the close view of the road.
Spread the word!
By taking a little more time to think about your comments, you’ll become a far more valuable and respected community member. Others will appreciate your effort, and likely return the favour, or at least want to know more about the cool person that left a nice comment. You will end up getting more out of the online photography community, and hopefully encourage others to follow your example, and that will be a good thing for us all.
Perhaps if you often get comments that haven’t had a lot of thought put into them, you can gently and politely suggest the commenters visit this guide. Send them the link, and maybe you’ll be able to make friends with a new, thoughtful commenter.