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Learning to evaluate your own work and getting good honest feedback is critical to improving as a photographer. Others will see things you don’t see. It will give you tips to help you improve. And it is peculiar to your work (not just general tips for everyone).
The problem is that getting honest feedback on your work has always been difficult. Your choices boil down to:
None of these is ideal. The first two don’t work, and the third is a rather large, expensive (not to mention scary) undertaking.
So what do you do? Fortunately, the world is changing in this area. There are additional tools to help you get feedback and also to help you objectively judge your own work as well. In this article, you’ll be introduced to a few of my favorites.
You may already be familiar with 500px. You upload your pictures to the site and it provides you with a score for your photograph based on the number of likes and comments it receives from others. An obvious way to get feedback is through the score. Higher scores generally mean better pictures and you can judge your picture by the score it receives.
That said, the scoring of 500px can be somewhat unreliable. Sometimes you will upload pictures that you know are better than the score they get (but be careful about that, as sometimes we delude ourselves into thinking our photos are better than they are). Other times you will see pictures with really high scores that aren’t as good as their scores warrant. There are a lot of factors that might determine the number of people that are liking your photo at any particular time.
The score isn’t the only way that 500px helps you evaluate your own work, though. When you upload your picture to the site, you will see it in pools of pictures that 500px creates. All new pictures go into the Fresh pool of pictures, then if your photo reaches a score of 70 it goes into an Upcoming pool, and pictures that score over 80 are deemed Popular. When you look at your photo within these pools, you will see it surrounded by its peers. You are essentially forced to compare your photo to the surrounding ones. Sometimes you will like what you see, sometimes you won’t.
Then, when you are ready for a little dose of humility, you can compare your photo to the most popular photos on the front page. These photos are almost always incredible shots. Be warned, this will bruise your ego. Once you get past that, you can look at what these photographers are doing to get those great shots. That will help show you things you could be doing.
Having your photos reviewed by an expert has always been an option, but it has historically been expensive. Usually, it involves going to a photography conference, where you are given the opportunity to sit face-to-face with someone reviewing your work. These opportunities are invaluable but are also expensive and time-consuming. The conferences usually aren’t cheap and there may be significant travel expenses involved as well.
Technology is starting to help change this situation, though. Now, if you poke around online, you can find photographers that will review your work virtually for a fraction of the cost. The occasions I have done this have cost me $50 or less.
What you do is upload some pictures to the photographer or service, and they review them. I’ve done it where I had a call with the reviewer, and where the reviewer sent me an audio/video file of them reviewing my work. Obviously, you only have interaction with them the first way, but the reality is that you are mostly doing this for their honest feedback your pictures, and not to ask questions or have them explain things. In any case, you get feedback on your work from an industry expert.
Some photographers offer this as a service on their websites. Many others don’t, but I suspect they would welcome the opportunity to make a little extra cash if approached. If you have a favorite photographer, you might see if they are interested in reviewing your work for a fee. It will get you great feedback without the cost of traveling to a conference.
Another way I have seen to get good feedback on your work is a website called Pixoto.
When you post a photo to Pixoto, it goes through a series of Image Duels, which are head-to-head competitions between your photo and another image. You will be asked to vote on Image Duels of photos submitted by others, and they will vote on yours. It is nameless and faceless. As a result of the wins and losses (and even the best photos have plenty of losses), Pixoto generates a score for your photo. It also tells you what percentage of photos yours placed above.
You won’t always agree with the results Pixoto gives you. Sometimes that will be because the Pixoto score is wrong, but more often it will be because you failed to properly evaluate your own work (which is very hard). In any case, this is another tool in your arsenal, and it is free.
None of these tools is perfect, what’s more, they will sometimes conflict. You might have a photo that gets a really high score on 500px but does dismally on Pixoto. Or you might have a photo that gets lots of social media attention and is loved by a reviewer but goes nowhere on 500px or Pixoto. None of this replaces judgment and there is no accounting for taste. But they can give you good markers to help you critically evaluate your own work.
These tools will occasionally change your mind, and it can work in both directions. There will be photos you absolutely love, but you later realize aren’t as good as you thought after you’ve used these tools. At the same time, there will be photos that you didn’t think much of but that you realize might be a little better than you gave them credit for after seeing the reaction of others to them.
In any event, perhaps the greatest tool these can offer you is helping you learn to better evaluate your own work by yourself. After you have seen others do it, you’ll learn things. You’ll stop repeating mistakes. You’ll learn what is important to others. And you’ll learn to view your photos with a more critical eye.