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How To Handle Unwanted Critique of Your Photography

unwanted-critique.jpgWhen I first started posting my photos online, I longed for people to take a look and comment on them, but then sometimes I wished they just hadn’t bothered.  Not everyone is going to love every single one of our photos, and we’re all going to get our share of critique – whether asked for or not – that we don’t like.  I think this is especially hard for those of us that are just starting off, because you work so hard on something and you think it’s one of the best photos you’ve taken and edited in quite some time, that when you get a critique it feels like they expect a masterpiece from you and don’t appreciate what you have done. Here are some things I try to consider before getting too upset about what people say about my photos.

Take a step back

First of all, remember that they’re not attacking you personally.  Even if you think they sound rude, you have to remember that it’s harder to interpret meaning and tone when you’re reading words on the screen instead of in person.  In addition, the language they’re using to comment on your photo may not be their first language.

Remember that photography is very subjective.  Just because one person doesn’t like something about your photo doesn’t mean that it’s bad – a hundred people could love exactly what the one person is hating.

Also keep in mind that, no matter how good a photographer you are, chances are really high that you’re not the Best Photographer in the World.  Learn to accept that, and realize that we all have to start somewhere, and you will continue to get better with more practice.

Who is it from?

It seems like most of the unwanted critique I get is from people that, as far as I know, know very little about photography.  I had a very good friend of mine – that I’ve never seen taking a photo beyond snapshots of his friends at a party with a point & shoot camera – tell me I should get a lens hood to make my photos better.  I thought about going into the ins and outs of why I didn’t bother having a lens hood on my wide angle lens, and then decided that he probably didn’t even care that much, or feel as strongly about it as did, so I decided it wasn’t worth it.  When someone gives me critique and they’ve never given me a reason to respect their photography knowledge, I smile and nod and forget it.

On the other hand, if it’s someone that I respect and love their work, it’s easy to feel honored instead of annoyed.  Instead of feeling like you’re not good enough for someone you respect, instead think about the fact that someone you think is better than you took the time to try and help you be a better photographer.

Don’t lash back

I mentioned above that I often smile and nod when people give me their advice or tell me what they don’t like.  It’s hard sometimes to fight the urge to justify why you did something, or tell someone why their critique is wrong.  But really, what’s the point in fighting back?  As I mentioned before –  photography is subjective – you can’t prove that a way you edited your photo is the best way, because there is no best way.  If you try to prove that you’re always right or explain everything away, people are going to stop giving you critique because you won’t seem open to it.  At some point, you’re really going to want that critique to help you become a better photographer.

Learn from it

Most of the critique I get is about composition – a tilted horizon or cutting off a tree, body part or some other subject of the photo, etc – and I admit to being a slow learning, but eventually, after hearing those same things over and over, it finally got ingrained in my head and I look closer when composing my shots.  It might not feel good to hear the same comment over and over again, but eventually, you’ll be thankful when you realize it’s sunk in.

The other type of critique I get is about my editing I took the photo you see above of a snow-covered field.  Someone commented on it mentioning that their only gripe about it was the underexposed snow, and mentioned that a ND gradient filter would have been helpful.  I figured there was probably a way to edit the photo so that it looked better, though, so I took the time to figure out how to do it and I ended up with the after photo.

Leave better comments for other people

unwanted-critique-2.jpgI once posted a batch of photos that included the image on the right, and a friend of mine said that while they think I’m a great photographer, that these particular photos weren’t interesting.  I agreed, but I was also thinking about how that wasn’t a helpful comment to me.  For instance, the photo you see here was intentionally simple.  Was it boring because of the subject?  Or did they think there was something I could have done to make this subject more interesting?  I’ve learned now to be more specific with my critiques – and positive feedback, as well – so the photographer can really know what I see and how it makes me feel.

I’ve also found ways that people word things that don’t sound so negative. A classic example of this, for me, is when someone uses phrases like “next time you might want to” or “if it were me, I might” instead of “it would be better if you” or “i never do that”.  The differences might seem subtle, but the first way of saying those things imply that the original image is perfectly fine, but you have a suggestion for a different take, while the second way of saying it implies that your way is the better way – and that brings us back to the fact that photography is subjective – no one way is better, it’s all a matter of taste.

About the Author: Jennifer Jacobs is an amateur photographer who runs iffles.com – a site for photography beginners. She’s also addicted to flickr and you can follow her stream here.

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