Online Critiques: Do We Really Need Them?

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Whenever I see a decent shot and there is a statement under the title saying “Comments and critiques are greatly appreciated” I read it as “I know this shot is good, so just verify it for me and I will be happy” The reason is that  nobody really wants a full blown harsh critique that would make Simon Cowell run crying home like a sissy girl, no matter how “constructive” it is. I don’t put too much stock in comments or critiques from random people online anymore. They are nice to get and I love  hearing about people that like my photos but that is about it. In my numerous years of putting my stuff out there on the internet I have gotten very  few “good” critiques of my photos and by that I mean ones that were actually useful.

What Makes a Good Critique?

The biggest thing is that a critique is not about how good or bad the photo is but rather what would improve the photo. Suggesting a different crop or editing style is a good start. Perhaps pointing out a particular spot or issue with the photo is a good thing. However, most of the photos that I see these days are really good. People are sharing their best work and it is great! So does that mean people should look harder at the photos and rip them apart the way a National Geographic editor would? Hell no! If it is a good photo and you like it, tell them. If you don’t just scroll past.


Good: “Jason, I am not sure if you noticed but this shot has some chromatic abrasions along the sides of the bamboo. You should try adjusting the slider in NIK next time”

The reason this is good is because it actually points out a problem and tells me basically where to start fixing it.


Bad: The only use this photo serves is for a background image in a Pixar movie like Wall-E

This one was not useful in any way. It basically only tells me that they don’t like the shot and wanted to try and make me feel bad. The effect? nothing as I was quite happy with the image and went on about my business of fixing the bamboo shot with chromatic abrasions.




Don’t Critiques Make You a Better Photographer?

Not really, unless there is something technically wrong with the photo like the suggestions above. The rest of the time it just serves as a way for people troll other photographers and get off on a technicality. “It was just a bit of constructive criticism” is what they well say after a particularly useless and sarcastic remark. Having some random person on the internet tell you how much they hate your style or that your photo is a cliche or a piece of crap, serves no purpose what-so-ever.

What makes you a better photographer is realizing your own mistakes on your own time or learning from a mentor who will guide you through your photographic expression. Let’s face it, only you really know what you are trying to achieve with your shots. If other people like what you do, then that is good. If you are really looking to improve your photography instead of fishing for compliments, just examine your own/old work. If there is something that you want to further express in that shot, do a re-shoot, go back the same location or re-edit the original files.

Having some anonymous douche tell you that your photo is crap is not going to make you rethink the shot. All that a negative comment is going to do is feel bad or want to go through the other guy’s portfolio and comment on his photos telling him that they his shots are crap too. Congratulations you are back in the 6th grade again.

What Do You Do When You See a Struggling Photographer That Really Needs Help?

Well, it is up to you but you could reach out to them and mentor them. You could send them a note just stating that you like what they do but show them where they could improve. Otherwise, let them be because somewhere out there someone might like it. Also be wary of those who are just fishing for comments as even a solid piece of constructive criticism could set them off.

A few weeks ago on a facebook photography group  there was a member that started posted some cellphone shots of random things. They said that they just wanted to “improve” their photography. When myself and a few members tried to help by suggesting that they find a main subject and rest the phone on something to get a sharper shot, it was met with comments ripping apart other members photos specifically those that tried to help. No matter how the other members and myself tried to point out how they could “improve” that member still fired back with insults and even went so far as to make an internet meme from one of the member’s photos with the caption “faux -tography” or something like that. Later that member was banned from the group. The biggest thing was in the end the guy commented that he “didn’t care what people said about his photos” or something to that effect and then complained in another group that guys with big cameras were hating on him. This was all because he didn’t get the “right” critiques or comments that he was fishing for.

So what did I learn from that? Some people just don’t like having their shots critiqued even though they ask for it. The main thing here is that there is a time and a place for everything. Most people when they post photos just want a pat on the back to say “hey, you did a good job” which justifies their $3000 purchase. There is nothing wrong with that.

People also  like different styles of photography too and we as photographers must understand that. Some people like street photography  (I am not one of them) and look for simple shots from vintage cameras preferably in black and white. Some people hate HDR and thus my entire portfolio and that is fine. The kicker is that by telling me that my photo sucks and that a “2 year old with a box of crayons could do better”  is not going to make me sit back and wonder if I over saturated that last shot or not.

So Why Do People Post So Many Photos Then…Smart Ass?

There are many reasons but lets put it out there as it is a social thing. People want to show their friends and people in their circles online what great shots they have. It is an impressive thing to have so many people checking out your work. That is the essence of it. I want people to see my work and it makes me happy when a lot of people like it. For me, I want to show some of the unique places and things that I see. I want to show the world what I saw in my mind at that moment in time. I think that is why other share their images both good and bad. However, this post mostly focuses on those fishing for comments and trolls dishing out the “critiques”. So again, people don’t share their photos to have them ripped apart unless they post to a specific group that focuses on pointing out the bad.

However, unless I am having some issues with motivation or technical issues then I am not really too concerned if someone thinks that my photos are terrible (if they are not paying me to take them LOL). I take most of my photos with only the scene in mind, not whether it is going to be good or not. There is a world of information out there that will help you become a better photographer and some random dude on the internet is not worth the metal energy it takes to read their comment.

So again, If you want to be a better photographer study the craft and network with others. Do not create your  photographic world around harvesting comments or thinking “critiques” from random people on the net are worth something. If you want to gain more techniques check out some ebooks and talk to the good people on Google+. Otherwise, just do you own thing and make the best of it. In the words of Henry Rollins in his epic song Shine “If I listened to everything they said to me, I wouldn’t be here. If I took the time to bleed from all the tiny little arrows shot my way, I wouldn’t be here. The ones who don’t do anything are always the ones who try and put you down.”


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