Back in May, I received a portfolio review from one of my mentors while interning at Greenpeace. He sat down with me and reviewed what I felt were my 20-25 best photojournalism images. Tim worked as a photo editor for Reuters for many years before leading the visual team at Greenpeace. Its safe to say, he knows what works, what doesn’t work, and how to improve photos to make them work better.
Tim showed me, in a manner of speaking, that many of my photos weren’t very good. He liked about a third of what I showed him. But while telling me what didn’t work, he explained how they could have worked. He gave me many suggestions for cropping tighter, changing angles, making my photos have more impact.
The review was a great experience for me. On one hand it was a tad demoralizing (AUGH! ALL MY PHOTOS SUCK!) and on the other hand it was very inspiring (NOW I KNOW HOW TO MAKE BETTER PHOTOS!). Not only did the review give me inspiration to improve my shooting, it gave me inspiration to continue seeking critiques.
With that in mind, I began seeking critiques from online forums. This is where I made a wrong turn.
There are plenty of online forums out there if you are seeking critique of your work. Typically, you upload a photo (or share a link), then specify where you want critiques (such as composition, or impact). Usually, the groups will ask you to give some critiques to other photos in return for you asking for critique.
I mostly dived into the Facebook Group titled “Streettogs Critique Group,” which was created by Eric Kim. I wanted a forum filled with fellow street photographers who shared a love for the genre. I wanted to learn how to improve my shots and I wanted to share my critiques with others who wanted to learn more as well.
After working with these types of groups for a while, I learned something about them. I was not getting out of these groups what I got from my portfolio review with Tim.
The first problem came from the fact that I was getting critiqued by people I didn’t trust. I’m not saying that the members of these groups aren’t trustworthy. What I didn’t trust was their photographic vision. The reason I didn’t trust their vision, was because I didn’t know what their vision was. These were (mostly) complete strangers to me. If I don’t know my critic’s vision, then how am I to weigh the credibility of their critique. Because of this, I wasn’t able to process which critiques I should listen to and which ones I should ignore.
The second problem came from me falling into the trap of just looking for praise rather than critique. Since I was getting more negative critique then positive critique, I was getting dejected and feeling incredibly negative towards my work. All I ended up doing was comparing my work to other photos showing up and getting upset when I wasn’t being praised.
I started to hate my work. I became very negative towards my shots and wasn’t able to just enjoy the act of photography. That’s when I realized I had a problem.
I wasn’t shooting for the love of the art. I wasn’t shooting because I wanted to make images that I loved. I was shooting to try to impress strangers on the internet.
After realizing what was going on, I decided to leave the groups I was seeking critiques from. Since then, I’ve been a much happier photographer. I’m not comparing myself to others (as much) and I’m not wasting my time searching for other’s approval.
I now know that in the future when I want critiques, I’ll instead seek them out personally from people who’s artistic vision I trust. That way I’ll be able to get more out of the critique and actually learn from the feedback.