improve your photography with critiques

How To Improve Your Photography Through Critiques

improve your photography with critiquesOne of the best ways that you can improve your skills in photography (or in any endeavor, for that matter!) is to have a personal coach or someone who you can ask for some constructive criticism…

…someone that can point out your weak areas and give tips on things that you can improve upon and practice to strengthen your craft can be invaluable for becoming better faster.

The ugly truth – why you should expect some tough love

Now, when you ask for an honest appraisal of your work, be prepared that the feedback may sting a bit.

If you are just looking for praise and admiration, you may be in for a surprise. As long as the feedback is honest (it may be blunt) and not a personal attack (see previous post here) it can greatly help you improve as long as YOU are honest with yourself and willing to improve and shore up your weak areas.

If you are not willing to take in others’ perspectives and suggestions with an open mind, then you will have a hard time improving your craft.

My First Reality Check

When I first applied to join the Professional Photographers of Rhode Island, I had to sit with the president and other board members and present 4 or 5 of my images for them to review so that they could decide if I was at a professional enough level to join.

I took my very best images at the time, and since I was just starting out, they were of my children. Driving to the meeting, I had a vision in my head how they were going to be blown away by my great photography. After all, I had won ribbons in the amateur photography group that I belonged to. These pros better watch out!

But like Ralphie in A Christmas Story who dreamt of taking on bandits with his new rifle, my fantasy didn’t work out as I had imagined. These studio owners were pleasant but not so impressed…

…what may have been “award” winning in a group of amateurs was just average to a group of seasoned professionals.

It was a bit like being the local high school sports star that is always in the local paper, who moves on to college and finds himself now sitting on the bench. I was in a different league and would have to up my game to compete.

Pro Tip- Consider joining the Professional Photographer group in your state, or at the very least attend one of their conventions and sit in on a print judging. The judging criteria is extremely tough and some of the most incredible images that you have ever seen will be picked apart. This experience will open your eyes to viewing an image critically.

Suggestions for seeking an in-person critique

If you are brave enough to ask a photographer in your area that you admire for a critique of your work here, is my best suggestion- chose a photographer whose business is least an hour away from you.

Competition is intense these days, and you really can’t expect an established photographer in your area to jump at the chance to train the competition. By choosing someone that you won’t be going up against for customers, you are likely to increase your chances of getting a “yes” from them.

Most established photographers want to help others learn and grow. But keep in mind that not all photographers are as willing to help. You may have to ask a few people before you get the response you are looking for.

Tips for choosing images for critique

So, the day has come and you found a willing mentor, or perhaps you have some images that you want to share online for some feedback. Keep these tips in mind before you hit the “post” button.

  1. Be selective! Less is more. Pick the absolute best shot from a particular series. Don’t be that person that that shows you their 100 page scrapbook of their cat. Boring!
    By being selective you, you are showing that you are serious, professional, and appreciative of someone else’s time.
  2. Use a critical eye- Pick images that move you the most and that you think achieved the results that you were going for. No one is interested in mediocre pictures just because you were testing out your new camera or lens.

    On a recent critique post in our Backstage Group, a member Lissie Anne summed it up very well with her advice:

    start looking at your photos through eyes of a professional. Would you buy this photo? Would you be happy as a customer with your work? Do you think this picture is sellable to a magazine? If you saw this in a magazine or on a website, would you be impressed by it and want it? These are the questions you have to ask yourself.” Enough said.

  3. No excuses! If in-person, let the photographer offering their opinion speak. Whether In-person or online, resist the urge to get defensive.

    If someone offers a comment to improve a certain area of your photo, don’t jump in with the famous “but I like how that looks.” That’s a bit like the person that trips, looks back to says, “I meant to do that.” Yeah, sure you did. 😉

    Even if you do feel that way, just keep it to yourself and try to see what they are advising you about. If you keep an open mind, you may have one of those valuable “A-ha moments”.

  4. Put your best foot forward. Don’t post unedited or unretouched images unless you are asking advice on what processing might improve the image.

    If this is an image that represents your work, make it look the very best that it can be. Other people can only review what is in front of them, not what you intend the image to be when you are done enhancing it. Don’t be in such a hurry to get it posted; give it a little love and make it shine first.

Treat it like an audition

When you select images for critique, try to look at them with an impartial eye. Forget that the subject in the photo is a loved one, and just look at the quality of the photography. Would a well-known studio hire you after viewing these images?

If not, don’t be discouraged. The fact that you can now recognize the difference is the first step to improving your work!