On a previous post, I wrote tips about how a photographer can ask for critique and be more likely to receive meaningful feedback.
Although critique is fundamental to becoming a better photographer, it is important to keep in mind that constantly letting others tell you what to do and how to do it may not be desirable.
WHY, and WHEN, ASK FOR INPUT?
You ask for critique when you want to learn what other people see when they look at your work. It is like asking someone to read a text you just wrote: you know exactly what you want to say, but someone else may not be able to understand it. If that’s the case, you go back and rephrase things, then ask again, “do you now understand this text?”
Another person may see something you missed in a photograph. For example, a week ago, a wannabe wedding photographer posted the photo of a marriage proposal in a critique group. The first thing I saw jumping at me was a trashcan coming out of the head of one of the two subjects. The photographer needed a lot of encouragement to finally see the trashcan (red!). There is value in having as many pairs of eyes as possible on your work, particularly if you are new and want to break into an industry. Conversely, if you are a seasoned photographer, your self-confidence might occlude your own ability to see undesirable elements in a photograph.
With the above considerations in mind, I must say that there are also reasons not to ask for critique. This brings me to the second question.
WHEN is it NOT appropriate to ASK FOR INPUT?
Sometimes, particularly as part of the artistic process involving creative vision, asking for input is not productive. Having a vision for a photograph, or a group of photographs, is knowing exactly how you want your work to look like. When it’s finished, you ask yourself: “is this consistent with my vision?”. If it is, you keep it. If it is not, you start over. If you believe that it is important to stay 100% true to your vision, then the only critique you will ever need is your own.
Now, how does critique interfere with your creativity and vision? If you are constantly asking for and listening to input, you will get confused. For example, a while ago I posted the lead photo somewhere and someone said that I should add grain. Given that the comment was out, I had no other choice but to consider adding some grain to see how it looks like. Someone questioned my vision and I started questioning it too. Of course, this is not something to lament and it’s certainly not the end of the world, but too much of it can impair one’s creativity.
Trying to keep others from interfering with one’s own vision is the reason why some photographers absolutely don’t look at other people’s photos and do not ask for critique. Completely eliminating outside input is a means to strengthen one’s own vision, and fast, and ensure that you stay 100% true to it.
THE ROLE OF MENTORSHIP
Hiring a mentor you admire and trust is a great way to improve your photography through critique, without having to deal with random comments from people who either don’t know what they are talking about, or do not take your vision into consideration when they weight in. Furthermore, when you establish a student-teacher relationship with someone, you are in a better position to seriously consider the input you receive. Finding a competent mentor, however, is difficult, and it must be a person who will help you develop your own style and vision rather than trying to make you adopt his/hers.
WHERE DO I STAND?
When someone says something about my artistic work, I have no choice but consider it, regardless of whether the input was requested or not. I ask myself, does this person have a point? I try not to get upset or discouraged and if it is something I agree with and I can change in a photograph, I will. However, I don’t often go about asking others’ opinions: too much input will make me abandon a project, or a photo, because I end up getting confused and losing my inspiration.
When it comes to the industry, however, I often ask for and listen to input. For example, in 2020 I thought I wanted to become a food photographer and signed up for a workshop. I posted every picture I took in the workshops forum, and worked on all advice I received from the instructor. Sometimes I felt discouraged because nothing I did seemed to get 100% approval from her, but with time I felt that I no longer had a long list of things to address. Although I have since changed mind about becoming a food photographer, what I learned in that workshop from critique is invaluable and I can apply it to other fields of photography.
If you are a photographer, or another visual artist, where do you stand with regards to outside input? Do you think that it helps you, or that it impairs your vision?
ABOUT THE LEAD PHOTOGRAPH
The lead photograph is part of my Digital Images gallery on GeoGalleries, featuring sunflowers on a white texture. Making these images is a two-step process, in which I first photograph the flower on light grey background, then I apply a stone texture to it using photoshop layers.
If you are not familiar with adding texture to your photos, and would like to learn more about it, watch How To Apply Textures In Photoshop 2020, by fellow photographer Howard Grill.
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