Monday, June 22, 2015

Learning Through Critiquing Others

We all see photos every day. Whether online, in books & magazines, on billboards or other advertising, on tv, photos are just about everywhere we look. And we all critique those photos whether we realize it or not. That critique may be positive such as in "oh what an awesome photos" or negative "I could have taken a better photo using my feet for eyes." But did you know that you could actually learn to be a better photographer by critiquing other photographer’s photos?

I became most aware of that fact when I started to explore 3d digital imaging programs in the early 2000s. At that point, photography was at a comfortable skill level for me. I did most of my learning of photography through reading books and magazines and through real life shooting experience over the many years since first taking up photography as a teen. Widespread internet did not yet exist, so I had to learn the old fashioned way. But to help me learn how to create digital art, I now had a new learning tool that I didn’t have with my photography. Access to online art communities is a wonderful thing.

While posting my 3d digital art to, my favorite 3d art online community, I realized the true value of commenting on other artist’s work. When you post art/photos to a site, you should always take the time to give a little back by commenting on other artists’ work. It is not mandatory, but it creates goodwill and encourages others to keep commenting on your work. While some may take that a little too far, commenting & "liking" or "favoriting" others’ work just to get comments on their own images as part of a silly & meaningless numbers game, the real value is when you slow down and really take the time to look at a stunning image and really put into words what makes it so mesmerizing to you. While formulating those thoughts into words, I discovered that I was learning exactly what elements & qualities that I found appealing and started to incorporate those qualities into my own work. For example, I may have found certain color combinations that I wanted to experiment with, lighting styles and moods, etc.

Eventually my interest in 3d imaging waned, not for lack of love of the art but rather due to the preference for being outside with my camera in nature instead of inside messing around on the computer all day. But I learned so much during that period which has had a strong influence on my photography. That is why many experienced photographers tell those starting out to study all art forms, not just photography. And one of the most valuable skills I picked up during that digital art phase of my was learning through critiquing others. While I may not have as much time to actually comment online, I do still take the time to look at high quality photographs and make the critique in my head. There are many photographers creating inspiring work and there is much to learn from them just by studying their masterful imagery.

Here are some tips on learning through critiquing others:

#1 The Golden Rule

Never be cruel! Seriously. If see an image that you think is absolutely awful, feel free to critique the photo as you wish – in your own mind only though. Don’t place cruel and negative comments on other artists’ works. Why make someone feel bad? I know some great photographers that have had some of their images receive low "star" ratings or negative comments and then they just stopped posting because it bothered them that much even though they received way more compliments than negativity. You may of course feel the need to critique it honestly, offering tips for improvement. But why bother? Unless specifically asked to do so, it’s better to just work out for yourself why you don’t like it so you don’t ever shoot anything like it, and then just move on.

Concentrate On The Positive

See an image that blows you away? Why is that? Is it the color? The atmosphere? The composition, the focus, the subject, what is it? If you see something you like, figure out how it relates to your own photography and how you can possibly incorporate whatever that special something is into your own art.


Formulate It Into Words

Go beyond a standard comment, like "beautiful" "wonderful" "gorgeous" and really explain why you like the image. It will not only help to enlighten the other photographer, but also help you to learn how to improve your own images along the way. And the photographer may even return the favor and give you some enlightenment in return. Or not. But either way, it will be a learning experience.

Don’t Expect Others To Reciprocate

Just because you commented on someone’s work doesn’t mean they will return the favor. Some artists never do. Don’t let that discourage you from commenting. I admit I rarely make the time to comment these days, but I do frequently "like" and "favorite" other artists’ work to encourage them to keep posting the good stuff that I love so much. And I always take the time to critique those outstanding images in my mind even if the words never get posted.

Don’t Take It Personally & Have Fun!

Really this applies to all things, photographic or otherwise. Most of us started taking photos as a casual hobby which then turned into a passion because we enjoy recording the world as we see it. Critiquing other artists’ work can be a valuable part of the learning experience. But don’t view it as a chore or duty. Feel free to just leave a comment that says "beautiful", no need to write a love letter about it to the artist. But when you do take the time to formulate what you love about a particular image, even if only in your mind, it can be an invaluable learning tool. Slow down and enjoy the process of viewing other artists’ works, it is often the first step to becoming an artist oneself.

And don’t let other people’s comments & ratings on your work effect you too much. Sometimes you can learn a lot through other people’s comments on your work. When I first started to get into nature photography seriously several years ago, I did get a unique perspective on my work as people had noticed certain trends in my work that I hadn’t really considered. I found their comments most helpful and encouraging. I rarely receive negative or even just alternative perspective comments on my work, but on those rare occasions it happens I have never let it get me down. Remember, comments are just opinions – nothing more.

I hope this post has encouraged you to start participating in online galleries or at the very least has started you on your way to furthering your own advancement in photography by enjoying the works of others.
3d imaging and they also have a small photography community
My favorite online photo sharing site at the moment

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