Do you want constructive criticism of your photos? Are you sure?

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Photography - Constructive Criticism

When you post a photo on social media, and you ask for constructive criticism (sometimes abbreviated as "CC"), are you truly looking for honest, objective feedback?

Or, is your ego getting the best of you, and you're just fishing for compliments, likes, or "thumbs up" emojis?

As a professional photographer, I'm fairly active on social media platforms such as Instagram and Facebook (probably too active if I ever accounted for all of the time I spend/waste on the platforms). Instagram, by its very nature and purpose, is very "photo-centric". Facebook, on the other hand, is more "general content", although there are many FB Groups dedicated to photography and specific genres and styles of photography. I belong to a handful of these groups, and over the years have made a few interesting observations (which also apply to many Instagram posts where CC is solicited by the poster).

On occasion, a photographer in a group (or on IG) will post a photo or series of photos and ask for "CC". Most of the time, it is unclear to me why the person bothered to ask for feedback, as more often than not, when it is given truthfully (by me or by others), they do their best to explain away why the "criticism" doesn't apply in that particular case. 

One would think that if they asked for feedback, then they were looking to improve the quality of their work and, possibly, aspire to take things to a higher or professional level (i.e., get paid for creating photographs), or at least commit to continuous improvement of their skills. In my social media journeys, sadly, this doesn't seem to be the case.

For example, a music photographer might post a photo of a singer where the microphone is blocking the mouth of the singer (commonly referred to as "mic mouth" -- something that as a professional music photographer, I try to avoid at all cost, and if it does happen, there is very little chance of me posting the image publicly, or delivering it to a client. But, I digress... sort of), and ask for CC of the photo. But, when I provide some useful feedback about the "mic mouth" in a constructive way, I get a series of excuses like, "Well, I was directly in front of the singer...", or, "It was a heavy metal show, and the singer always had the mic to his mouth...", or,  "But, look at all of the emotion in the shot!", or, worse, "Mic mouth stuff doesn't bother me..."

Whether something like that bothers you or not is beside the point. If you ask for CC, and multiple people point out the same thing, then it's probably time that you took the issue seriously.

This all confuses me. If you are going to ask for constructive criticism, and someone gives it to you (especially an experienced professional), then why is there such an urge to defend your image? Why not welcome the feedback, process it, and use it to improve your craft?

It's not that every single piece of advice will be useful or, even, accurate (as we all know that art is subjective), but to immediately discount the CC by responding with excuses completely defeats the purpose of asking for CC in the first place.

As a professional photography instructor and coach, it is my nature to want to help others. But, it can be frustrating when someone asks for help, receives it free-of-charge, but then rejects it before they even consider how the advice will help them on their creative path. This doesn't tend to happen with paying clients. Hmmmmmmm. 

Moral of the story: If you ask for constructive criticism of your photography, accept it gracefully, and have a plan to take action.

But, it doesn't end with the creator of the work...

Those responding to the post with CC have a responsibility as well. It does a photographer (hobbyist or otherwise) absolutely no good if they ask for feedback, and regardless of how mediocre or, dare I say, technically-flawed (i.e., out of focus) the image may be, you respond with something like, "Great shot!", or, "This is AMAZING! You're the best photographer ever!"

I'm not suggesting that you have to be blunt and tell the person that the shot totally sucks, but by praising an image that is by no means deserving of the highest of superlatives provides the budding photographer no benefit with respect to them improving their work.

(Of course, this is in addition to all of the people that click the like button that don't genuinely like the photo. They're just being nice, or so they think. The reality is that just because you get a lot of social media likes doesn't mean that you'll be getting a call from National Geographic or Rolling Stone or Vogue any time soon. Keep things in perspective. Always.)

Will it inflate someone's ego by complimenting or liking their effort? Yes, of course it will. But, when one asks for constructive criticism, they need to set aside their ego, and accept what they asked for. When you provide CC, you can be critical, while also being encouraging. In fact, that's exactly how CC should be given.

NOTE: If the shot does totally suck, and you state that as such, the least you can do is explain why it sucks. In other words, if you cannot resist being brutally judgmental, at least add some redeeming words to your insult that the photographer can learn from. I'm by no means an advocate of this type of beat-down criticism (i.e., it's not "constructive"), but I do believe that feedback should come with helpful pointers, not just words that would be subjectively demoralizing. Best bet is to avoid aggressive attacks altogether.

Another example of feedback failure is when someone asks for CC, gets it, but then one of their friends chimes in and says something like, "Don't pay attention to them, (insert posters name here). So long as you are enjoying yourself, that's all that matters." Um, no, not really. I'm all for enjoying what we do as artists, but if you ask for feedback with the intention of ignoring it from the get-go, then why bother asking for feedback in the first place? Yes, enjoy what you do. Absolutely! But, the better you get at what you do, the more you'll enjoy it. Right?

Furthermore, if you do, indeed, aspire to become a professional, then you better be open to all types of feedback, particularly from clients. Your clients are not interested in excuses as to why you didn't deliver higher-quality work, nor do they want to hear about how much you enjoyed the shoot (while under-delivering on quality). They want results. Period

Finally, be very careful when providing CC to someone who didn't ask for it. This is a very common mistake, one that I've made in the past (and will likely make again in the future). Guilty as charged. That said, in today's internet world, when you go public with an image, chances are good that someone out there is going to have something to say about it whether you asked or not.

Whew. That was a mouthful of words, wasn't it? I probably should have split this topic into two or three parts, but I'm on my fourth cup of coffee right now and the mind is racing with the fingers following. No, I'm not asking for nor accepting CC on this decision to write a lengthy blog piece. That said, your general comments about the topic are more than welcome.

But, if you would like a professional, objective assessment of your photography, I'd be more than happy to help. Please CONTACT ME and we can work out the options for an image or portfolio critique.

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