The benefits of criticizing

Disclaimer

This blogpost has nothing whatsoever to do with colormanagement or editing. It originated purely out of frustration and bewilderment of the online photo community. You might call it a rant, and it should be read that way: Take it with however many grains of salt you like.

“Great Image”

… That’s a phrase I see quite a bit variations of when browsing photo sharing sites and forums and, lately, Twitter.
All to often though, I look and the image and think: “No, it isn’t great”. Heck, in some cases, the image isn’t even what I’d call “good”.
Why these comments then? It might be because people don’t understand the value criticism can have and want to be nice…
Well, guess what: In my opinion, about the worst comment someone can make about my photos is “nice image”: I know it’s “nice”, otherwise I would not have posted it. But I also know it isn’t perfect. In fact, I can pretty much guarantee that I see flaws myself in every image I make. I see them, and because of that I can hopefully avoid them next time. But because I’m not perfect, I might overlook other flaws. Since I want to continue learning, I’d like to have them pointed out: I prefer input over praise.

What’s criticizing then?


According to Merriam-Webster:

Definition of CRITICIZE
intransitive verb
: to act as a critic
transitive verb
1
: to consider the merits and demerits of and judge accordingly : evaluate
2
: to find fault with : point out the faults of
— crit·i·ciz·able\-?s?-z?-b?l\ adjective
— crit·i·ciz·er noun

If you look at the first definition, you’ll see criticism needn’t necessarily be unfavorable. And even if it is, I still think it’s a good thing.

Why is giving criticism good?

Seems like a lot of people think that criticising must be negative, since you are pointing out what you don’t like. What they fail to take into account is that by giving criticism, you are analysing an image. Looking for “merits and demerits” according to the above definition. And by doing that, you learn: You don’t just look at an image, you think about it. And by thinking about images, you also learn to recognise certain things, not only in the image you are looking at, but also in images you are going to shoot yourself in the future. On one hand, you look more analytical at composition, exposure, whitebalance and other technicalities, but on the other hand you probably have a “gut feeling” about an image. You might just be able to figure out what causes that feeling, so you’re later able to use it to your own advantage. Fundamentally, it’s my idea that by analysing other peoples images, you learn about yourself.

Why is receiving criticism good?

Everybody learns from making mistakes, but only if you know you made mistakes. So sometimes these mistakes need to be pointed out to you. Also, you might get an idea whether you are “on the right track”: What do other people think about your style? Because they didn’t shoot the image, they have a different relation to the subject, and might be able to look more objectively.

How to be a good critic

Of course, you don’t need to only point out negatives. A bit of sugar-coating praise might help overly sensitive people deal with accepting their images aren’t perfect. If I cannot find anything positive to say about an image, I either don’t comment at all or, if I’m feeling frank, I say I don’t like it and try to explain why. Just saying “this image sucks” is about the only comment that’s worse then “nice image”.

Time to be honest

So, all go visit your favorite forum or photo sharing website, and be critical. Everybody should benefit from that.
Obviously, if you are critical about this blogpost, feel free to post a comment as well.

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5 Responses to “The benefits of criticizing”

  1. mike Says:
    October 26th, 2010 at 17:15

    Actually i have some criticism on this post, but it’s just some minor.
    I do have the feeling that the majority of the people who give comments on photo’s, or any other artwork, usually don’t know how to criticize in the first place. Most of them are just people who enjoy looking at a photo and that’s it.
    People who know how to criticize a work of art usually work in that kin of work field or have a background in it, so they do know where and how to look at a photo or a piece of art.
    I think that’s something you forgot to mention imo.

    greets,

    mike.

  2. René Says:
    October 26th, 2010 at 18:01

    Hi Mike!

    Actually, that’s a good point.
    I kinda referenced to it in the “And by doing that, you learn: You don’t just look at an image, you think about it.” bit. But I agree that a lot of people simply haven’t learned (yet) how to “look” and “see”.

    Thanks for your critique ;)

  3. Mike Says:
    January 7th, 2011 at 15:25

    Nice post.

    Haha.

    I agree that if you’re worth your salt you will only really benefit from a real critique. However, the ‘nice image’ does have its place too. For beginners who don’t know if there work is any good and haven’t much confidence yet just getting some praise can help them get started.

    You could argue though that real critique shouldn’t destroy anyone’s confidence because it is constructive, but if you don’t know how to be constructive being ‘nice’ isn’t so bad.

  4. Kevin Says:
    March 29th, 2011 at 20:12

    Great post! :) Seriously though I do agree with you and have become better at critiquing images myself. I am new to POTN but in the short time I have read other CC I have come to appreciate the art of photography. Case in point I commented on an image with Great shot! After reading a few other comments I began to see what they saw. “Her shoulders are too far back it makes her turtle neck” I looked closer… I’ll be they are right if she just pulled that back a bit she would look more natural…..

    I know I was genuine in my comment but at the same time my untrained eye in the techniques of photography and posing quickly revealed itself.

  5. Bart Willems Says:
    August 12th, 2011 at 23:36

    I already have had some discussions with Rene about what makes a picture great..or good .(angles..light settings ..cut outs..etc) on the site of the course Im following.
    Im sure that a pro photographer makes pictures the way they want them to be, but that doesnt mean I (as a beginner) have to agree that they are great or good. Its all a matter of taste I think, same as with music.
    And to be honest, some things they make I find really crap in my view.
    I had a shoot last week, and I really think so far its my best work so far, but then again..thats me :-)
    Again, Im only a beginner, but I do know what I like or not in a picture, and that is a good start to work from, I think.
    Im just taking pictures and editting them the way I like them to be, and I think they are great ;-)

    Rene…cu on the course site :-)

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