Alley in Pisa, Italy

by Lars Kotthoff

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Mattdm had posted this link in a thread somewhere.
I found the comments to be sensible!? but at the end realized that it was a piece of dry humor.

I have heard several times that you should be very careful in choosing whom you listen to and whom to avoid, while taking a critique from someone.

How to separate helpful critiques from unhelpful ones?
Why are the critiques in the above link said to be a sarcastic joke? Are they wrong? In which way, if yes?

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I like this question. I've seen a lot of advice lately that boils down to "get feedback from others, but don't believe all of it." I actually agree with this advice, and think I follow it myself, but I wondered how somebody who is new to photography, with less self-confidence, should know what advice is worth listening to. –  coneslayer Mar 9 '12 at 12:32
    
"Sometimes I find if I shout right before I take the picture I can get people's attentions." is just hilarious :D –  Paolo Mar 9 '12 at 12:42
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I tend to agree most with the people who like my pictures the most... :D –  Nick Miners Mar 9 '12 at 12:59
    
LOVE This link! All those photos are masterpieces. –  Jakub Mar 9 '12 at 14:13
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Listen to Jay Maisel. It costs $5000 USD to do so and if you don't become a better photographer, you will become a better person he says. Go there with a tough skin. He does not hold anything back and for that price, he better not! :) –  Itai Mar 10 '12 at 2:51

4 Answers 4

up vote 6 down vote accepted

I’m going to suggest that all critique can be valid. It doesn’t really matter that much to me if somebody is being sarcastic or they have a strong view they want to express.

Whether or not you pay attention to them seems like it’s going to come down to personal choice. To me, the deciding factors are:

  • Have they said something constructive, which can be acted upon / thought about in the future?
  • With any changes suggested, would the picture still be your style / what you want your style to be.
  • Most importantly looking at the picture, in light of the critique, do you believe any changes suggested would have made the picture look better TO YOU (or possibly your clients).

Remember that different opinions can exist and that that’s perfectly OK. Avoid entering into an argument about a critique that has been given. If there’s something you don’t understand, then asking for clarity is reasonable. But I’d really try to avoid trying to convince the person giving the critique that they’re wrong. If they’ve given an honest review, they’re entitled to their opinion and if they’re being sarcastic it’s probably what they’re looking for…

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What if some "guru" suggests that you haven't placed the objects properly, place the objects this way to make it look pretty! What to do in these kinds of cases? How to decide whether I should listen or not? –  TheIndependentAquarius Mar 14 '12 at 12:00
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@AnishaKaul: That comes down to two things. Do you agree that it would look better or do you want to become a replica of the guru. If you can understand why it would be better and you agree then it's worth considering. If you don't understand and they can't/won't explain why then you don't have a basis for future consideration. If you just don't agree with them, but are so inclined you could try it out and see if that changes your mind. However, just because somebody is a 'guru', doesn't mean what they're saying is always going to be right for you. Guru's are human + tastes vary. –  forsvarir Mar 14 '12 at 12:59
    
Well, that's helpful, thanks. I'll start another thread for a more specific question. –  TheIndependentAquarius Mar 14 '12 at 13:51

All of the example pieces in Mike Johnston's humor piece are highly-regarded and successful photographs by some of the most accomplished photographers in history.

But the humor is more than just "Haha! Those commenters didn't know that they were looking at something famous!" After all, that just comes down to the logical fallacy of appeal to authority. Granted, that alone is kind of funny, but the actual point is that the "critics" each fail to actually look at the photograph and what the artist is attempting to say. Instead, they focus on rules and technical issues, often getting obsessed with some particular pet concern. On one level, that's funny because the photographers probably know much more about those things than the (fictional) commenters do. More importantly, the comments miss the point that not only are the rules really only guidelines, but that they're guidelines in the service of something, not as goals on their own.

So, for critique: take seriously people who are interested in what you're trying to say. You can take their suggestions under advisement — particularly if you're asking for them — but remember that you should be your own artistic compass.

I'm reminded of a great scene from the movie Amadeus, where the tone-deaf but music-loving Emperor provides his "critique" of Mozart's new opera, saying "Too many notes". And, I found a good article analyzing this scene as a lesson in critique which I recommend as relevant to photo-critique.

As an aside, there's a "part two" to Mike's article, and the "advice" given to Cartier-Bresson has a strong resemblance to what I say in my comments to Stack Exchange user Akram Mellice here. In my defense, though, Akram did ask for suggestions, and I don't start my answer with "In response to your request for a critique (which I assume you wanted because I have found your photo uploaded on the internet)...".

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"take seriously people who are interested in what you're trying to say." How to make out who is interested in .. and who's not? –  TheIndependentAquarius Mar 9 '12 at 17:32
    
any special reasons for not answering? –  TheIndependentAquarius Mar 10 '12 at 2:54

I would say that critiques worth listening are those of people that make photos that you see are better than yours and you really like.

When I just started taking pictures I had no clue how bad I was, so even if it was rather unpleasant, first rough critics I got have been useful for me.

On the other hand some great achievements (like Columbus' discovery of America) have been made just not listening to what the rest of the world said :D

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Of course, Columbus was completely wrong about the size of the world — he just got lucky. This may apply to advice about photography too. :) –  mattdm Mar 9 '12 at 14:50
    
I was hoping that happen to amateur photographers :) –  Paolo Mar 9 '12 at 20:06
    
Great advice. +5 if I could :) This is critically important because some suggestion may make make the photo worse in your eyes and better in someone else's. –  Itai Mar 10 '12 at 2:48

I think one of the points of the page you linked to (as well as poking fun at armchair critics on the internet) is that different advice applies to photographers at different levels of ability and experience. When you are beginning photography, it is helpful to follow some simple guidelines for good composition. When you are a proven master (like the famous photographers on the page you linked to), those broad guidelines are not so useful.

Good constructive criticism should offer you a clear route to improvement. A comment like "that's nice, good job" is just as useless as "that's rubbish", but concrete, specific advice like "try using selective depth of field to emphasize your subject" is something you can put into action.

I guess it's obvious that you should value the advice of photographers whose work you admire. Don't pay too much heed to someone's opinions if you haven't seen the quality of their own work.

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