This past week I was invited to be the guest critic at the Kamloops Photo Arts Club.
Although I like discussing photographs, I was at first hesitant with that request. Organized photography clubs in Canada are accustomed to using specific competition rules of The Canadian Association for Photographic Art. Those rules are, of course, specific and must be very stringent.
Unlike that credible and important organization, my critiques of photographs tend to be filled with feedback, I am not selecting the best of the crowd, and I am more interested with what works than what doesn’t. However, the request came from photographer and club member, Linda Davidson, who wrote in the clubs newsletter about having me as a photography instructor in university, “The thing that Linda remembers from her classes with John were his critiques. He had the ability to see things that you may not see in your own work, look at images from a different perspective, not the usual point of view. He was always helpful and inspiring.” So with kind words like that I had no choice.
I remember a quote from the book “Impact – Photography For Advertising” by William Reedy, that puts into words how I view those photographers that are making good photography when he wrote, “To stop the eye, to set the mood, to make the sale.” I believe that successful photographs must be interesting and thought provoking.
There is a general perception that “critique” means “to find fault with.” When I discuss a photograph I am not seeking to find fault. To me, the word critique means to respond to something, either positively or negatively, or both. The success of an image is how is works for the viewer.
Personally I prefer to use the word “Feedback”. Feedback is information-specific and based on opinion and observation. I have found that the best way to turn someone off is to find fault with their photograph. When I give feedback on a photograph I prefer to discuss what I like, or would like.
When a photographer seeks to make themselves better at their craft they, of course, need input from others about technical control like Exposure, Depth-of-Field and Composition. All those are important in creating a technically correct image. However, things like the mood the photographer set, and the story within the image, are what makes the viewer pay attention, and may not be so technically significant, but those are important all the same. Yet many critics fail to respond to those aspects.
Regarding the critique I provided for the Kamloops Photo Arts Club; I walked into a large meeting room with lots of people sitting around tables in conversation (catching up on each other’s photography I’m sure). The hall was set up with screen and digital projector, and after the club’s president quickly covered business and some announcements about future events I was introduced, handed a remote, the room darkened and I began to scroll through member’s images.
As I began I got a flashback of the years I spent teaching photography. I remember the slow growth as learners struggled with not only the concepts of photography and getting used to their cameras, but the long hours in the busy, darkened and sometimes smelly developing and printing labs. And I mentioned to those in attendance how much more I liked the shorter learning curve of digital image making and the amazing creativity one has with modern photographic post-production.
As I expected, the photography I was to discuss was a top-notch selection of quality images that crossed into all interests of photography. I felt like I should just sit back and clap as I scrolled through the selections and thank those present for the invitation. What a nice way to spend an evening.
I did discuss each image as it was presented on the large screen, and suggested a tighter crop on several, gave my perspective on what I liked about each, and asked questions about several. I think it would have been hard indeed to give negative feed on most of the photography I was fortunate enough to view.
I like to look at pictures. After all the dialogue about photographic equipment and where and what to take on that next photo excursion, what is really left is the final product of everything, the image. Whether in print form, on the computer monitor or, like that evening with the Photo Arts Club, on a large screen, everything comes down to that photograph “stopping the eye, setting the mood, and making the sale.”
I welcome readers comments. Thanks, John
My website is at www.enmanscamera.com
That’s an interesting post.
It must be really daunting to give feedback to strangers, especially if you have something negative to say.
I really enjoy reading your posts every week, keep up the good work!
Feedback works best if it is about growth. Thanks Ian, I really appreciate that you took the time to comment.
Very interesting. Oftentimes, people get too caught up in the technical aspects, and don’t appreciate the overall atmosphere of the photo, how it makes you feel.
You make some very good points about “critiques”.
I appreciate your comment sir. Yes, I agree with you.
I applaud your approach, John. The best teachers I had were those who looked for the good before suggesting improvements or different directions. That is how we deal with each other at the Bridge Lake Photo Group, and the result of the encouragement – not only growth in technical knowledge, but also a willingness to try strange, unfamiliar things – is a joy to see.
And I really like your writing style! I look forward to your rambling musing, and learn a lot from them. Many thanks, and keep on cogitating….
Thank you Derek. I really appreciate your thoughtful comments and perspective.