Your Photos need to be Critiqued & Criticized (2014 Archived Post)

Like most photographers, your first images were probably mediocre at best. Think back to the sky-only sunsets, macro flowers, HDR landscapes, cats, and skateboarding photos that you shot and were so proud of. It is until you either figured out on your own that these were boring and poorly done, or someone told you that they were, before you sought out to shoot better and more interesting images. So you studied up, looking at the masters, learning about composition and technique, and kept shooting. After a couple years, you’ve made much better images and have confidence in them.

After frequenting the SkatePerception forums over time and seeing hundreds of critiques given and received, I’ve noticed that the better photographers (or the ones who’ve improved greatly), no longer post their photos and ask for critique or constructive criticism. They just post it for people to see, perhaps feeling as if they’ve outgrown the site and have “made it”. When post something, members not as far along in their photography line up to say how great the photo is—which, if there are some things that can be done better with the photo (the case 99% of the time), perpetuates those mistakes. Since there are so few resources or guides for shooting skateboarding, the younger members often copy whatever they see as better than them. In this case, they create photos that have similar errors without realizing it. I also see the same “trends” in skateboarding photography continued—the ridiculously tilted fisheye is one.

Even worse, if one brave soul comes through and comments on something that can be done better in the photo, the original photographer often defends it based on a story as to why they “chose” to do so. The story is often an excuse to justify the photo: “I couldn’t make a better composition, there was a filmer in the way…” “We were getting kicked out…” “He landed it too quickly for me to set up better…” “I wanted that object/lurker/tree/garbage in the shot that you find distracting …” Sure, the occasional person’s critique may hold no water, but I’ve often seen that it absolutely does. I realize that some excuses make sense in the skateboarding world, but the problem lies when the photographer uses them to argue against creating a better image, saying they intentionally chose to make the error.

I believe photos should stand on their own. No story should justify the photograph, or falsely justify that the photograph is amazing. When the photographer refutes constructive criticism, they have accepted and allowed their abilities to stagnate at the current point in time. Doing so means that they believe all of their images are flawless (or perhaps their ego wants to keep their self image that way), but I’ve never met or known of a photographer that hasn’t talked about a photo of theirs and said “I wish I would have done this differently.” Accepting and learning from critique and criticism are what enable photographers to grow and become better—otherwise we’d still be shooting those sunset and cat photos.