One of the most efficient ways to improve as a photographer is to ask for feedback. Many photography groups and websites offer constructive criticism to their members. This is meant to help them look at their work from an objective point of view, which can lead to incredible creative progress.
However, there’s a big difference between constructive feedback and a judgmental comment. Even if you don’t intend to, you might put someone off by sharing your opinions with them. If you want to help photographers take their work to the next level, consider using these techniques.
- Keep This in Mind Before You Start Giving Constructive Criticism
- How to Give Valuable Constructive Criticism to Photographers
Keep This in Mind Before You Start Giving Constructive Criticism
Consider the Photography Platform You’re Using
It’s important to keep in mind that not every photographer wants feedback. Unsolicited advice isn’t appealing. Some people want to share their work for the sake of sharing their work. If you’re on a website that’s not exclusively related to constructive criticism, tread carefully. Nobody wants to be criticized out of the blue!
If a photographer asks for feedback, then this shouldn’t be an issue. If they’re not asking for anything but you still want to provide them with feedback, you can ask them something like, “Are you open to receiving constructive criticism?” or “Would it be okay if I shared my opinions on how this photo could look better?” Simple questions like this can help you avoid a lot of misunderstandings!
Ask for Constructive Criticism Yourself
Many portrait photographers take a self-portrait to understand what it feels like to be in front of the camera. This often helps them empathise with their models, which results in more authentic-looking portraits. You can use a similar technique in the world of constructive criticism. This can help you understand what kind of tone you should use when speaking to other photographers.
You can also read other people’s feedback. Find a few photos that you like and compare your opinion to the ones that have already been shared. Is there a piece of constructive criticism that stands out to you? Figure out why it does and use that in your own feedback. Similarly, pay attention to tones that make you feel uncomfortable. This will give you an idea of what to avoid the next time you share your creative opinion with someone.
Examples of Unappealing Constructive Criticism and How to Fix Them
Here are examples of phrases that might sound too harsh:
“This photograph doesn’t look good at all.”
“I don’t like the way you…”
“This isn’t the right way to…”
You can replace these with:
“I like this and this, but I’d improve on this, here’s what I’d do…”
“You did a great job, but this photo would look even better if…”
“I have a technique that might help you enhance this part of your image.”
Remember that it’s all about the tone of your feedback. You can be brutally honest without making the receiver of your words get defensive. Always come from a kind and open-minded place.
How to Give Valuable Constructive Criticism to Photographers
Once you ask for feedback and analyse other people’s constructive criticism, you’ll have a clear idea of what to embrace and what to avoid. Here’s what you should keep in mind as you actually start writing feedback for someone.
Emphasise That This Is Your Opinion
This is a very important step, even if it’s a given. Make sure you don’t make your feedback sound like it’s a hard fact. One of the best things about constructive criticism is that it’s an opportunity for artists to come together and share their honest opinions. They’re not there to argue about facts. From this perspective, they can respect one another’s thoughts and not feel like they’re being attacked.
You can use terms like “In my opinion…” or “I think that…” throughout your feedback. This is a very simple but effective adjustment that can help photographers understand that you’re coming from a place of empathy. People are less likely to get offended if they know that you’re just stating your opinion.
Point Out What You Like About the Photo
Always start with a compliment or two. If you have time, dedicate a whole paragraph that focuses on the best parts of the image. This might seem difficult at first, especially if you already know what you don’t like about the photo. However, this is a great exercise that you can use in your personal work as well. If you see the beauty in other people’s work, you’ll find it easier to appreciate your own efforts, too.
Do you like the way the photographer colour corrected their image? Does the subject stand out to you? Does the image make you feel good or inspired? Point out anything that stands out to you in a positive way.
A kind approach like this will let the photographer know that you’re not there to hate on their work but to help them improve.
Avoid Overly Vague Constructive Criticism
Examples of Vague Constructive Criticism
Imagine that you’ve asked for constructive criticism in a Facebook group. The comments you get look like this:
“I like this photo, but there’s room for improvement.”
“I’m not sure why, but some of the colours look off. I’d spend more time editing this image.”
“In my opinion, the composition could look better.”
While these comments strive to be helpful, they don’t do the job efficiently. How will you know how to improve if you receive overly vague opinions? You’d probably find specific constructive criticism more helpful. This doesn’t mean that you need to write thousands of words. (In fact, anything that’s too long might bore the photographer and be a waste of time for you personally.) Keep it short and sweet, but avoid vague sentences that don’t present a solution.
Examples of Thorough Constructive Criticism
There are many versions of the sentences above that would sound better. Here’s just one way you could modify the examples above:
“I like the contrast between the subject and the background. My eye instantly fell on the subject because of the minimalistic composition, which is great! In my opinion, the colours in the background could look a bit more saturated. I think a little boost of colour would make your photograph look even more striking.”
“I like the direction you’re going in with the colours. It would be interesting to see a version of this photo that’s been edited using a different Lightroom preset. I think that if you worked with moodier colours, you’d get even better results.”
“The sharpness in this image is amazing. I love that you used shadows to add depth to this image. The composition needs a little more work, though. What I’d do is shoot from a lower angle to add more depth and to intensify the atmosphere.”
If Possible, Relate to the Photographer
Let’s say that you’re giving constructive criticism to a landscape photographer. You probably have enough knowledge about the genre to give valuable advice to that person, so try to look beyond the technical side of things and focus on experience. Was there a time in your life when you struggled with something that they seem to be struggling with? If so, how did you overcome it?
When you relate to someone, you make them feel less alone. If the photographer hasn’t shared any struggles but just asked for advice, give them a tip that you’ve personally found helpful. This is similar to providing solutions, and if you take it to the next level by sharing your experiences, you’ll seem more like a friend than a stranger with opinions.
End With Some Encouraging Words
It’s important to end your constructive feedback on a positive note. If you feel that giving the photographer another compliment would be too much, you can just share a few words of encouragement. Give them a reason to come back and ask for more feedback again. Ask them to continue to share their photography with the world. Let them know that they’re doing a good job.
A few encouraging words will give the photographer the idea that you’re not here to push them away. This is especially important to keep in mind when you give feedback to beginners. If you make it seem like their work isn’t worth it, you’ll discourage them from asking questions in the future. And while they might not quit photography because of a stranger’s feedback, they’ll definitely be affected by it in some way.
Constructive criticism is an important part of photography. It can help you improve consistently and come up with exciting ideas. When you give feedback to others, you learn more about yourself and contribute something valuable to the community.
Remember to be kind, thorough, and supportive. Write the kind of constructive feedback that you’d want to be given yourself. Don’t be afraid of sharing personal experiences to seem more relatable. All of these things can help you write an effective piece of feedback that can have a significant impact on someone else’s work. At least, that’s my opinion.