Over at the Pixsylated blog (One of my new favorites) Syl writes about lessons he DIDN’T learn in photo school. Part of that post caught my eye.
“It takes guts to open yourself to the criticism of others. “I may be good, but I’m not as good as I can be” is a hard thing to say with confidence and enthusiasm. The more you are able to open yourself to commentary, the better you’ll become. Actors have directors. Writers have editors. Athletes have coaches. Pro and amateur alike – we all need to make ourselves vulnerable to the criticism of qualified observers. Doing so is a sign of strength. Not doing so allows fear to win.”
I really agree with what Syl is saying here. Sometimes we’re way too close to our own work to judge it properly. There’s no doubt that a “director,” “editor,” or “coach” can be helpful. I also strongly believe that “qualified observers” are invaluable. Those who admire your work and seek to really help you improve it are invaluable. But I want to urge caution. I think it’s a mistake to open yourself to generic commentary in these times, in a world where anonymous Internet trolls can and will say anything, without fear of consequence.
Pay STRICT attention to Syl’s advice. Look for genuine coaches, not random people who work their way into your Flickr or Facebook stream. Listen to the critiques of trusted pros, not anonymous Twitter followers. Search out, and even be willing to pay for, the advice of professional photographers whose work you admire or aspire to match up with.
For instance, if DarthVader#64735 from Twitter tells you that your Photoshop skills suck – forget about it. If Scott Kelby tells you that you might have missed something in post – pay attention!
Don’t take too seriously the criticism of your peers, family, or your competition. It’s fun to hang out in the forums and banter back and forth about your photos. But remember, odds are – the people you’re talking with may be less qualified than you to judge your work. Nine people leaving a comment like “nice one” in your Flickr stream isn’t exactly the same as having a working pro with experience teaching saying “good job.”
For coaching to really work, it has to come from an unbiased, experienced, talented person. If you’re dealing with anonymous Internet trolls, or even the loudmouth at the local camera club, feel free to ask their opinion, but don’t give it any more weight than you’d give your own.
Look for people who can offer you VALUABLE feedback. Listen to it. See if you can apply it. Believe in yourself. Ignore those who are simply bitter, full of hate or jealousy.