We live in an age where on the Internet, everyone’s opinion is apparently supposed to have equal weight. High school drop outs are allowed to critique NASA PHD-level scientists with impunity. A guy with 20 followers and four years on Twitter is allowed to tell someone with 200,000 followers they’re getting it wrong. Someone who hides behind a fake Twitter name can pretend to be an expert on anything and never be held accountable. And therein lies the problem. There’s no authority in these opinions and I am sorry, but they simply don’t matter. Not one bit. Not a little bit. Not at all.
For an opinion to matter and even more importantly, for it to help you improve your photography, it needs to come from the right person. And who that person is depends on several of the following criteria.
Let’s start with motive – both your motive and the motive of the person doing the critique. Are you a pro, aspiring pro, serious amateur or once in a while shutterbug? The answer to this question will be relevant when it comes to motive. If you’re a pro, you should be looking for critiques that will help you sell more images. If you’re an occasional shutterbug, you’re probably looking for any basic thing that can help you get a little better. And the motive of the person giving the critique matters too. Are they showing off hoping to get more attention for their work? Are they someone who gets off on making others feel good or bad about themselves? Are their critiques free or do you pay for them? Are they blind critiques or do they know you? All these things impact the value of the critique.
Next up is audience – if you’re shooting for publication, your audience is professional, experienced and sophisticated. Therefore, your high school buddy Chad who’s never read a magazine isn’t the right audience. Likewise, your close friends and family are almost never the right audience unless you’re just a once-a-year shutterbug taking family holiday photos. The right audience matters. It’s the most important thing in any aspect of the communications field. Make sure you pick the right audience to critique your photos. Hint – the thousands of amateurs on the social media sites with names like StarWars 2928 are probably NOT the right audience for serious shooters.
Experience is also very important. Would you ask someone who’d never performed open heart operations to give their opinion on whether or not the doctor who did yours had good technique? Of course not. Everyone on the Internet has an opinion. It doesn’t mean it’s valid unless it’s backed up by experience. No experience means no value. Stick with critiques from experienced photographers who have demonstrated their authority.
Lastly, credibility & authority. This matches up somewhat with experience. But it goes further than that. Does the person giving the critique use his/her real name? Are they anonymous? If you don’t even know who they are how can you establish anything about their credibility to give a photo critique? Have they had photos published? Do you respect their work? Have they sold their images to national publications? Have they authored any books on the subject? What in their background gives them the experience, knowledge understanding and ability to give a helpful critique? if you can’t establish this then you’re wasting your time.
I realize I’ll get the most push back on this – especially from the young people who have been trained to think that merely showing up entitles them to the grand prize. But it’s simply not true. Photo critiques are very important, especially to new photographers. But they are a complete and utter waste of time if they are coming from the wrong person for the wrong reason. So spend a few minutes thinking about all this before you ask for your next critique.