Critiques have been part of my life for a long time. From the age of 16, I’ve competed in martial arts competitions. My performance was under a microscope.
It was simple, if my performance was great the judges would give high scores and the crowd roared with applause. If my performance was marginal, the judges would give low scores and, if the crowd disagreed, they would voice their disapproval. Their support was comforting but did very little to change the outcome.
After the event, I would ask the judges for advice and request they give it to me straight. Sometimes I liked what they had to say, other times I felt crushed. Either way, I thanked the judges for their time and for sharing their knowledge. I relayed the information to my instructor and together we would develop a strategy to improve my weaknesses and enhance my strengths.
How I dealt with criticism
Over the years I developed a thick skin, reminding myself it’s the performance, not the performer that is being critiqued. I learned to separate myself, the performer from the performance and became honest and learned to not take it as an attack on my self-worth.
Then, I adjusted my performance based on the advice. If I felt the advice was an improvement, I would continue down this new path. If I felt the advice wasn’t right for me, I would alter it until it felt right. I was still in charge of my performance.
Don’t get sucked into fake praise
A great champion always fights like a challenger.
When I became a champion, I wrote these words on my mirror to remind me to always train hard. I saw great champions fall because they stopped doing what they did to become a champion. They got sucked into fake praise without realizing it. The people around them were in awe of their reputation and past performances. They couldn’t see their faults.
To avoid fake praise, a few of us would travel to a small tournament, where nobody knew us, and compete. Our skill, not our reputation determined the score.
Applying this critique process to photography
There are many social media sites to display your work and receive feedback. Most comments on these sites are over-the-top flattering. This may be great for your ego, but be careful not to get sucked into fake praise. Instead, rely on critiques from one or two photographers you trust will tell you their honest opinion. Make sure they critique your work based on your level of photography.
If you’re a beginner, they will guide you with a few simple tips you can easily understand. If you are an advanced or semi-pro photographer, their critique will be more in-depth. Once you receive this information, be honest with yourself. If you feel the advice will improve your photography, apply it and continue down this new path. If you feel the advice isn’t right for you, alter it until it does. Remember, you are in charge of your photography.
Join a camera club
The majority of camera clubs are worth their weight in gold. They offer great education and encouragement, especially for new photographers. Attend meetings as a guest. Watch how the board members interact with the group. If they have an “I know it all” attitude or are constantly telling you how great they are, find a new group that puts the needs of the members first. A positive or negative ego from the top will descend onto the group.
Enter a photo contest
There are many photo contests available for all levels. Most are affiliated with camera clubs or specialty groups such as WPPI, PPA or ASMP. Competition can inspire your creativity or it can leave you feeling crushed.
If you win, congratulations. Be proud of your accomplishment but don’t let it go to your head. Remember, a great champion always fights like a challenger. Make note of why your photo won and try to repeat that for the next competition.
If you lose, tell yourself it’s the performance, not the performer that was judged. Listen to the judges’ advice and decide if you need to alter your photography path.
Final thoughts on critiques
I took a cooking class once so I could learn to cook better. I have no intention of opening a restaurant. Ask yourself, why are you learning photography? Do you want to make photography a career or do you just want to learn how to take a better photo?
If it’s a career you’re looking for, buckle down and take it seriously. If you just want to take a better photo, relax and learn at your own pace. Either way, have fun and enjoy photography. It will show in the photos you take.