Is Critique A Requirement to Learning Photography?

Discussion in 'Ethics and Philosophy' started by ReginaldSMith, Jun 30, 2018.

  1. ReginaldSMith

    ReginaldSMith Subscriber

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    Not everyone with a camera refers to themselves as a photographer. And not every photographer is pursuing a thought out path of improving in either the art, the craft or both. To the remainder then, do you think critique is a necessary or important part of your path? If so, how do you facilitate critique? Of course, there is always a spouse or family member to say, "Hey, that's cool." Or, "Whaat the heck is that?" But, do you find it easy or hard to obtain frequent and meaningful critique?

    Some photography clubs run critique sessions. And most formal classes at college or university would offer critique, but when the class is over, then what?

    The many Internet site catering to photography offer very thin levels of critique because it is impossible to control as hundred thousand people and millions of photographs. And, there is policy of not offending people, because one man's terse, but accurate assessment is another man's offense.

    Is it needed at all? Where do you find it? How has it helped or hurt your quest?
     
  2. Bill Burk

    Bill Burk Subscriber

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    Seems to me you could use Photrio for critique. Upload a picture to the critique gallery and see what comes of it. You could also start a thread just like this one where you post a photo and explain you would like a critique of it.
     
  3. hoffy

    hoffy Subscriber

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    Excellent topic and quite an excellent question.

    I am going to speak as a recovering member from a photo club (& former president of club). I say recovering, as I gave it up 2 years ago after becoming quite disillusioned with it all. This will turn into a rant.

    Regardless of how a club is buttered, there appears to be two reasons they exist - competitions and pissing contests about gear.

    When I joined a club back in the late 2000's, I joined because I was finding interactions on the internet to be lacking. I also was becoming concerned that everything I photographed was just simply being posted on line (I had not gotten back into film at that stage) and I was looking at being a member of a club as an excuse to print more. Obviously, to print generally meant that you would enter in competitions.

    So, that is what I did - competitions. Being fresh, I made sure that I entered each competition that the club ran. I did OK, even managing a 10 in the second competition that I entered. While the comments were generally nothing more than a sentence, I took heed and often applied the lessons learnt.

    After a few years, though, I started to realise that the way the competitions were judged and those who got the top scores were based on a formula. It was no longer an art, but a sport. High contrast, saturated colours, clever usage of the gimmicks in photoshop and sharp images of birds would generally get you a good score. Basically, to sum up the critiques from every competition was "become like the rest of us and you'll do just fine". And yes, there were members of the club who were gaming it for all it was worth - it was about winning competitions, not taking photographs. Creativity? Forget it - creativity was for losers.

    At that stage, I had managed to get onto the committee of the club and realised there were a couple other members (mostly a bit younger - in our late 30's) who thought that competitions were a bit ho-hum. We managed to convince the membership that reducing the number of competitions by a 3rd, to be replaced with peer reviews was a good idea. At the time, it was met with great enthusiasm. We tried different formats - a panel where a photo was shown, the author had a chance to talk and the image was discussed. We tried round table discussions in a group. We tried one on ones with other members. In the end, it was only a handful of members who would bring in images and in the end, it was a way for a few of them to have their images critiqued......for future competitions.

    After 8 years, I became bored and quit. By that stage, the core group who tried to enact change were all gone as well. We tried, but I am afraid that Photo clubs in my part of the world well and truly had their die set.

    Based on my experience, photo clubs is where creativity goes to die. You will find a lot of very appealing images, but you will very soon realise that they all look very much the same.
     
  4. BrianShaw

    BrianShaw Member

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    Critique is good but not necessary.

    Critique comes in a variety of types: technical, compositional, and artistic. I’ve been exposed to the first two types more than the last. I appreciate all types but also realize that for me all aspects of photography is both self-satisfaction and making others happy... even if it’s just momentary. I’m thrilled when I hear a “that’s great” comment... much more thrilled than a comment like, “the image radiates the essence of the soul of the sitter...”.

    To solicit comment/critique/compliments/etc I just show my best work and if they like it and if they want to comment I’m all ears. I’ll show it to family, friends, folks at work... but generally not just random folks on the street. I don’t maintain a gallery on this or any other site, although I have a bunch of cell phone food pics on Yelp.

    The artistic critique is what is most difficult for me to absorb. I often find it pompous and the meaning shrouded by the mysterious words used. Just like most wine and Scotch whisky reviews. Maybe it makes sense to those “in the know” but to me it’s just mumbo-jumbo that reeks of pretentiousness. If it works for others that’s great.

    It’s been many years since I used a camera to make money... and that was what I used as critique: either the image met the need and made money for me or it wasn’t quite good enough.

    Self-critique, I believe, is what is absolutely essential. A critical eye, a big degree of humility and self-honesty is the only way for that to work.
     
    Last edited: Jun 30, 2018
  5. Poisson Du Jour

    Poisson Du Jour Member

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    A critique to any work is a stepping stone to skill-building and continuous improvement, but it must be done sensitively and constructively. It is essential to address key fundamentals of concern, such as obvious technical errors, and be able to differentiate between personal vs clinical choices, for example, the choice of composition versus compositional error/cut-offs -- two fields that many people don't bother to separate meaningfully.
     
    Last edited: Jun 30, 2018
  6. eddie

    eddie Subscriber

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    Every time someone views your work you're being critiqued. You're just not given any commentary. Personally, I'd rather hear the critique, and I do see value in them. We often become too close to our own work to see it as others see it. We can learn a lot from outside criticism (assuming constructive, informative and respectful).
     
  7. michael_r

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    At one point I did feel the need to seek out critical assessments from a few of the practitioners I most admired because I wanted their opinions. It wasn't part of my learning, but was important to me.
     
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    ReginaldSMith

    ReginaldSMith Subscriber

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    @hoffy

    A good rant is always a delight.... Thanks. What do you do today for critique?
     
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    ReginaldSMith

    ReginaldSMith Subscriber

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    Thanks. Back when I was involved in critique, we first completed several Saturday lessons on how to critique on order to avoid just the chance of people getting too personal, and building resentments or bad feelings. That training weeded out those who weren't proficient or willing to become so. The remainder became very dedicated to that process.
     
  10. Ko.Fe.

    Ko.Fe. Member

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    It is not easy as just critique. It is different levels of it.
    Biggest and honest critic is you. It is up to you to decide which level you settled at.

    Here is my story.
    I get to know exposure after I've got decent DSLR and lenses. I was one of the winners of international photo contest, get my prizes, I have my photos in use for local elections campaign and by national geographic site, people liked my photos on local community site and they let me volontier without police check, because I was known and I was good in photography for them.
    Then I went back to film, back to my roots in it with FED-2 as RF photography and joined rangefinder.ru. I came with all of my glory, but was mocked. Back then rangefinder.ru was with heavy criticism and one day it eat itself. People started to dictate which pictures to post. And good pictures started to be deleted. I went against of it and people like me won. Those who decided to have rights to tell us what is right and what is wrong were let go and they organised their own site which didn't lasted long. It turned into bitch fest and those who were holding right to tell what is right and what is wrong vanished. Rangefinder.ru deleted hands down voting and only kept hands up votes.
    By the time it happened I learned who GW and HCB are and another photographers I learned and keep on learning. And not by just looking at pictures and taking de'moment statement naive and straight.
    I don't care for likes and to have photo nominated anymore. I'm into if my photo is resonating with me as GW, HCB and others are resonating with me.
    I always liked since I was teenager surrealism and impressionism. I'm trying to get where and where is not so many people who will get those pictures. Photography is mostly primitive eye candy. I'm trying to get away from it. It is hard once you realise what you see most of the photogs and mass viewers are not able to see.
    So, now if Helen Hill or Anna Bocharova (sush) will tell me - this picture is OK - it is high prize for me.
     
  11. Sirius Glass

    Sirius Glass Subscriber

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    Appropriate constructive critique can be useful to learn to improve ones photography. It is not necessary, but it will shorten the learning time.
     
  12. hoffy

    hoffy Subscriber

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    That is the problem. I really don't have an outlet where I can get it done. As much as people say online, I have found critique either to be shallow ("great photo") or too intense (where they often miss the point of the image that you have displayed).

    A friend and myself are playing around with the idea of creating a group where we can explore creativity and intent in photography, instead of the endless talk of gear or "great photo" comments.
     
  13. hoffy

    hoffy Subscriber

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    An honest but constructive critique is quite often very hard to get. The one that stung the most was by a "renown" local photographer (his own words - he was possibly renown in the club scene where I come from because he worked at one of the local camera retailers) who openly said he didn't understand the image and said that it was a waste of ink. That actually hurt - but I used that for strength. The image is the first one I hung on my office wall.

    Have you watched the show "Master of Photography"? Even the masters and judges they get on can be very brutle and at times not really very helpful with their critique. But, we are talking a level that I suppose we could and should hold that little bit higher than the average schmo like me!
     
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  15. eddie

    eddie Subscriber

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    If the viewer is missing the point of the image, don't you want to know? A critique is a good way to find out if you're communicating your point successfully.
     
  16. eddie

    eddie Subscriber

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    I'd suggest putting a group together with visual artists other than just photographers. Painters, sculptors... The best critique groups I've participated in have had people working in different areas. It kept it from being a gearfest.
     
  17. hoffy

    hoffy Subscriber

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    OK, I'm going to give a firm "depends" on that one. Going back to the example above, the brutal critique I received on the images were on deliberate choices I had made for that image. I had shown this image to others (unfortunately, its no longer online - I can dig it out later, but it is digital) and they could see the point, but the person doing the judging couldn't. Maybe I am pig headed. Maybe I have an ego (we all have ego's), but I still stand by the choice I made to produce that image. Granted, though, this was a blind critique where the judge had no understanding of the message I was trying to portray.

    So, I feel that quite often there needs to be a level of context as part of a general critique.

    That is a very good point. Thanks for the suggestion.
     
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    ReginaldSMith

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    There are some pretty well established methods and guidelines for good critique. And I think that it can't be done effectively online. First, people's behavior online is nearly always too volotile. And typed messages just don't communicate as richly as face to face.
     
  19. btaylor

    btaylor Subscriber

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    I agree with that idea somewhat. On the other hand how many viewers need to “get it” for a photograph to be successful? 1? 1000? More?
    While I appreciate thoughtful criticism (positive and negative), ultimately it’s up to me to decide if the work is meaningful or not.
     
  20. blockend

    blockend Member

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    Yes, it is. It deals in visual memes, diaphanous ladies, juicy burgers, dew drops on cobwebs, down-and-outs, bugs, flowers, formation flying...

    Most people are content to explore that simple language permanently, adding the latest camera and the admiration of their peers. There's nothing wrong with that, some people collect stamps, some Barbie dolls, but critique is misplaced on such people. Their rules are simple, their criteria unambiguous. Leave them to it.

    People learn quickest by being exposed to excellence. My eyes were opened by the public library service, back when education of ordinary people was thought worthy of the taxpayer's shilling. Bill Brandt, Edward Weston, Dorothea Lange, Robert Frank, Cartier-Bresson, Tony Ray- Jones, Man Ray. Then we have to put them behind us and find our own vision. Or forget the whole troublesome business and take up another obsession.
     
  21. BrianShaw

    BrianShaw Member

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    ReginaldSMith

    ReginaldSMith Subscriber

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    To be clear, critique is a very different thing than contest judging. A useful critique process has to consider your individual path, and is based on where you want to go. There's no shared end point for all photographers. Contest judging is devoid of knowledge of the photographer and goals for the image. It's just a comparison to a set of conventions. And therefore, the most conventional photos usually win. And if you've been to many, or exhibited in many, you pretty much know in advance what kind of photo is going to win. So, I think any kind of contest is a completely different experience from critique.

    To critique a set of photos from someone you have to know what they were attempting, and why, and what direction they are taking with what end point. And that means the photographer also needs to know those things in a way that can be communicated. "I just want to get better" won't be enough information. And, "I just want to know what you think of these," will only lead to a meaningless evaluation, and that's not a critique.
     
  23. blockend

    blockend Member

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    Exactly. If someone wants to create a 4 volume set of pictures of gas stations, who are we to judge them? In fact I recently spent £50 on just such a set. Or drag queens, climbing roses, furniture stores, or anything that passes their lens at 5 minute intervals. Their subject could be the world or the view from their back window. How do you critique that? Who's to say what is and isn't interesting? Put the camera in program mode and away you go. Good luck.
     
  24. Chan Tran

    Chan Tran Member

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    Critique is important if you want to be a professional. You need to know how others think about your photographs.
     
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    ReginaldSMith

    ReginaldSMith Subscriber

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    It's not about judging anyone for what they want to photograph, but just to help them get better at doing what they want. That's why I mentioned the training for critque was crucial. Once you know he's all about the gas stations, let's say, it should not be hard to help them get better at it.
     
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