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The myth about photo critiques

June 26, 2009
Very often, I’ll have people hand me a stack of photos or try to direct my attention to some that they’ve posted online and ask me to “critique” them. Over time, I have learned a few things about these seemingly innocent requests.
Justifiably or not, the person is usually quite proud of the photos they took.
More often than not, they are not really looking for a true critique. What they want is praise.
If I don’t like a photo as much as they want me to, some people will resort to telling me the story behind the photo. Apparently that makes it a better photo.
It’s a bit like people’s reaction to Simon Cowell on American Idol. That is not a show I watch regularly but I have seen it. Although his presentation is frequently abrasive (some of which I suspect is simply to make for better television), I have to admit that the content of his criticism is refreshingly honest. And almost always accurate. At least he tells people what they really need to hear. Whether it’s what they want to hear or not. Even when someone is good, he finds ways in which they can improve and shares those. The smartest people (even the ones who don’t make it past the audition) are those who truly listen to his feedback and try to learn from it.
That’s the reason why I usually will not give a true critique unless I am being paid to do so. The only ones who will pay for a critique are the ones who truly want to get useful feedback and use it to improve their skills. And people seem to react differently to feedback they’ve paid for. When there’s a value placed on something, it gets respected for the professional input that it is.

Very often, I’ll have people hand me a stack of photos or try to direct my attention to some that they’ve posted online and ask me to “critique” them. Over time, I have learned a few things about these seemingly innocent requests.

  1. Most of the photos are really not that good.
  2. Justifiably or not, the person is usually quite proud of the photos they took.
  3. More often than not, they are not really looking for a true critique. What they want is praise.
  4. If I don’t like a photo as much as they want me to, some people will resort to telling me the story behind the photo. Apparently that makes it a better photo.

It’s a bit like people’s reaction to Simon Cowell on American Idol. That is not a show I watch regularly but I have seen it. Although his presentation is frequently abrasive (some of which I suspect is simply to make for better television), I have to admit that the content of his criticism is refreshingly honest. And almost always accurate. At least he tells people what they really need to hear. Whether it’s what they want to hear or not. Even when someone is good, he finds ways in which they can improve and shares those. The smartest people (even the ones who don’t make it past the audition) are those who truly listen to his feedback and try to learn from it.

That’s the reason why I usually will not give a true critique unless I am being paid to do so. The only ones who will pay for a critique are the ones who truly want to get useful feedback and use it to improve their skills. And people seem to react differently to feedback they’ve paid for. When there’s a value placed on something, it gets respected for the professional input that it is.

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