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Constructive Criticism - asking for, giving and receiving it!

By gjp, written 1451815545.

One of the great things about being on a networking site like PurplePort is the ability to use the collective knowledge of the community to help make you a better photographer, model, MUA, stylist or studio.

One of the worst things about being on a networking site like PurplePort is the small group of people who seem to thrive on being deliberately provocative, trying to show-off with how much they 'know', and just being critical rather than providing insights.

Although the latter will never disappear, this article aims to help people get the most out of the constructive criticism process.

Asking for CC

PurplePort has two fantastic areas for CC – Single Image Critique and Portfolio Review.  I have had some fantastic advice from using these groups and also some unhelpful statements that did nothing to help me at all.  From doing this I have found out that there are three ways you can help ensure that you get constructive criticism that helps you develop.
 

Give it a good title

Why? Well, it grabs the attention of the people reading the group; it then shows you have thought about the advice that you are looking for; and finally it shows you are serious about wanting advice and not just trying to increase image views.
 

Explain the idea behind your shoot

The more information you give people, the more likely you are to get feedback that helps you improve.  So make sure people know:

  • Why are you taking the image / what is the story behind your image (trying a new shoot style, trying a new processing technique, deliberately breaking the rules etc.)
     
  • What you wanted to achieve (a Helmut Newton style image; a sense of atmosphere; the feeling of being a voyeur; a classic glamour pose; smoky eye make-up that compliments the theme of the shoot)

If you help the reviewers understand your aims, in general they will respond with more informed CC. 
 

Be specific about what feedback you want

If you are a model who wants advice on improving posing or expressions, tell us what the pose or expression is trying to achieve.  Compare the following questions:

  • What do you think?
     
  • We were aiming to achieve an image that portrays fierce attitude, please can you let me know if there are any ways I can improve my pose or expression to deliver that?

The same goes for the photographer:

  • I am trying to shoot a grainy voyeur image and I wanted advice on the processing and how I can better achieve this?
     
  • I have tried a new processing technique to give the image a softer feel, please let me know if this comes across in the image

This focuses the advice onto the areas that you are interested in, and again shows you are looking to improve.
 

Giving Constructive Criticism

People posting images for critique or putting their portfolios up for review are, in my opinion, some of the bravest people on PurplePort, as they are offering themselves up to all the risks of internet forums.

Due to this, I believe we should actually respond in a respectful way and help them as much as possible.  To do this, I believe following these guidelines will help the poster receive helpful advice and ensure the person offering critique comes out of it well.

  •  Be polite
     
  •  Offer advice with any criticism.  Criticising without offering ways of improving is not helpful and in general just makes you look like a bit of a dick.  If you think something can be improved, let them know how.
     
  • Be objective based on the idea behind the image, not subjective.  There are key points – the image is out of focus, there is camera shake that we can provide objective feedback on.  If you are being subjective, phrase it as such – for me the image is too dark for a glamour image and I would…; in my opinion the pose is too stiff for the style of image you were after and I would look at how model 'x' does this.
     
  • Make sure your advice is relevant to your audience.  If the person requesting CC is brand new to photography make sure your advice is targeted to this – help them get the basics right.  Too much technical advice could put them off. 
     
  • Spend more time looking at the image and understanding what the person was trying to achieve than writing the critique.
     
  • Separate your criticism.  Just because they haven’t technically mastered the image, doesn’t mean the idea is bad.  If you CC well, you will help the person achieve their vision in the future, not discourage them from trying.
     

Receiving Constructive Criticism

You have taken the time and been brave enough to ask for CC, and have now received your feedback, so what do you do?

First realise this universal truth, it is highly unlikely that you will have created an image so good that no-one can offer a way of improving it; likewise, it is also highly unlikely that your image has absolutely no redeeming features.  Therefore if you only get praise or criticism, don’t get to carried away thinking you are either the best or worst at what you do.

Remember to thank people for taking the time to reply – even if you disagree with them.  Offering CC takes time and we should thank those who have done this, they could easily just have moved on.

Start a conversation to explore the advice being given. If you are unsure of what the advice is or need further information just ask.  Most people who have taken the time to offer CC will only be too happy to carry on helping you out.

Be polite and never start an argument.  You asked for CC, you will not agree with all of it – if you can’t handle this, hen don’t ask.  Also remember it reflects on how people see you in the wider community.

Never let CC start you working and trying to improve.
 

Remember

There will always be trolls and people who just want to make themselves look good.  Ignore these and listen to the people who will hopefully use this as a helpful way to offer better CC.

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