Critiques- How to give and take-IMPORTANT
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Old 11-28-2008   #1
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Default Critiques- How to give and take-IMPORTANT

HOW TO CRITIQUE PHOTOGRAPHY and how to benefit from critiques.


Lately, on our forum, there has been a lot of talk about people being afraid to post their opinions and critiques or their photographs for critiques because of various reasons. It is hard, especially for newcomers to the industry or to photographic forums themselves, to break the ice and finally take full advantage of the boards.

Especially in the area of critiques there has been lots of reticence on the part of some, to jump in and take the knocks or their accolades as they come. What’s worse is there has been some ill feelings and somewhat nasty responses on the part of some whose images did not vie as well as they expected in the critique department. In an effort to set out some guidelines that will enable more people to participate and enjoy themselves in the critiquing process, I have an article on the concept of critiquing that I hope will help things along. If you care to- post some feedback or your ideas.

How to critique photography- some handy guidelines:

One would think that the concept of critiquing photographs is simple- a photographer submits his or her prints to a competition or a “judge” or judging panel, ostensibly of his or her peers or perhaps a person or persons of a known quantity of higher expertise, for the purposes of constructive criticism or for validation of their existing skills and talents. The all encompassing reason for this exercise, in a perfect world, is so that the submitting photographers can get an honest reading, if you will, on the quality level of their work- an essential component of growing as an artist.

All one needs to do is turn on the 11 O’clock news to realize that we do not live in a perfect word, the status of photographic education being the least of it. Suffice it to say that in our smaller world of photography, continually educating ourselves in our ever changing craft is a formidable job in which the exchange of ideas, concepts and knowledge is the essential tool for success and survival. The concept of good- shall we invent a term- “critique management” is vital in keeping this exchange alive. Critiquing, in my opinion, is the most powerful device in teaching, learning and the stimulation of creativity. Since it IS such a powerful force, shouldn’t we pay some attention to the "art" of delivering and accepting critiques? When misused, the power of the critique can become damaging and discouraging, rather than strengthening and inspiring.

Taking the above philosophy in mind, it becomes apparent that critiquing has become a more complex endeavor than one might have originally thought and carries along with it some responsibility, ethical questions, diplomatic obligations and even sensitivity issues. To make things even more difficult there are endless variations in judging concepts and the motivations and expatiations of those submitting their work. To confound things even more, there is all the political, emotional and rhetorical stuff that often surrounds the critiquing process which, in turn, leads to childish behaviors, egoism, cronyism, one-upmanship and downright rudeness- all counterproductive elements that degrade and erode an otherwise proud and time-honored teaching and learning tradition. Some of these negative issues can be proven by participating in and observing print shows and critiquing sessions, acting as a judge at theses events. More importantly, to observe as a current issue, right here on our boards, some of the head banging that goes on. It is a shame when people refrain from posting their work for critique, for fear of being personally attacked- what a bummer!

So here it comes: As a veteran of a billion print competitions- on both sides of the judging table- having given and taken zillions of picks and pans- holding a PhD from the school of hard (print) knocks- are my humble ideas and insights into the art of critiquing-

DISCLAIMER: In the following article, references are made to standards, print competitions, judges, photographic organizations, and rules and regulations. These references are only made to illustrate my experiences. This does not mean that I am suggesting that all the folks at this forum (you and I) and the administrators should adopt any such concepts (such as P.P. of A rules). All the suggestions herein are designed to enable photographers to enjoy the critiquing process, here on the boards or if people are submitting their work or are asked to sit on a panel or be an adjudicator at a competition- that they can raise to the occasion. Also remember that these are my own opinions, based on my experiences and are also subject to your criticism or praise.


THE SUBMITTERS- YOU are the folks who enter the competitions, go for the critiquing sessions and post their images here on the boards, especially when requesting a critique. The question is, what motivates you to do so? If you are strictly looking for ribbons, prizes, accolades, pats on the back and validation, you are bound to be disappointed , disillusioned, hurt, disenchanted or just plain ticked off. If you want to get a good reading on you images, suggestions for improvement and the best stimulation for creativity you can get- you are in the right place. Sooner or later all the other good stuff will come. If your goal is to progress as a photography enthusiast, to become a professional, or improve your professional status- this forum is where you want to be. As I have stated before, competing and accepting criticism is a little bit like boxing- if you are afraid to take the occasional punch- don’t go there. Those punches are ok if they go to your work- not yourself. There is no valid reason why anyone should accept personal attacks or rude comments- you have to learn to let that stuff go in one ear and out of the other- only the constructive stuff need remain in your brain. Any judge or photographer who delivers nasty criticism is probably someone to be ignored anyway regardless of their so called stature or personal savvy with a camera . Folks who do that, do so out of intolerance , jealousy, fear of competition, narrow-mindedness and or just plain old stupidity- all bad motivations- all to be ignored. Nasty critiques are generally not accurate.

When you attend a seminar, you pay your fee to listen to someone that you want to learn from. If a critiquing session is held during the seminar you might tend to more easily accept the criticism as part of the learning process. The same sort of acceptance usually occurs when your prints are being judged by a selected judge or panel of respected photographers of masters status. You know that theses people, have themselves, been through the mill, so to speak, and the medicine they dish out is a little easier for you to swallow. But even the best of judges might base their criticism on subjective rather than objective reasons- we are all human and sometimes that happens. When you post on the forums, the “judges” are your fellow members and it is hard if not impossible to assess their level of expertise, talent, or experience unless they are known to you or are one of the founders or administrators whose reputations precede them.

Sometimes you can tell by the way they deliver their critiques and sometimes it is difficult to tell. There are people who can absorb and later on can regurgitate lots of information and then deliver it with very little substance- lots of techno-babble. There are others who simply do not know what they are talking about but post comments just for the sake of participating- or worse yet, to start a fire fight. It is then up to you to TAKE THE CRITICISM FROM WHOM IT COMES AND DEAL WITH IT ACCORDINGLY. You must separate the wheat from the chaff using the good stuff and ignoring the bad.

”SHOW ME YOURS AND ME?LL SHOW YOU MINE”: Some submitters, when posting their images, will take offence to a negative critique and “retaliate” by challenging the “offending judge” to show his or her own photography- this to earn the privilege of commenting on the work in question. I hate when that happens because that whole exercise will more often than not become kindling for a forest fire. When you post an image on a public forum, like this one, you are exposed to anyone who wants to comment on you work- again it is up to you to determine the validity of the various opinions. When I receive a comment with which I disagree, I might post a reply explaining my reasons for doing what I did, hoping to engage in some good technical repartee. If the response becomes intransigent, I simply agree to disagree and get on with other things. If I am in a slightly combative mood I might politely respond “I am beginning to understand your point of view, but for the purpose of clarification, could you kindly post a similar subject illustrating your preferred method of treatment for that particular type of subject”- then I let the feathers fly and land where they will! it’s fun! That is about as far as I will go- I never suggest pouring gasoline on a fire! On the boards we can enjoy this kind of communication. When however, we send our prints to actual print shows and competitions- the decisions of the judges are final and you have to accept whatever you get and hopefully use the information to your advantage.

YOUR DUTY AS A POSTER OR A COMPETITOR. Prepare you submission, send it or post it according to the rules and size requirements. Take your results or score in stride and use whatever you have learned to your advantage. When you are on the boards, refrain from nasty or retaliatory comments. If you ignore bad comments, the absence of your angst will become apparent to others on the thread and you will gain respect.

ON BEING A GOOD JUDGE. When I started to sit on judging panels we used to have to take judging lessons. The lessons spelled out the rules and regulations and more importantly the criteria for actually analyzing and scoring prints. I am not suggesting that these rules be adopted officially but they can serve as good guidelines when you wish to give a critique or comment on photographs that have been posted on the site. Remember YOU ARE THE JUDGE and folks are depending upon you for fair and honest adjudication. Your job is to assign a score (say 0 to 100) to each print or body of work and or make a critique thereby sending an important, accurate message to the makers of those prints. The message has to contain an accurate assessment of the quality and craftsmanship in the piece, designed to set the maker in the right direction. If a critique is involved it should clearly and succinctly point out the areas that need improvement and if possible a remedy for the problem(s). When doing an informal critique, for the sake argument, you can set your own standards, Remember this is an exercise on the boards, not an official competition- have fun with this and consider it a learning experience for all concerned. My favorite method is to score on a percentile basis. 1-60= somewhat below professional or advanced amateur standards- needs a whole lot of re-thinking- would probably not hang in a professional level print show- one or two pointers would not fix things up. 61-74 Getting there but no cigar. 75-8O Professional level work. 81-85 Pretty Good Stuff . 86-90- Kick butt work and 91-100 Masterful exemplary photography. Criteria (what to look for)- here’s the list:

Visual impact.
Composition
Lighting
Posing (when applicable)
Treatment
Printing quality- contrast, density, color balance etc.
Finishing- spotting and retouching (where applicable)
Surface finishing and cleanliness.
Presentation- mounting.

Just some final Dos and Don’ts-

DO
Always give an honest objective opinion.
Always suggest areas for improvement where required.
Always encourage the maker to continue posting or submitting work.
Be specific on all your points.

DON”T
Judge or criticize work based on the photographer’s approach or style. Things like “That is a PJ style of image- I would have like for you to have posed those subjects in a more formal manner”. This just does not communicate anything constructive and contributes nothing to the education or improvement of the maker. By the same token don’t say ?I love that print- do you have a web site??- It’s better to say “I love the way you have captured the texture in the bride’s gown and managed to get a spontaneous expression all at the same time” or something along those lines to indicate a positive opinion.

Never criticize, especially in an unkind way, a model or a subject in a photograph as being fat, skinny, ugly etc- it is the photographer’s treatment of the subject that counts. Never attack a submitting photographer on a personal basis by saying things that are hurtful and serve no teaching or professional purposes.

PLEASE REMEMBER- being a “please everyone judge” is just as bad as being a “kill everyone judge”. Sending the wrong message to a contestant or poster is a gross disservice- they work hard to make their images and deserve your honesty and professionalism.

Don’t post disclaimers like- “I don’t know what I am talking about but here’s my 2 cents”. Say what is on your mind and how the image has effected you. If it a boring flat image and does no send you a message- it is probably deficient in some technical or artistic way- so put you cards on the table and communicate.

I think that the critiquing that shows up on the boards should be fun, entertaining and educational. It gives us all a chance to be the contestant or the judge. It is healthy and can serve as an interesting exercise as long as humility, fairness, decorum and sportsmanship prevail. Except for these “rules” please do not take the rest of my suggestions that seriously- it’s up to you. If you intend to “enter the ring” as a contender or someday participate as a judge in an official capacity- this is good practice. Remember- No pain-no gain! Whether or not you want to heed my advice is up to yourself because- YOU ARE THE FINAL JUDGE!

Thanks to all who had the patience to read this- your comments will be appreciated-

Ed

PS- This is good reference material in general but the reason I have decided to post it now is that I have seen a lot of nasty remarks and HARSH criticisms going down. As a new moderator, some have been brought to my attention and were assigned to me as complaints.

I don’t want to recommend suspensions, banning and all that sort of business. I would rather spend my time on the forum discussing technical matters, artistic approaches and talking shop with everyone.

I felt very bad when I saw some critiques and remarks where the critic just about pulled an arm off of a member and bludgeoned her over the head with it.

PLEASE!!! PRETTY PLEASE! BE NICE TO EACH OTHER.

Christmas in coming- below is a picture of me on christmas morning

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Old 11-28-2008   #2
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Default Re: Critiques- How to give and take-IMPORTANT

Hi Ed,
It's nice to meet you. You did yeoman's work on this post of 'how to critique a photo'. I learned a lot from reading it and hope to be able to put into practice your suggestions. Last night I listened to a wonderful interview with big George Foreman, former heavyweight boxing champion of the world. He's just released yet another book, this newest one called, Going The Extra Smile.
I suppose he wrote this book for the same reasons that he's written his other books...ostensibly to help people.
Reading your post on critiquing others' photos, it seems that maintaining a helpful motivation is key to affective critique.
I hope to put you to the test
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Old 11-28-2008   #3
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Default Re: Critiques- How to give and take-IMPORTANT

Ed, Welcome aboard as a moderator. That in its self deserves some Karma.

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Old 11-28-2008   #4
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Default Re: Critiques- How to give and take-IMPORTANT

Ed, great post. I love getting and giving critiques...some are opinions and that's fine, it's what I want. I just hate when opinions are stated as the only way to go!

Oh, and GIVING critiques is the second best way to learn. Getting them and absorbing them is the first.

There is a fantastic photographer in my part of the country who mentors others in the PPA standard of competition. I am very, very fortunate he's willing to look at my images. The first time, I sent him a webpage and he called. His first instructions were to put my asbestos panties on. YIKE! He was thorough and to the point. Told me what was good, what was bad, what could be fixed, what shouldn't be fixed and how to do it better next time. I was fine, but I'm sure he ran into many he gave advice to who weren't. Too bad for them!

Here are this year's entered prints. The first three merited. www.lindagregory.com/2008
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Old 11-29-2008   #5
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Default Re: Critiques- How to give and take-IMPORTANT

Ed,
FYII Those of us who use the Camel "Dark" theme cannot read posts typed in black print.
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Old 11-29-2008   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by blumesan View Post
Ed,
FYII Those of us who use the Camel "Dark" theme cannot read posts typed in black print.
When that happens to me, I just highlight it and it's readable.
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Old 11-29-2008   #7
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Default Re: Critiques- How to give and take-IMPORTANT

Excuse my ignorance- What's dark theme? Is it white letters on a black field? When I post, everything on my screen is black type in the existing yellow background. Is there anything that can cause that to reverse after I post it? Does it have to do with strange formating as I have explained it below? Clue me in!


If anyone has problems reading my articles because of my type face, fonts, bold type pr other such matters please forgive me. When I type directly on the forum in the provided text box I try to stick with Times New Roman in the #3 size. When I submit articles, some of them are parts of my material I have in storage on my hard drive or on disks. I have been teaching and writing papers, articles and instruction manuals for many years and I don't want to have to retype everything from scratch. Most of them are in quite readable typefaces but when I recompose or transfer them to my WORD program or copy and paste them to the forum, the do not format correctly all the time.

If anyone has suggestions about this, please let me know. Is this type face is OK- I will stick with it.

Here is BOLD and lower case bold. Heres is Italics and Bold italics. Which is best?

Thanks, Ed
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Old 11-29-2008   #8
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Default Re: Critiques- How to give and take-IMPORTANT

Quote:
Originally Posted by Ed Shapiro View Post
Excuse my ignorance- What's dark theme? Is it white letters on a black field? When I post, everything on my screen is black type in the existing yellow background. Is there anything that can cause that to reverse after I post it? Does it have to do with strange formating as I have explained it below? Clue me in!
It's down at the bottom left of the Main page. It's a theme, changing colors. Some of us prefer darker backgrounds instead of white.
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Old 11-29-2008   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Ed Shapiro View Post
If anyone has suggestions about this, please let me know. Is this type face is OK- I will stick with it.
When using the Reply box, there is a button to the left of the font that looks like . That button REMOVES all formatting, including color, font, size, etc., and sets it to PhotoCamel defaults. The text must be selected to use it, however.

EDIT: weird. I can't link the button directly for an image. Sorry. But it looks like two overlayed A's.
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Old 11-29-2008   #10
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Default Re: Critiques- How to give and take-IMPORTANT

Message received- good! I will do that on my next post- Thanks! OK I did it.


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