A photograph from a week ago. An unknown place for me and it had rained the entire evening. We drove back when the clouds started to break up. I just knew I had to take a photograph. The light turned very special. I stopped, saw a field with curious sheeps, and just knew it that it was right for me.
But when is a photograph right? When do you think it is good? And how do judge someone’s photograph when he or she thinks it is good? Now this puzzles me. I joined a local photo club this year and they already asked me to be a speaker after the holiday season and give critics. Of course I feel honoured and I like to take the challenge. But how do you prepare for something like that? What do you say?
They all say you should be as objective as possible. To find a balance between negative and positive feedback. Be polite, but honest. Basically tell the truth, but to remain respectful to the photographer. Not to be rude, but not to make things too nice either. But how can you be objective with critics? The photograph feels right or just not. You like it or you don’t like it. The critics should be on level with the experience and capabilities of the photographer, but just how do you know that? From most of the members I haven’t seen any photograph in the last half year. I just don’t know how good or bad they are.
In the club it is a rule to show a maximum of five photographs. And it still kind of surprises me that many of those who show their work come up with five photographs. Is that because they feel all these selected photographs are right and good? Do they, because they wonder if something is lacking and are they truly seeking help? Or do they select five photographs, because they can show five photographs? Personally I tend to believe it is a combination of the latter option. There is an opportunity for five photographs so I take it and they likely think their selected photographs are good (enough).
I absolutely believe it is very difficult to judge someone else’s photographs, but it is probably even more difficult to judge your own photographs. Why do these photographers necessarily have to select five photographs when maybe only two are realistically good? I think it is important to be more selective. Don’t think you can show five photographs, but only one. Challenge yourself to only select the best of the photographs you intent to show. And maybe it is good to counterbalance it and also select the least of the selected photographs. For good critics I think you need interaction. Interaction with the photographer, but also with other photographers (in this case for me the other members).
So I have been contemplating on this for some time now and I likely (and probably will) be thinking more strongly about it in a month or two. You know, I am no fan of the common critics’ examples on the Internet: ‘It is either beautiful and the photographer is the best or it just sucks and is crap.’ But when I try to be polite and try to give formal and respectful critics, the photographer will soon realize that I like it or just not. The more words you use to be polite and to explain what setting you see, the photograph will understand the negative critics will follow. When you become enthusiastic the photographer will understand too what you think of the photograph.
I don’t want to hurt feelings, but I do believe sometimes it is better to be harsh with critics. At some point there will be a chance to praise the photographer too for his or her effort and progress. In the meantime I would love to receive any possible suggestions or remarks concerning this subject.
Photograph by Wouter Brandsma