Thursday, September 07, 2006

No Excuses!

No assignment this week. That will give people a little more opportunity to catch up. Instead, I want to warn you about the biggest mistake a photographer can make.

I've been involved a bit lately in critiquing the work of others on Flickr. Most people are very good about taking criticism how it is meant. A few people get offended, though. They're not the ones I'm talking about here. I'm talking about people that make excuses for problems with their photos. I'll talk about two I've encountered so far. I'm probably guilty of the same things, but it's something to avoid. I also want to note that these two people are good people with a good attitude, as I've encountered them several times, so don't look down on them for making this mistake.

I want you to make mistakes. But this is the one mistake I want you to avoid. If you make excuses for your work, you won't improve.

I Couldn't Help It

I critiqued one guy's shot of two butterflies, saying that I didn't like the composition. He told me that he didn't think I understood, and that nature doesn't pose for you.

So what!

My response? The final image is the only thing that matters.

Photography is 50% skill, 25% dedication, and 25% luck.

Sure, maybe he did the best he could under the circumstances. I don't really care if he did. If the results aren't good, then I don't care that he found the best possible composition. Drop the picture. Maybe he just wasn't lucky that day. This is where dedication comes in. Wait for another opportunity.

I, myself, have committed this same kind of wrong-headed thinking. I encountered the work of a really good wildlife photographer, got jealous, and thought "Well, sure, it's easy when you have all kinds of money for 400mm lenses and trips around the world." This is not the right way to think. Yes, he does have those advantages, but the dedication is key when you're photographing nature.

"Artistic" Decisions

I also had the pleasure of critiquing the work of a woman who left one face blurry in an otherwise very creative and compelling shot. She defended it as an "artistic" decision.

I don't care.

Yeah, maybe it was an artistic decision. The wrong one. Like I said before, the final image is the only thing that matters. Photography is about results, not that you tried, or that you were being creative. Yes, these things are important to honing your skills, but suck it up. The final image is what counts.

Technical rules are there for a reason. This woman said the following:
[T]echnical rules are not usually right. . . . If I wanted to be a boring commercial photographer I would and could... but I am not merely a photographer... i am an artist LOL I am about feelings not following the "rules".
This. Is. An. Excuse. My response to her? I asked whether Ansel Adams, or Dorothea Lange, or Paul Strand were "artists" or merely commercial photographers. They followed the rules. Were they just commercial photographers? Google them and you tell me.

Don't Be Discouraged

Don't let this discourage you. Take this as a warning. It's easy to fall into the trap of defending your photos. You pour your heart and soul (and time and money) into taking these photos. You develop an attachment to them. Of course you like them!

But when someone critiques your work, even if they're harsh, don't fall into the trap of defending the shortfalls of your work. I'm sure I still do it. Sometimes I'm right. Sometimes I'm not. But you need to seriously consider the possibility that the one critiquing your work is right.

And then again, maybe the critiquer just doesn't "get it." But if they are right, wouldn't you like to learn something from them?


At 9/13/2006 5:07 AM, Anonymous Pete said...

This is unbelievably pompous. It reads like you are the sole arbiter as to what is artistic or not.

At 9/13/2006 9:43 AM, Blogger Kelly said...

I'm sorry you interpreted it that way. That was not my intent. I was merely giving a warning that it's really easy to get defensive about your pictures, and that this is the worst mistake you can make as a photographer.

At 9/18/2006 8:40 PM, Blogger Kelly said...

Also, I should add that this is my blog, and people come here for my advice. They wouldn't do that unless they thought I had something to say, some expertise on the subject. If you don't think so, well, in the end it's a matter of opinion, and you don't have to come back.

Try an analogy for me if you will. Say Jet Li started a blog for teaching martial arts. And he came up with a post talking about the worst martial arts form out there (let's just call it the Crane style) and why it's bad. It might sound pretentious (I assume that's what you meant by pompous). But pretension only exists when someone acts like they are more important/skilled/knowledgeable than they really are. So no matter what happens, the foremost experts on a subject can never be pretentious within their own expertise.

I am not saying that I'm the world's foremost expert on photography. Far from it. There are many better photographers than me. And I'm not to photography what Jet Li is to martial arts. But I am a good photographer. It would be stupid for anyone to say I'm not, if they'd seen my work. So, since I have knowledge of the craft, I am not being pretentious even if I do say that X is wrong and Y is right.

It would be different if I actually said I was the sole arbiter of what is artistic. That would be pretentious, because I haven't achieved that level of skill, knowledge, or distinction. But that's not what I said, nor will I ever say that.

At 9/21/2006 10:20 AM, Anonymous Collin said...

I understand completely what you're saying here. I have (previously) become very defensive about my images.

I even left one site because I got so huffy about the "critique" that was being left for me. In fact it wasn't so much critique, it was more "this is s***". There were a couple of critiques, but IFRC they both said "don't bother trying this subject again and find something else to shoot". Well, up yours pal!

Since then I have become so critical of my work that I get about a 10% hit rate of images that I am happy with.

Unless it's specifically for my blog, I only post what I believe to be my best shots on Flickr and the like. If people want to critique them I welcome it. It's only gonna help me. Only if the critique isn't like that above though!

Kelly - many thanks for running this blog. I had had ideas about running something similar myself - I don't need to now, I'll just shout from the rooftops about this one!


At 9/21/2006 1:15 PM, Blogger Kelly said...


If you have any requests for me to write on a particular topic, let me know. Or if you'd like to write an article for it, I'll definitely give it a look.


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