The Dilemma of Honest Critique

The most popular and most viewed image on my Flickr stream – a cat and a toilet. This image keeps me grounded ๐Ÿ™‚

(Warning, this is long!)

We have an interesting relationship with the rest of the world, us artists.ย  Pouring our time and energy into our creations and releasing them into the wild, waiting and hoping for someone, anyone really to like it ๐Ÿ™‚

When your sharing medium of choice is the Internet, it gets even more interesting.ย  Real time instant feedback 24/7 can be an addictive high to the artist desperate for feedback, one I know is seductive and appealing.

I participate in many different photography forums on the net, sometimes just as a way to share images with a wider audience ( eg Twitter) and other times to solicit feedback and comments (eg WordPress challenges).ย  During the past few years a disturbing trend has become noticeable in many of the more social style places – a distinct lack of honest critique.

Whether it is seen as polite to say only nice things, or in reverse “if you can’t say something nice, say nothing” I am not sure.ย  Certainly there are some forums specifically for critique in the more serious sites but I see the trend there too.

Since becoming serious about photography 6 years ago, in recent times I have acknowledged the fact I am an artist.ย  It took a long time and much education before I really understood that.ย  One day it is my hope that people will pay money for my images, competitions might be entered and prizes won, that sort of thing.ย  As a result I am very serious about my art, right now my photography is OK, sometimes even good, but I know that to get better, I have to work at it.ย  To study, practise, learn, read and grow.

The dichotomy is to do this, feedback must be recieved.ย  Other opinions must be queried, people with different knowledge and skills need to view my images and provide feedback.

So here is the question:

If people only say nice things, how does that help me improve as an artist?

Recently I had an exchange with another blogger, where I had expressed my dislike for and queried the reasoning behind their artistic choices.ย  Interestingly they chose not to release my post for viewing but decided it was OK to take random statements out of context and respond to those. They weren’t impressed!

Fortunately I’m a lot older and wiser, and found this amusing and pause for thought, rather than the vitriolic flame response it might have generated in years gone by. This is that response, because one of the things said in the reply really irritated me – the concept that blogging should be a fun, enjoyable safe space and only constructive criticsm should be allowed.

It irritated me BECAUSE I had gone to considerable effort to try and make my critique constructive, was honest with the poster that I disliked their work and struggled to understand their reasoning behind why they created it and specifically asked for clarification.

So here we have the Dilemma of Honest Critique in this day and age.ย  One one hand I understand that we have delicate artist egos, fragile and easily damaged. That the Internet is a wild and savage place full of “other” people who have ideas and opinions different to our own.ย  That sometimes text is a terrible method of communication and what is meant one way can come across as harsh and upsetting to the reader.ย  Also that some people delight in just dumping their shit because they can (generally that isn’t something I see a lot in the forums I’m talking about but I’m also not on Facebook LOL)

Yes I get all that.ย  Here is my problem, if people are afraid to get honest critique, then they will also be afraid to give it, and then we end up with the situation seen now, where its like kindergarten, and you get a gold star for trying, no matter how good or bad.

How does that help those of us who are genuinely desiring of honest feedback?ย 

My local camera club hosted recently a qualified photo comp judge.ย  He offered a free critique clinic where you could supply a few images in advance and he would comment.ย  There were over 60 images and he spoke to every single one.ย  I supplied 5 and only one of them had something nice said about it ๐Ÿ™‚

Initially I was quite hurt, but when I thought about what he said, he was right and it was a turning point in my evolution as a photographer, where my realisation that composition was so very critical to the success of an image.

It was because of that experience I entered into the first One Four Challenge, because it asked me to do something completely new and foreign – to edit and post process my images in a much more creative way.ย  Previously my style has been somewhat of a purist, only the basics for me!ย  But over time I have learned new things and techniques and understood more about how images can be processed, and my attitude has relaxed a little bit there.

But all this fancy photoshop stuff with layers and effects and things! A whole new world that I had never ventured into.ย  So taking part in the challenges has been really valuable to me and the thing I value most is the feedback I get.ย  I ask for honest feedback and am lucky enough to get people telling me they don’t like something.ย  I love that!ย  I love it more when they tell me why too!

In this day and age when attention spans can be measured in picoseconds, and someone taking the time to hit the LIKE button is awesome, consider then how important it is that these people are prepared to view my blog AND ALSO TYPE OUT A COMMENT!!

THAT IS AMAZING!!!!

So I make sure I visit everyone who is participating in the challenge and comment on their entry too. And for everyone out there who has ever recieved a comment from me liking something, you can be sure it was a genuine and honest response ๐Ÿ™‚

Part of the challenge of honest critique is the differential between you the viewer, and the artist.ย  They may be at a different stage on the path, have different technical skills, their personal style and preference may not mesh with yours and many other things.

For example it surprises me the number of people editing images on iPads. Personally I think it is a terrible tool for image editing, the ability to manipulate fine detail is extremely limited.ย  Yet other people are happy with it, they might like the apps they use, it may be the only computer in the house or what they can afford etc etc.

So I try to judge each image on its own merit and with the challenges many people explain what they did and why, and that is helpful.ย  But sometimes an image is just …… not good.ย  It might be retrievable so I sometimes ask “what would happen if you did X” or I offer a tip like “you could fix X with this tool” and I really really try to make it non confrontational.ย  Really!ย  DAMMIT I WANT TO HELP!

My assumption is that the people taking part in the challenge are doing so for the same reason as me, to try new things and learn as we go.ย  The community feel is a nice one and I have learned a lot from people generous with their time to share tips and teach me new concepts.ย  I really value that.

So what do I do when faced with an image that could be vastly improved with a crop, needs to be a bit brighter, isn’t straight etc.ย  Do I say nothing?ย  Do I run the risk and say something, trying to make it palatable?

Am I wrong in assuming that people putting their work out there even want honest feedback?

So this is my dilemma -Should I give honest feedback?ย 

Should I toe the party line and just say nothing if the best I can come up with is a bland meaningless response for the sake of it?

Do people really only want to hear nice things about their work?

Comments welcome – be as honest as you like ๐Ÿ™‚

 

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About lensaddiction

Mad keen photographer figuring it out as she goes!
This entry was posted in For Beginners, LR & Photoshop, Photo Challenges, Waffle and Burbling and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

43 Responses to The Dilemma of Honest Critique

  1. fotodrma says:

    I am new to your blog, I do come from the same City as you, have enjoyed following your thoughts, I agree in the main, I belong to a web site called Betterphoto.com mainly for help and advice, opportunity to hear what others think. Also the monthly completions are a help to know if I am heading in the right direction . You may already know of this site or not. Myself and some of the other members of BP also wish folk would critique more, most of the time it is kind comments, which I get a kick out of too and enjoy the friendship of like minded folk. Met some great people from around the globe including a fellow enthusiast from our somewhat flattened City.

    Have you heard of the free photo magazine called f11 a super nz photo magazine to be downloaded ? Again you probably already subscribe but if not it’s well worth checking out.

    Many thanks for the interesting read.

    Cheers

    • lensaddiction says:

      Hi fellow shooter and survivor of Mother Nature having a bad day ๐Ÿ™‚ Nice to meet you and thanks for dropping by to say hello, and also thanks for reading my rather long and serious post!

      I know the BetterPhotography magazine, its one of the Australian ones and I have purchased it occasionally. Is the site related or different?

      I hadn’t heard of the F11 magazine, I see the latest issue is online at 148 pages!! Will spend some time checking it out.

      Thanks for the links and also the comments that you would also like more honest critique. It was a pretty provocative subject and I’m uncertain what response it will get, so to have a positive one and from a new reader is pretty outstanding.

      Locally there are several photography clubs that are pretty good and supportive. CPS is the biggest and well known but very competition driven, RPS is in Rangiora and has competitions but is really supportive and they love new members. RPS makes a point of the judges giving critical feedback and its anonymous and they are pretty brutal on occasion depending on the person ๐Ÿ™‚ I’m a member of NPS currently and they have excellent speakers and lots of field trips and lovely people.

  2. fotodrma says:

    I went off subject but I agree say it as you see it, whether the recipient accepts your critique or not is up to them, we all see things differently but it’s the only way to learn and if given in a polite, encouraging helpful manner surely what’s not to like !! As you say something as simple as straightening the horizon makes a huge difference WTG I say.

    • lensaddiction says:

      It seems the communication difference between what I think is polite and helpful and what they read it as are two different things. Actually most people have been open to my suggestions and several have thanked me for pointing things out. Its when I really challenge someone that it doesn’t go so well.

      Ooh crooked horizons are the worst, I saw one on G+ today and it was 10 deg off true!!

  3. Peter Walker says:

    People bring a number of things to a critique…and the thing is everyone is different. it’s one thing to “know” what is a good photograph (or other piece of art), but it’s another thing to know what you like. And sometimes those are worlds apart. Some of the supposedly greatest photos that I’ve seen displayed I’ve gone HUH? And how often do you see a photo online that you think is pretty average but it has people raving about how fantastic it is? I don’t get it. Either they like different things to me, or they’re not being honest. There does seem to be a tendency to praise things even if you don’t fully believe it. I think there is the thing about not saying anything if you cant say something nice.

    As for my own photos, I never ask publicly for critique because I can usually predict what I’m going to get. And to be honest I don’t take criticism well, especially in a public forum. I don’t mind if somebody I know and trust gives me honest feedback, but again to be honest, what do I care what Joe from Albuquerque thinks about my photo. There are only really two opinions that matter: mine and (if its a job) my client’s. I find it of no help whatsoever to hear 20 varying opinions from great to crap about one of my photos.

    While the toilet/cat photo is the most popular and viewed photo, I certainly don’t think its the “best” photo in your photostream. But then, how can you compare a photo of a cat with a photo of a helicopter or a photo of an earthquake ruined building? I have no problem at all critiquing a photo honestly if I’m asked. But I think there is always something in every photo that can be improved or changed.

    Some people seem to think that if a photo is publicly online it’s fair game for critique. What??

    I never know what people are bringing to a critique…so I never really know how “honest” their critique would be. I’ve been around long enough to know that just because someone is “qualified” in a certain field it doesn’t necessarily mean they are able to critique my work or anyone elses.

    As to the forums, if people are asking for critique, then I say go for it ๐Ÿ™‚

    • lensaddiction says:

      Peter you have raised some excellent points that I want to simmer in my brain for a bit so I can appreciate them properly before replying tomorrow – its 10.36 pm here ๐Ÿ™‚

      • Peter Walker says:

        Here? I’n in Christchurch too LOL I will look fwd to your thoughts ๐Ÿ™‚

      • lensaddiction says:

        Another new local commenter, all coming out of the woodwork tonight!

        I will say about the photo on the post, the point of putting that there was showing how what is quite an average photo can be lauded for reasons that totally escape me ๐Ÿ™‚ Its a photo of a cute cat and a toilet taken several years ago. My photography and camera gear has vastly improved since then and yet this is STILL my most popular viewed image. There is no accounting for taste ultimately LOL

        I thought the irony of that was appropriate to the post subject matter ๐Ÿ™‚

    • lensaddiction says:

      Hi Peter and thanks for taking the time to comment – I remember you from the lightning photos from that storm a few years ao ๐Ÿ™‚

      “And how often do you see a photo online that you think is pretty average but it has people raving about how fantastic it is? I donโ€™t get it. Either they like different things to me, or theyโ€™re not being honest. There does seem to be a tendency to praise things even if you donโ€™t fully believe it. I think there is the thing about not saying anything if you cant say something nice.”

      While I’m prepared to admit the possibility of people liking other things than me, I have seen the phenomenen you reference and agree, people just LIKE stuff because today its the done thing to do. They have spent barely a nanosecond looking at the image, seen 650 other people liked it and thought “it must be good” and click. G+ is a great place for that, see many images with tons of +1 but no comments. Personally I rarely +1 but I do make the effort to comment where appropriate.

      I see your point about publicly asking for critique, its possibly similar reasons why I don’t enter competitions, there is so much that is fashionable about certain styles of photography and if you are different to that you are bad. Then there is the NZIPP or as I call them “the Photoshop awards” *shudder*.

      Its good that you know your own responses to criticsm – tho I will comment that I changed to using critique in my post because I see a negative connotation to critiscm, whereas critique I see as more thoughtful and considered and aiming to help the person its given to improve in some way ๐Ÿ™‚

      “I never know what people are bringing to a critiqueโ€ฆso I never really know how โ€œhonestโ€ their critique would be. Iโ€™ve been around long enough to know that just because someone is โ€œqualifiedโ€ in a certain field it doesnโ€™t necessarily mean they are able to critique my work or anyone elses. ”

      This is a really valid point and one I am guilty of forgetting from the other POV, as in the person I’m critiquing might have challenges with their art that I’m not aware of, hence taking it more personally than expected. I critique an image first on basic technical and quality levels, is it straight, in focus, exposed correctly etc.

      Then on to the more chunky technical areas – does it need to be cropped, are there distracting bright/dark spots?

      Finally you get the minefield that is the artistic and aesthetic process, is it pink with purple unicorns around the borders, does the effect added look forced or fake, is the treatment too harsh/dark/bright etc. So much of that is personal preference but there is still room for querying the artist on why they made that particular choice. It could be as simple as “I liked it that way” which is a perfect valid artistic choice ๐Ÿ™‚

      Sometimes it feels like they get a bit outraged that you DARE TO QUESTION THEM AS AN ARTIST!!! Well of course I do, it helps me learn and might help you too, pull your head out of your arse!

      Thanks Peter, you had some interesting things to say that made me think a lot more on the subject, appreciate that you read my very long post and took time to craft a thoughtful response. Enjoy the hot sunny day out there!

  4. I tedn not to comment much upon photography becuase its not my field, but I do leave honest comments on embroidery, and try to be constructive. I find that either they are responded to in kind or are ever unmoderated. I try to be very kind with obvious newbies and offer advice rather than criticism, then there are some longstanding stitch blogs that I might have left some gentle concrit upon years ago, but which have no sign of improvemnet or the desire of such in the interim and obviously revel in thier own crapness, I find it best to just leave them to wallow in thier own mire.

    I think in any area of art there is, or at least should be, a difference between work shown on the net by amateurs and proffessionals. You should always be gentle with amateurs, but if you are offering your work for sale(even a low brow market like etsy) or display (as in a gallery) then you leave yourself open to the same scrutiny as any other proffessional artist. You have to put on your big girl pants and just suck it up. Unfortunately we live in an era where everyone is a speshul ickle snowflake, and speshul ickle snowflakes are always speshul, to speshul by far for big girl pants.

    PersonallyI find this pathetic (I have unmoderated less than kind comments on my own blog, and responded without rancour) but I admit it has led to mild trolling on my part. A few months ago I left a comment on the blog of a lady who was curating en erotic embroidery show in which I politely pointed out that I would find porno embroidery a lot more shocking if the image was contrasted by technically proficient embroidery (the piece was all six inch messy stitches that barely merited being called embroidery) I kind of knew she would never unmoderate it, but I was amused to see that her next exhibition promo used some decent stitching!

    • lensaddiction says:

      Also excellent points I need time to ponder on before replying tomorrow ๐Ÿ™‚

    • lensaddiction says:

      Tanya lovely to hear from you, and my post was relevant to all the arts, of which yours is outstanding in its field ๐Ÿ™‚ I’m dying to do the dragon kit once I finish being a student and get my life back again LOL

      “I try to be very kind with obvious newbies and offer advice rather than criticism, then there are some longstanding stitch blogs that I might have left some gentle concrit upon years ago, but which have no sign of improvemnet or the desire of such in the interim and obviously revel in thier own crapness, I find it best to just leave them to wallow in thier own mire.”

      When I know someone is a newbie I try and offer advice as well, but don’t always succeed with the helping vs the critique side of things it feels like. And the ones that clearly revel in their own crapness, well those Im not bothering with at all now – great turn of phrase BTW ๐Ÿ™‚

      “I think in any area of art there is, or at least should be, a difference between work shown on the net by amateurs and proffessionals. You should always be gentle with amateurs, but if you are offering your work for sale(even a low brow market like etsy) or display (as in a gallery) then you leave yourself open to the same scrutiny as any other proffessional artist. You have to put on your big girl pants and just suck it up. Unfortunately we live in an era where everyone is a speshul ickle snowflake, and speshul ickle snowflakes are always speshul, to speshul by far for big girl pants.”

      OMG THIS!!! SO MUCH THIS!!! Yes its speshul ickle snowflake syndrome, thats perfect ๐Ÿ™‚

      Yes if you are putting your work out there, you totally have to have your Big Gurl Panties on, learned that the hard way myself and it took several goes, I’m a bit dense sometimes ๐Ÿ™‚

      Love how you encapsulated these concepts so well! Thankyou, much appreciated and you made me laugh too:)

  5. leecleland says:

    Congrats Stacey on bringing this subject into review. I, like you, started One Four Challenge in the hope of constructive feedback and I have received some but also plenty of likes with no comment. I started following your blog because of your thoughtful feedback in this Challenge – go Stacey ๐Ÿ™‚
    A constructive thoughtful critique is worth it’s weight in gold if you are serious about improving your art, whatever that may be. A rude and disparaging comment with no explanation is a totally different thing.
    I love getting feedback both good and bad as long as there is a reason for the bad so I can see how to improve if I agree with the thought expressed. A thoughtful critique takes time to write and anyone who receives one should appreciate that and take the intent in good faith and look hard at what is being said. Though to be honest a bit of maturity is required on both sides.
    If I don’t like a post and haven’t the time to write a comment I don’t click the ‘like’, sometimes I think people click ‘like’ because they think it’s the right thing to do and they have a lot of other blogs to get through in a certain amount of time. I like that because it makes my stats look good but otherwise it’s fairly useless ๐Ÿ™‚
    ‘f11 magazine’ that fotodrma wrote about is a free monthly e-magazine – downloadable. If you want to study other photographers work they do an indepth study of 2-3 people each month . I find it very worthwhile and have downloaded/uploaded (I’m never sure which) the whole 40 of them for reference.

    • lensaddiction says:

      Hi Lee and thanks for making feel not so alone in my quest for constructive feedback! YAY!

      “A constructive thoughtful critique is worth itโ€™s weight in gold if you are serious about improving your art, whatever that may be. A rude and disparaging comment with no explanation is a totally different thing.
      I love getting feedback both good and bad as long as there is a reason for the bad so I can see how to improve if I agree with the thought expressed. A thoughtful critique takes time to write and anyone who receives one should appreciate that and take the intent in good faith and look hard at what is being said. Though to be honest a bit of maturity is required on both sides.”

      These are excellent points I totally agree with, esp the bit about giving reasons ‘why’ you didn’t like X or Y. Where possible I also offer tips to improve it too (like ND grads in sky etc) tho due to the vast differences of software people are using that can be a bit problematic sometimes.

      And +1 to your comment about how much effort it is to give honest feedback. It can take me AGES to write 2-3 sentences, agonising over hitting the relevant points but am I being to harsh? And TOTALLY with you on the maturity required to receive feedback well. I’ve been there while judges poured scorn on my work in front of a room of 50 people, it was anonymous but still majorly upsetting. Yet once I had time to distance myself from the blow to my ego, in most instances I realised they were right, and by listening and taking it on board, my work improved just that little bit.

      But to get there you do have to accept some hard truths, one being that your work is NOT PERFECT!!! And the second is that you can improve, but the hard part there is you have to work at it. Not everyone wants to so much and that may be where the cognitive dissonance begins.

      I have the latest F11 on my iPad to read, its a whopping 148 pages. Sounds like it could be worth the time ๐Ÿ™‚

      • leecleland says:

        It’s the journey I believe, and we’re always learning. f11 magazine is mostly about the photographs not the writing, though if you study the photos that you want to learn from, yes it will take time ๐Ÿ™‚

  6. sariscorner says:

    Nice post Stacey and I totally agree with you! I really enjoy your way of giving feedback during the One Four Challenge and it already lead to some major improvements in my pictures. Sometimes I have the clear feeling that I don’t like a picture because of what people did with it and then I have the feeling it is just me not liking that particular processing so I tend to not say anything about it, but I am not sure if it is the right way to handle it. This post made me think about the way I respond to other peoples work ๐Ÿ™‚

    • lensaddiction says:

      Thankyou Sari for reading my very long post and commenting. And also that you have found value in my feedback. I really do try to be nice about it but it can be hard to say “not nice” things in a nice way, and I super struggle with it cos my personality is not really wired for nice, I tend to default to grumpy ๐Ÿ™‚

      I often say when commenting that “I found X a bit much but also that I also have a thing about X so it could be just me” – trying to soften the blow so to speak. Another lady who commented on this post did so because I had left feedback about her image, and noted that I was the only one who said anything. I bet in your instance that you might also be the only one to say something but I’m sure other people think it too, they just don’t like to say so.

      If nothing else I’m glad this post made you think about your responses, thats a win for us both ๐Ÿ™‚

  7. KatrinaK says:

    I think that a lot of people really do only want to hear nice things. Even some of the people who believe they want honest opinions find that they don’t like them when they get them.

    The location of the post and whether or not there is a request for critique are big factors in whether or not I’ll say things that aren’t all positive. Context matters a lot. If someone is participating in a critique forum of some sort or a serious contest, my assumption is that they want to know how to improve and thus I feel free to say what I don’t like as well as what I do like about their work.

    If someone is posting to an online community where people post pretty pictures of nature or whatever, I figure they’re there to share their job in the subject matter, not for critique and thus don’t share negative opinions unless they’re specifically asked for. Likewise, if people are using photos to illustrate things in their own personal blog, I’m unlikely to post a reply critiquing the photos. If the same person posts a photo and asks for opinions on it, I probably will give an honest opinion though.

    And as for the cat and the toilet being your most viewed photo, technical goodness is just one of the things that cause people to enjoy photos. Cuteness is a big motivator in photo viewing, as is an interesting subject.

    • lensaddiction says:

      “I think that a lot of people really do only want to hear nice things. Even some of the people who believe they want honest opinions find that they donโ€™t like them when they get them. ”

      Katrina I was secretly thinking that so thanks for saying it out loud ๐Ÿ™‚

      “The location of the post and whether or not there is a request for critique are big factors in whether or not Iโ€™ll say things that arenโ€™t all positive. Context matters a lot. If someone is participating in a critique forum of some sort or a serious contest, my assumption is that they want to know how to improve and thus I feel free to say what I donโ€™t like as well as what I do like about their work. ”

      Nods, this makes perfect sense to me and yet also part of the reason for the post. If you are taking part in a post processing challenge, aimed at getting you do to creative things with your images, is it not implicit that comments and feedback are necessary to help you learn new things? Maybe my assumption that is the case is wrong and people still want to use it as a “show and be appreciated forum”.

      I really don’t know the answer and am deeply frustrated by this! Am pleased to hear you are out there in the world giving critique in the right places tho ๐Ÿ™‚

      Yes cute cat photos rule the internet, I had forgotten that til you pointed it out ๐Ÿ™‚

  8. Hi Stacy, thanks for popping over to my blog and leaveing a comment, you mentioned the dark blurry spot in the background as distracting, so far you are the only one to mention it! I appreciate your feedback, you were honest as well as polite. When I first did the photo I contemplated taking out, wondering if others would find it distracting, since no one else has mentioned it, I will assume not, but I think I will re-edit it and take it out. I agree with you it will be stronger.
    as for the honest critique, I usually try to tell people what I like about their photo, preferring to play to strengths, so asthetic choices are personal, for example sepia tone – some like it, some hate it!
    But all in all, I think dialogue like yours is worth having.
    again thanks for taking time to comment on the images, as for the cat and the toilet, well there is no explaining what touches people’s heart, the most important reason for taking photos!

    • lensaddiction says:

      Hey Janice, thanks for popping over to say hi, and I really appreciate hearing you found value in my feedback on your image. I often wonder sometimes what people think when they see my comments esp as it is in a genuine desire to help.

      Your comment about no one else saying anything I think is part of the problem I mentioned in my post, society has conditioned us NOT to say anything bad about something and so that necessary feedback loop between the artist and the audience is broken.

      I thought about your response for a while, and it occurred to me that my personal way of viewing images has some education behind it, from camera clubs, workshops, exhibitions and competitions over the years. So there are some things that I might tend to notice and be distracted because I *see* them in a different way – does that make sense? For me I know I am very aware of very dark and very bright spots because those are faults in my own images I have had to learn to see so I can fix them.

      And of course there is the whole “you spend so long working on something you lose your objectivity completely” issue too, lets not forget – again why outside commentary is so important!

      Aesthetic choices are a bit more problematic, I certainly try to be diplomatic about those as that is often much more about personal preference and what you like.

      The cat and the toilet image has much sentimental value for me, Sky the cat got sick and had to be put down a few years after that shot, but whenever I see it, I’m reminded how he used to find the flushing of the toilet fascinating, and ran to watch it swirl around the bowl at every opportunity ๐Ÿ™‚

      • Nic says:

        I think you hit the nail on the head right there when you explained the photo. Many a pet owner knows the weirdness of pets and likes to remember the silliness once they are gone. I wasn’t really sure why you would take a photo of a cat and a toilet, I liked the blue wall and the cat was cute, but why the toilet? Now… once I knew the story… I look at the photo differently, and it makes me smile. ๐Ÿ˜€ Context is everything.

      • lensaddiction says:

        Both of them would stick their heads in the toilet bowl following the motion of the water around. I was trying to capture that but he looked up at me instead so I went with that.

        I had had another birman prior to Taz and Sky but he was stolen just before he was 1, and about a month after I got my first digital camera. I only have about 5 photos of him in total and when I got the kittens I made sure I had LOTS of pix, which losing Sky when he was only 4 meant I have memories in visual form ๐Ÿ™‚

        Its a crappy photo but cute and surprisingly colour toned, and no one except for me really cares about it, but its a cute cat doing something funny so it gets lots of likes. I still dont understand why really !

      • Nic says:

        I’m sorry to hear about your kitties. I had a kitten that only lived to 7 months old. I don’t have many photos of him, and most of them shows his illness/disease/whatever was wrong with him(the vet didn’t know)… I won’t go into the gory details. I took them with a film camera so I didn’t even know if they would turn out. I’d never show them to anyone because they would only see his illness in the photo, but I see the cute little kitty and his silly little face. I wonder what kind of cat he would have been, I think he would have been really long he was a long kitten.

        I think pet people like pet photos, we understand the connection to our pets. I think something else… not every photo has to be ‘perfect’, I know when we are learning photography we get stuck on how the ‘greats’ did it. The perfect composition, the best exposure, etc. But sometimes it is all about how a photo makes us *feel*. You may not see the merit of your photo from a technical standpoint, but others see the merit in the way it makes them feel, and that’s important too.

      • lensaddiction says:

        Yes its very sad when pets get sick and they cant be treated, Sky had a wasting disease where his body was fighting against itself. All we can do is give them the best quality of life we can while we have them and treasure our memories.

  9. Interesting post. I do love your photo. It is cute. But the thing is, how many other cat photos are out there on the Internet. They are very popular, though not always of the best quality.
    I appreciate your thoughts on critique. I don’t belong to a physical camera club – just ViewBug.com. There the buttons are generally positive and you are welcome to leave constructive critique.
    We all have sensitive egos. No-one likes to see their works of art, which they might have worked on for some time, being pulled to pieces. The trick is to be constructive – critique on composition and sharpness is very valid – they can make a photo or break it so to speak. If something is not quite right I think that it is ok to mention it. I personally prefer to be positive in my comments and the few times I have given a critique I felt uncomfortable. This has really only happened with the One Four Challenge.
    Me personally, I go for my gut instinct with my photos. I belonged to a camera club in Austria where everyone else just enjoyed taking photos and to be honest – they were just snappers. I really wanted to explore the world of manipulation and photo enhancement in the darkroom. Everyone else just wanted the perfect photo. My actual camera technique is poor. I know that.Which is why I love post processing. A group of 5 of us had an exhibition in Innsbruck, Linz and in South Tyrol in Italy. The others went for technically perfect images – me? Mine were deliberately out of focus and heavy on the post processing. Needless to say they stood out and I got some really good reviews.
    So I think with photography it is about knowing your strengths and weaknesses and working on your own vision. So it may not be what everyone likes but it is your style.

    • lensaddiction says:

      Hi Raewyn, a thoughtful response to my very long post. I found it interesting that you have given critique and yet felt uncomfortable doing so, one of the things I theorised about in my post – I can only guess about other peoples feelings on the subject ๐Ÿ™‚

      You are right about the trick is to be constructive, but I find the added challenge of writing and reading critique in text can sometimes get in the way of that. Or maybe the people reading it are too invested in their work to accept it could be changed or improved. I have this theory that some people are artistically colourblind, ie ANYTHING they create must be marvellous, even if it looked like something a 2yr old did while having a tantrum ๐Ÿ™‚

      Personal style is a whole other area for discussion, I still very much feel at sea there. Professionals say you have to embrace your personal style and make it unique etc. How do I know if I have one? Good on you for finding what works for you, I’m a long way from that but trying to have fun on the way ๐Ÿ™‚

  10. fotodrma says:

    Off subject again probably somewhere else I should be mentioning but here I go anyway http://www.betterphoto.com/ that is the link it is not the magazine but an American site, they do online courses which I have never done but you can join for a yearly fee or just follow and still enter a photo daily into comp as a visitor only. Lots of learning to be had too. Maybe worth checking out. I also have one or two of Ming Thein’s videos (that is where I found you). Going to be very hot today, happy shooting !!!

    • lensaddiction says:

      Ah I wondered how you found me, via the delightful and talented Ming – love his work! How do you find his videos? I considered them but they are quite $$$.

      Thanks for the link, I will check it out ๐Ÿ™‚

  11. loisajay says:

    wow, Stacey–such a good post. First things: I do take pictures of cat ’cause I love cats. Not toilets. I love the cat in this photo and the colors are great, but not so much the toilet..
    I am just a point&shoot gal; no big camera for me. Yet. So if I look at photos from a photographer (like you) as opposed to a picture-taker (like me), I can only decide if I like it or not. I am hardly one to suggest something to improve the photo. If I don’t like it, I don’t hit the ‘like’ button. Does the photographer even know I visited their blog, or follow them for that matter, and that I did not hit the ‘like’ button? I’m sure they don’t. I think constructive criticism versus destructive criticism is the key. As you say, this is a rough forum: you can read so much into the written word and totally take out of context what someone is saying about your work. Give your honest opinion. If you start a dialogue with the other person, great! If not, oh, well.
    I hit the ‘like’ button for the post–not the picture! ๐Ÿ™‚ And I say that with a smile on my face.

    • lensaddiction says:

      Hi Lois, thanks for reading my very long post and taking the time to comment. You totally got my point about including that photo in the post, technically its a terrible photo and yet very popular on my Flickr site. The Internet is powered by cat photos and videos apparently ๐Ÿ™‚

      I’m going to disagree on one point, in my opinion, any one who goes out with any type of camera with the intention of making images (no matter the skill level of them or the camera) IS A PHOTOGRAPHER. I started out with P&S – the cat photo was taken with it. Had it for 3 years before I upgraded to a DSLR, learned heaps and I still see many quality images taken on P&S – lets face it, the technology in them is pretty outstanding these days. My point is don’t judge your work on the camera you use – everyone is at a different place on their photographic journey thru life!

      Bearing that in mind, I think everyone who has an interest in photography has something to say about an image. Sometimes it might be technical, sometimes it might be aesthetic. It seems society has removed our ability to say when we don’t like something and why, so the only response left to us is to NOT like something. I find that sad.

      I like what you say about starting a dialogue, that is my ultimate aim. Trouble is my honest opinion seems to be a bit more that some people can handle!

      I’m glad you liked the post and I’m happy you didn’t like the picture ๐Ÿ™‚

  12. I know that I like to hear nice things about what I do (ceramics, watercolor, photography, collage) but I truly appreciate honest critique. When specifically looking for critique, especially in photography I will often ask “How can I make this shot better” and that seems to free people up to toss out ideas and opinions.

    • lensaddiction says:

      If we are honest with ourselves, we ALL want to hear nice things about our creations, I know I do ๐Ÿ™‚

      Its good that you have asked for critique and recieved that, long may it continue!

  13. Justin Avery says:

    I know this is a very touchy subject for many and for that reason when I usually give any feedback on a photo I usually say why I like it or don’t like it and things I might possibly do to make it better if I don’t like it but always put in the comment that they are just my opinions only and should be taken as such. I think by giving feedback on how someone can improve can be taken as an attack of sorts on the person personally by implying “your work sucks and you should do this to make it better”. But that is only because that’s how they may interpret it. It’s hard to put emotion and context into written words over the internet.

    I also know that everyone has different tastes and as an artist what you are trying to create may not be appealing to everyone. It’s also very difficult to critique another artists work when looking at the photo for how much it stands out. I think the best approach isn’t really to look at the content of a photo but more so on what draws you to that photo. What do you notice first? Is it what should be noticed first? Are there any other parts of the photo that keep you distracted? If so then what can you do to fix that? Does the person even contain the proper tools and experience to do that work? If not do you even know how to teach them what tools and techniques to use? Is the lighting and/or color correct for what the artist is trying to portray? Is the subject composed nicely? Do other subjects come out as looking like a main subject or do they complement the main subject? I think by going through and answering questions like these as you give a critique helps the artist in how to create a more pleasing photo regardless of content. I have critiqued photos that I don’t really care for but did so based on the elements of the photo itself and not the content of the photo. You really do have to put yourself in a different mindset.

    Another thing to consider is that if someone gets a critique and then they view that other person’s work, they may disregard it altogether. Why? Because that artist may feel that the other person’s work is sub-par to their own so would not put any merit to what was said. But I’ve learned that knowing what makes a great photo and how to create a great photo are two different things. The artist may also feel that their work is already topnotch so by critiquing it is to say otherwise which may cause conflicts. So the question may really lie in should you or should you not critique. The answer? I don’t think there is really any straight forward answers here.

    Here’s the guidelines that I usually follow then when I decide whether or not to say something on the more negative side to a photo with my opinions on what I would do to make it better (more emphasis on what ‘I WOULD DO’ because you have to keep in mind that in the end this is still the artist’s photo and your vision may be different than theirs):
    -If the artist states in their post that they would like feedback on the photo in terms of if anything could be done to make it better.
    -If the artist implies that they couldn’t quite make the photo the way they wanted but were happy with the outcome they had. (In this case I only provide feedback if I could help push them in the direction they were heading, not saying they should have tried to edit in a completely different way.)
    -If comments have been made in the critique fashion and the artist accepts the critique in a positive way.
    -You have critiqued on that artist’s photos in the past and they accept your knowledge.
    -You are participating in an event or challenge that critique is expected or encouraged for the purpose of becoming better.

    It’s also helpful to word things in a way that don’t portray that you know more than them and that they NEED or SHOULD do something but what they COULD do or try in order to make it better. By doing this you could change the mood of the message by making it look like “Look, this is crap the way you did it and you NEED to do this and you SHOULD do this because it’ll look better. Trust me, JUST DO IT!” to “Here’s my opinion. I feel that the mood of the photo could change if you TRIED this or you COULD do this and it may help draw the eye to the subject”. These are just examples and many different words or phrases could be interchanged to portray a different emotion or feeling from the words.

    Last but not least we should always remember one thing as not just an artist, but as a blogger or a human being. Being respectful of other people is what many are grown up learning. If you can’t figure out a way to critique nicely where it looks like your critique is a straight out bashing, then it may be better to just leave it unsaid. We all have feelings and some are affected more than others. What I love so much about this community is that there is not a lot of hate and bashing going on. If there is, then I don’t see it much at all. It seems to me there’s a lot more bashing going on places like Facebook. I think critique is a great thing, along with a lot of growing artists, but a word of advice is to be careful. It is a very touchy subject for some while others can take quite the beating and walk away without a scratch. Personally, I could care less what a lot of people think about my work. I like it. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t share it. I will take suggestions and think about some of them but not care about others. As artists we all tend to fall into our personal way of processing our work and I think that’s a good thing. It’s what makes us unique. I’d also say that I critique my work much more harsher than any other person could. I have yet to create a photographic art piece I am 100% happy with. But I like that because it makes me to want to keep learning and trying.

    • lensaddiction says:

      Justin this is an excellent thoughtful and well written response with lots of great and relevant points. I really appreciate you going to the trouble to write it.

      I confess I may well be guilty of the “I know it would be better if you did this” mindset, tho I certainly do try to frame it in a less challenging way ๐Ÿ™‚

      Agree with you that this a great community and we should actively work to keeping it that way too.

      I admire your robust attitude to your work, I too post the stuff that I like and I don’t tend to follow fashionable trends or styles either so find it hard to compare my work to a lot of whats out there. And with PS and editing I’m *such* a newbie, and need all the help I can get ๐Ÿ™‚ Which is why I wrote the post in the first place.

  14. Nic says:

    You have very valid points here. I’m reminded of my beginner art class in college . We had to put up our drawings for the rest of the class to critique. It was brutal. I was a science major, I was only there to get my art elective credit. But the artists, whoa, they were *serious* and they did NOT like my stuff. I’ll admit that I wasn’t great at drawing, but it was a beginner class and I was trying. I’m not even sure if it was constructive, because all I remember was how brutal it was, and how much it stung.

    Fast forward to just a few years ago, I was taking classes for photography in a certificate program aimed at older students and was after work (classes were after 5pm). We had to put up our images on flickr group pages and critique each other as part of our grade. Most of the time, we were super nice or said nothing at all. We at least had the criteria of not being allowed to say, “I like this” without saying “why”… so we were sort of forced to explain ourselves, but if I didn’t like something and couldn’t figure out how to nicely explain how I thought it could be fixed, I simply skipped that image and went on to the next. I’m sure others did the same.

    You say you want honest critique, I get that, but on the internet I think we don’t want to seem like some flaming-ass troll. I think the examples you mentioned… โ€œwhat would happen if you did Xโ€, etc. are reasonable comments. I don’t think I would take offense.

    But I also know that putting something ‘out there’ for the *world* to see is scary, and you hope that someone will like it. But you are afraid that someone won’t, which could stifle your sharing. So I can see how one might not like criticism.

    I’m really behind on commenting on everyone’s images for the challenge, and I feel horrible about it. But I enjoy what I have read from you lately and have enjoyed our back and forth comments. I think we are birds of a feather. ๐Ÿ˜€

    • lensaddiction says:

      Woah your art class sounds terrible esp for a beginner, what a horrible experience. Your photography class sounded much better thought out from a critique POV – that you had to give a “WHY” as well.

      Personally I think that is where a lot of people trip up ie they only say that they don’t like something. And thats not critique, thats just opinion.

      Critique is when you can elaborate specifically that you find an area of concern, why you feel that way and if possible a suggestion to think about dealing with it.

      Thats my take on what critique should be anyway ๐Ÿ™‚

      “You say you want honest critique, I get that, but on the internet I think we don’t want to seem like some flaming-ass troll. I think the examples you mentioned… โ€œwhat would happen if you did Xโ€, etc. are reasonable comments. I don’t think I would take offense. ”

      The above is a good point, and mostly I try to avoid two things, hurting someones feelings and coming across as an agressive know-it-all trying to tell someone what to do.

      We are all at different stages in our path to photographic nirvana and yes I have more skills than some people. There are plenty of people out there with more and different skills too, and Im very aware of that.

      Mostly, and this is the biggest frustration, mostly the problem is that I WANT TO HELP, I can see potential in the image, it might be something the artist didnt see or didnt realise could be noticed in different ways etc.

      It would be easier if I didn’t care I guess, but many people took time to help and guide and assist me along the way, I guess I see it as my “pay it forward” opportunity but didn’t realise it would be quite so hard :/

      Thanks Nic for your understanding and support, everyone in fact has been very generous with reading this post and commenting with obvious thought and care and giving me excellent points to consider further ๐Ÿ™‚

      • Nic says:

        I think it has a lot to do with maturity, like someone else commented. My art class and my photography class were about 20 years apart, and the classmates represented that age difference as well.

        It’s great that you want to help, and I do think it is appropriate in a challenge like one four… I think that Robyn has suggested that we specify if we want comments so that should help you decide if the person will be willing to hear your advice. ๐Ÿ˜€

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