The Power Of Criticism

Steve and his Cohiba

Steve and his Cohiba

Criticism (or the critique) is widely misunderstood these days.  It is typically viewed as a negative (to find fault), and this isn’t really the case at all.  Criticism, or the art of the critique, is really about balance:  applying thoughtful analysis and judgement to the merits and faults of an artistic work (writing, music, art or performance). Thus, a good critique is meant to be both positive and helpful in nature, and not a one-sided assault on one’s creative effort.  No one responds well to an assault, but most of us respond positively to help and guidance (not just to hollow praise).

I recently joined a curated photography website called First Exposure (  It was founded six or seven years ago by a couple of professional photographers (Swedish), for fellow professionals and advanced amateurs (although beginners and enthusiasts are not turned away).  It now has thousands of members worldwide, and showcases some of the best original photography around these days.  The site is headquartered in the United Kingdom, and is very international in flavor.  Anyone is invited to visit and view their online galleries, but if you decide to become a member you are expected to contribute and give back.

I had long been looking for a venue like this, comprised mostly of “serious” photographers wanting to hone their craft.  As is true of any creative endeavor, many artists are very reluctant to share their hard-won knowledge with others (and I find this unfortunate).  This site is different in that it is all about the give and take, and if you want to receive you also have to be willing to give.  Non-members are welcome to visit the site . . . and by just observing you can learn a lot about photography.  Seeing truly great photography, and the attendant critiques by peer photographers, is an education in and of itself.  If you like photography (to simply view and appreciate, or to pursue as a personal creative endeavor) this site is well worth your time.


Northern Crested Caracara

Selected as a “Featured Photo” in Nature Group Gallery

Deeper involvement requires membership and participation (I would personally discourage beginners and enthusiasts from immediately becoming members, although it’s not prohibited).  Does that sound exclusionary, and contrary to a modern culture that worships inclusion?  Yes.  But as I stated earlier this is very much a give and take website, and if you haven’t attained a certain level of technical, artistic and creative expertise you are going to be taking much more than you are giving.  Initially, you can learn much by just visiting and viewing without actually participating, and I would strongly encourage you to do this. Additionally I don’t want any beginner or enthusiast to get discouraged and quit—like any creative pursuit photography is a learning experience, and the really gifted photographers are continually learning and innovating.  For make no mistake about it, submitted photos that don’t pass muster often receive swift and harsh criticism.  As I’ve mentioned before, this site is not for the faint of heart or thin-skinned (this is not a feel-good photography site like Facebook, Flickr or myriad other sites on the net).  Ease into it, and when you think your work is good enough to compete venture forth.

Blog 1

Lady Amherst’s Pheasant

My Portfolio

All members are curators (this is a curation site after all).  That means that every photo submitted for curation goes through a peer, senior critic and curator review, plus an up or down vote to publish or not to publish (currently only 3% of all submitted photos to curation get published on page one).  There are also areas within the site to request a special in-depth critique of a specific submitted image, but be careful what you ask for because they can be brutally honest.  Again, this is an eclectic international membership, and all reviews must be in English—depending on the reviewer (and their competency with English) some reviews can sound harsher than intended.  All reviews (comments) are also critiqued by the senior members and rated.  To advance as a curator from one level to the next requires that you accumulate a required number of “awarded comments”.  This is not as easy as it might sound—comments are critiqued just as harshly as the photos themselves.  This is all good, because it brings a high level of integrity to the whole process.

Blog 2

Indian Peacock

My Portfolio

Members pass through 8 curation levels (L1 through L8) each with their own specific requirements.  I have been spending many hours a day on the site reviewing, commenting on (critiquing) and judging thousands of images.  I am currently a curator L5 and closing in on L6, just to give you some idea of what is involved I have listed the requirements for those two curation levels:

Level 5 (my current level)

3,000 curation points (images reviewed + awarded comments)

Level 6 (requirement/progress to date)

10,000 curation points/7,000 to date

3 L1 endorsements from peers/0 to date

5 awarded comments/17 to date

Blog 3

Roadside Hawk

My Portfolio

I think you can see by the numbers above that membership to is a serious commitment.  It is also very rewarding and educational.  Reviewing and critiquing so many images every single day allows me the opportunity give back to the art form I so dearly love, and it also allows me to receive vital peer feedback and mentoring (and not just “feel good” comments from my family and friends).  Critiquing the work of so many other great and talented photographers, also allows me the opportunity to become more critical of my own work—it encourages me to raise the bar on my own creative efforts.  I invite you visit (First Exposure) at  Also please visit my various portfolios (including by using the links provided on the RH toolbar (Portfolios).


3 responses to “The Power Of Criticism

  1. Once again, Steve, I’m impressed with your “fowl” shots. You’ve really captured the essence of the birds. I like very much your landscape/building, animal and portrait shots (in that order) but your photos of the birds, particularly the raptors are superb! (Guess that means I’d better put my money where my mouth is and buy some, eh?)

      • No retirement yet — next year, for sure. Just bought some great cards — peacock finery, pensive and peacock. Can’t emphasize enough how much I enjoy your blog and photos. You and Joel are living my bucket list!!

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