As photographers it’s sometimes hard to be a good judge (an objective viewer) of our own work. That’s why I think it’s important to seek professional criticism whenever possible. Family & friends give great emotional support and encouragement, but often lack the technical ability to be really helpful when it comes to honing our craft. This holds true for any creative attempt, especially if you’re an Indie-artist: photographer, painter, writer et al.
It’s easy to develop an emotional attachment to a piece of work, and it’s usually the result of falling under the spell of the subject. Some subjects are so captivating, so compelling, that you tend to overlook (and forgive) your creative effort’s shortcomings. I’m not sure this is an entirely bad thing, but it can certainly color your perception, and hamper your efforts at self-criticism. I’ve seen a fair number of photographers excuse technical flaws as the price paid for capturing a great subject. I’ve been guilty of doing this myself.
I hold myself to a high standard and you should too. EVERY time I view one of my photos (and the photos of others) it must pass a 3-pronged acid test: it must be critically sharp (tack-sharp), it must be properly exposed and it must be artistically composed. Post-processing will not make a bad photo good, but it can elevate a good photo to excellent. If you cannot objectively view your own work in this light then I’m afraid you stand very little chance of ever improving in your creative efforts.
Emotional attachment is understandable, but when it interferes with objective judgement it is harmful. Some would argue that it’s better to have a sub par image of a great subject than to have no image of it at all. I respectfully disagree. These comments are directed at those who strive to be good photographers, and not to vacation and event snapshot shooters. You need to be self-critical and to seek constructive criticism from those that can (and will) give it. It’s very hard to find qualified critics that are willing to give you some of their valuable time, expertise and have the guts to give you an honest and balanced appraisal of your work.
It always surprises me when one of my favorite images (one that I am emotionally attached to) doesn’t garner the attention and recognition that I think it deserves. I am equally surprised when one of my images that doesn’t particularly standout in my mind appeals to a larger audience. Writers suffer from this too. A writer will construct a brilliant (in their mind) sentence, paragraph or book and receive no acknowledgement whatsoever, and then have a lesser (again in their own mind) sentence, paragraph or book widely quoted.
I have included some of my favorite images here to illustrate this post. Some have been highly commented on, and others have been barely recognized. I have an emotional attachment to these photos for whatever reason, so it surprises me when others don’t. But art is subjective and speaks to different people in different ways. What resonates with me doesn’t necessarily resonate with others (and vice versa). When creating an online portfolio to showcase only your “best” work this emotional attachment becomes problematic.
An online portfolio typically contains 15 to 20 of your best images. What images do you select? Just the ones you like, or images that might appeal to the widest possible audience? They aren’t necessarily the same. Also some really great images, when viewed full-size, look terrible as small thumbnails. When selecting images for your portfolio getting some outside opinions will often work to your advantage. Every Thursday at 5 p.m. EST Tony & Chelsea LIVE at Northrup Photo do portfolio reviews. They have some insightful tips & hints, so it might be worth your time to tune in for the next show.
By way of full disclosure let me say that I am (proudly) affiliated with Northrup Photo as a contributing author, and I do receive remuneration (I get paid) for my published articles. But it’s still a great show in my opinion. Tony & Chelsea provide a lot of free content at Northrup Photo, as well as producing hundreds of videos and books about photography. They are well-known on YouTube and are considered to be authorities in the photographic community. Visit my website at www.IndochinePhotography.me.
Stephen F. Dennstedt
Photographer, Writer and World Traveller