Learning to give yourself constructive criticism

One of the biggest changes for me in my photography journey is when I learned to give myself Constructive Criticism (or CC). Not to be confused with negative feelings or thoughts about my photos or my performance, but looking at them as the viewer instead of as the photographer.

Try to change your perspective and look at the photos as a stranger, even your own friends and family, use an outsiders view. 

Think of it as though you are a teacher and these photos were turned into you for grading, the test was on focus, exposure, composition, and color. 

If the photos are only for you then this process is really not needed, but if you plan to show your work on social media or are being paid by the client, then it’s time to get tough on yourself, and your images. 

Be harsh with your culling, and never look back. 

Take your immediate reaction and use it, I love this, oh my goodness this is precious, squee! These are all things you should say about a photo you choose to flag, if you think meah, I can fix it, I hope they aren’t all like this… then don’t even flag it for editing!

Always start the editing session with choosing the photo you loved most at first site, that is not always the one that you nailed straight out of camera.  So you need to have some internal dialog with yourself.

I love this shot, how can I bring it to life.  

Positive:  I love it because the expressions are true and the focus is clear.

Negative:  It is underexposed, crooked, and overly warm.

Solution:  I need to crop and straighten, brighten the shadows/exposure, and adjust my white balance.

Learn from your “mistakes” and keep them in mind for your next shoot.

Positive:  I finally nailed the composition, and I think with some editing I can bring out the the best in this one.

Negative:  I did not leave enough negative space around the couple for options in cropping.

Solution:  I will be sure to know what crop will fit this shot best, and offer that information to the client at the time of ordering. 

Know when you can’t fix something, and move on. 

Positive:  I caught the perfect sun flare, it’s 1 out of the only 5 shots I got of the husband smiling.

Negative: The children stepped to far away from the family and are out of focus. 

Solution:  There is no solution to out of focus, period. Out of focus is out of focus… move on.

Focus on the Positive and Solutions

Constructive Criticism (or CC) is by no means meant to hurt your feelings, or make you feel unhappy about your work, it is recognizing the positives and negatives to find a solution, and if a there is no solution, then you have to move on. Always try to put your mindset to positive after an editing session, don’t walk away thinking of the photos you didn’t nail. Instead of that looked horrible, I ruined 75% of the shots… say well, I nailed a quarter of these shots and next time I am going to check my focus more closely, be sure to stay on top of my settings, and slow down to plan out my composition. 

The more you edit and learn, the easier this becomes. You can instantly know if a photo is worth “saving” and what your editing limitations are.

You have to start thinking in terms of quality, not quantity. No one needs or really wants to purchase 200 photos, you should aim to nail about 50 shots to show your client. Think of what you would rather have, 15 outstanding shots of your family that you want to wallpaper your house with. Or, 139 shots that are just ok? 

Start to rely on yourself for CC, just like all the other aspects of your photography  business, this is something you can and should be in charge of for yourself. Save time, and boost your own confidence knowing you can honesty and quickly evaluate your own work.

Tammy Porter Arizona Child Photographer