I belong to a portfolio building group. A group where we critique each other’s photos and portfolios so we can build a better portfolio. We are a mixed bag of skill level, styles and genres. There’s also one or two photographers who’ve built a serious portfolio and now own that skill. But they’re there to mentor us.
A couple of months ago, I submitted a portfolio with over 130 photos for critique. I carefully curated the photos over a month or so, using a rubric. I chose photos I believed were technically good, displayed creativity, and polish. Throughout the week, the photographers commented on certain photos and responded on the portfolio as a whole. I gained a lot of insight into where I needed to improve.
Then later in the week, one of the mentors responded, “I’m not going to take the time to comment on each photo because your portfolio is only emerging. Nothing is cohesive and you need a more polished set.” Boom. I was crushed. Tears started coming out of my eyes and I had to step away and go do something. I couldn’t think about it.
It took me a month to pull that portfolio together, not to mention all the time it took to individually create each photo. I took what she said, balled it up and put blame on the fact that she just didn’t like my style. Then I went and complained to my husband and whoever else listened.
Yep, that’s how I handled a critique. And recently. I’m embarrassed I reacted as such because I asked for it and knew I needed it. Everyone needs it. Whether you need photos for your biz or you’re looking for improvement in your camera or processing skills, critique is imperative.
I know it’s a big scary thing. It requires us to open ourselves up and be vulnerable. We literally ask someone to take their best punch at us. Like a couple of drunk boys who think it’ll be fun, and then it’s not when someone gets hurt. Yes, you might get hurt, but it’s different because it’s one of the best things you can do.
Photo critiques can also turn bad if you put your hard work out to the wrong people. I’ve seen the worst happen in a critique. A photographer puts one of their darlings (cough) photos out there for critical feedback. One of their babies they nurtured, spent time with and worked to produce. It takes bravery and guts, but they knew they needed the feedback. And what happened? They got slammed by trolls. Well-intentioned people also leave comments that come across as harsh, unapologetic or condescending. Ouch! Vulnerability hurts.
I’ve been there. I know. And the critique was public. Those words didn’t help me, at least not at first, they hurt. Actually, I let them hurt me. The problem didn’t lie in their words, the problem was in how I reacted to them. It took me a couple of weeks but I came to a better realization that there was truth in their words. I asked for it and I got it. But when I look at the comments with an objective mind and apply what they said, I always learn something.
Still, it makes me hesitate before I put up my images for critique, but the benefits outweigh the risks.
After I fumed over the mentor’s critique for about a week, ok maybe two, I went back to the portfolio and really looked at it. I looked at in comparison to others as well. Then, I saw what she meant. As a whole the portfolio was emerging. She didn’t say my images were emerging, it was the portfolio she was talking about.
I learned a lot from her response and went back to my portfolio with it in mind. So, I’ll keep submitting. It still stings, especially when I put up my best work, but the lessons learned are so worth it. And here’s why:
After a little while of moving along and feeling like I’m rocking it, I start to get a little over inflated. The thing is, I know there is always room for improvement. No matter what I can get technically better, and there is always creatively better.
When I start to feel like I’m on a roll and I love what I create, I know I need to get feedback. I need to know what’s next. What can I work on next to be an even better photographer.
For you it might be different. You are an Etsy seller who knows they need better photos for your shop and aren’t sure how to get there. You need to know the next steps for improvement. What to change and how to do it. Whatever your reason for improvement, critiques get you there.
A good critique will tell what to work on, and hopefully she’ll also tell you how to work on it. It gives you a game plan for improvement. A concrete direction put into practice will help you produce better photos.
To Know What You’re Doing Right
A good critique will tell you what you are doing right along with what you’re doing wrong, or could change. The stuff you’re doing great on is just as important as the things that need improvement. Pay attention to those. They boost your confidence and you need to know what not to change.
Keep doing the stuff you do right. And play to those strengths. If you’re great at capturing soft light photos, then play to that and shoot only in soft light. If you’re great at detail shots, make sure you keep those up. Use your strengths, while working on improving areas that aren’t as strong. That way your strengths will keep up your confidence and your photos will look top-notch.
To Explore Your Style and Vision
Many times it takes an objective eye to help see your personality in your photos. Sometimes you know yourself too well, or not well enough, so you don’t realize you insert yourself into your photos. This is what you want! To make your photos stand out, you need to push your own style and your vision. Without those, your photos will feel inauthentic and fall flat. Someone’s perspective helps you know what photos display your personality and vision. Authenticity is important in business. Your style and vision create authenticity in your photos.
When I went back through my portfolio with my mentor’s thoughts in my head, I saw what she meant. So I sat down and pulled out my absolute favorite photos, the ones I was super proud of. I asked myself why I loved them – there were only about 10 – and I wrote it down. Then I went back to the portfolio and pulled out images that matched my why. I ended up with about 35 images. Meaning 100 of the images from the first submission didn’t belong. That’s a lot of goodness I had to ditch. But, I found my style, my vision and that’s much more important than my ego.
It’s important your photos fit with your brand, your vision, and your style. They are a visual reflection of you. Getting a critique helps solidify what your vision and style is.
Maybe you just want to know if your images look good. Maybe you’re nervous about an image you’ll put on Instagram or in your Etsy shop. You’re unsure of whether it represents your brand or looks good enough. I’ve had plenty of images like that.
I’m building a large portfolio and every image is a reflection of me to those people who view it, so every image bears weight. I submit every image for critique because I want to make sure it’s worthy of my portfolio. I’ve had a couple stings but I move on, or make changes. The important thing is, I have confidence in those images.
Maybe you want the confidence that your images are good enough to put on your blog, in a portfolio, or in your store. A photo critique gives you that. And if an image needs work, fix it knowing that after the fix, it’s worthy.
You’ll Learn Something
You’ll learn something about your images, about yourself, and photography. These are all important for your growth technically and creatively.
After I created my new portfolio of only 35 images, I knew I learned something. I was ecstatic because I learned what my style was, something I searched for all along. But before I got too excited about it, I needed a critique again to make sure objective eyes were seeing what I saw.
I submitted my 35 photos. The mentor and everyone else responded the new portfolio was gorgeous! I jumped around my tiny office with excitement! I could move forward, and what was even better, I knew how to move forward. I could do it with confidence and direction.
I’m still working on my portfolio, weeding out photos and adding others, but at least it’s with purpose. I found my voice and I wouldn’t have done that without a critique.
I get it. I get why you hesitate on a critique. Either you’re nervous about it or you haven’t even thought about one.
If you haven’t thought about it, I hope these reasons changed your mind. If you’re nervous, consider these reasons over your fears. Because first, what you say in your head is worse than what most people think and definitely worse than what people say. Second, your business deserves it. It depends on it, so put your personal fears behind because your biz needs you.
All this leads to my announcement that I’m opening up for business! I’ll offer mentoring, portfolio reviews, and photo critiques to help your photography grow and improve. The image critiques focus on 5 individual images that we discuss with your purpose in mind. The mentoring focuses on your photography goals, defining your style and vision, or improving your photography or processing. Critiques and mentoring are private, so you are the only one with access. I will not share the images or the responses by you or me.
To find out more information on image critiques click here! I can’t wait to help you grow!
My first round of offerings will go to my email subscribers with a discount and one free image critique. So get signed up today for the announcement and list!