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Author Topic: Why bother?  (Read 7233 times)
ckimmerle
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« on: January 06, 2010, 04:39:08 PM »
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In another thread, a side discussion was started on the merits of offering suggestions regarding toning, cropping, etc. A response by JohnR was a bit bothersome to me, so I thought a new thread might be in order. His post:

Quote from: John R
.....I think we should try not to radically alter the maker's vision, and that is my point.  And quite frankly, most suggested changes aren't necessarily better, just different views, crops or different formats. You can't walk into a gallery and say, this is no good, I would crop out this, increase contrast etc. You take it as it is and decide whether you like it or not. Of course doing so as an exercise is not an issue, and we do this consciously and unconsciously all the time.

I disagree with this post for a few reasons, not the least of which is this is a CRITIQUE forum, which means users should be expected, and deserve, honest and useful feedback. It is not a simple show-n-tell forum where such feedback may not be appropriate. The forum title clearly reads "User's Critique. People should be posting photos here to get feedback to help improve future attempts. If such responses are not welcome then, by all means, post elsewhere and state clearly that you're not interested in critical reviews.

And, as this forum IS for critiques (as the forum title clearly states), subjective criteria such as cropping, toning, composition would be appropriate topics for discussion, would they not?

And when commenting, nobody learns a thing with responses such as "I like this" or "good job". That is shallow and useless pandering which offers nothing of substance. Does anyone really think they're helping by such responses? Really? If you like an image, tell the photographer WHY you like it. Share your feelings and reactions. If you don't much care for a photo, be supportive yet honest. Respectfully offer suggestions on how you think it could have been improved during the shoot, and how it might be improved in post, but do so within the confines of the image itself. The original photog saw something worthwhile in the scene they photographed, and we need to respect that vision. That does not mean, however, that there may not be room for improvement.

I once requested a portfolio review by a major photographer whom we all know, but who requested I keep his ID under wraps, for obvious reasons. He was brutally honest at times, but in a way that forever shaped how I photograph. Many of the things he said are repeated every time I make an exposure and during every printing session. If all I had heard was "I like it" or "I hate it", I wouldn't have learned a damned thing.

We have to assume that those posting in this forum want our honest opinions and we owe them to be fair and respectful but, more importantly, we owe it to them to be honest and helpful.



addendum: apologies to JohnR for the slight ambush. I was just using his post to voice some pre-existing pet peeves and frustrations.
« Last Edit: January 06, 2010, 09:00:28 PM by ckimmerle » Logged

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Randy Carone
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« Reply #1 on: January 06, 2010, 07:25:54 PM »
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I agree Chuck.
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Randy Carone
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« Reply #2 on: January 06, 2010, 08:07:54 PM »
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There are several reasons why people post to this part of the forum.  I'll try to categorize them:
1.  Isn't sure how she/he feels about the photo and wants to know if the photo is any good.
2.  Thinks the photo is good and is seeking verification/validation/praise.
3.  Has trouble developing the photo correctly.
4.  Wants to know how the photo could have been improved.
5.  There is some aspect of the photo that is curious / unique and the photographer seeks feedback on that aspect of the photo.
6.  Wants to share an experience or event they documented.

Some people may think only one or two of the reasons above are valid reasons for posting.  I believe they are all valid to some degree (although all reasons can be abused).

I think John R's response presumes the reason to post is sort of a "display" exercise, similar to reason #2.  Hence the comparison to a gallery.  If that is the reason for the post, then perhaps he has a point.  However, as you point out this is titled "User Critiques."  It seems John R also presumes a clear vision that shouldn't be tampered with.  I'll be the first to admit most of my photos don't have a clear vision.  They might have a style, but the vision is fuzzy.  In fact, feedback on vision clarity is a sub of reason 5 above.  Many of us have limited sources of feedback.  Friends and relatives can't always be trusted for valid critiques.  This forum may be one's only feedback, and hence a valuable tool for improvement.  Certainly some of the reasons above seek "suggested changes..., different views, crops or different formats."

Sometimes it is not obvious what the reason for a post is.  In that case my opinion is that it's up to the photographer to filter out responses that are relevant to the reason for the post.  It does waste time and effort, so I think it behooves the photographer to give some direction on the reason for the post.  Russ covered this a while ago in his request that photographers state why they post a photo.

Dave

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Bradley Proctor
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« Reply #3 on: January 06, 2010, 08:50:07 PM »
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Quote from: dchew
There are several reasons why people post to this part of the forum.  I'll try to categorize them:
1.  Isn't sure how she/he feels about the photo and wants to know if the photo is any good.
2.  Thinks the photo is good and is seeking verification/validation/praise.
3.  Has trouble developing the photo correctly.
4.  Wants to know how the photo could have been improved.
5.  There is some aspect of the photo that is curious / unique and the photographer seeks feedback on that aspect of the photo.
6.  Wants to share an experience or event they documented.

Whether correct or not, I tend to assume that those who post an image without saying anything else fall into #2 (or perhaps #6) and I treat it as such.  Otherwise, the poster usually says what they are looking for.
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ckimmerle
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« Reply #4 on: January 06, 2010, 09:01:20 PM »
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Quote from: Randy Carone
I agree Chuck.

NO, no no......you have to tell me WHY you agree  
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John R
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« Reply #5 on: January 06, 2010, 11:02:47 PM »
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I too have gone to many seminars hosted by Professionals over the years, including the well known Canadian photographer, Freeman Patterson; the one who authored the books, "Photography and the art of seeing" and "Photography for the joy of it", and a few others. What I learned from him and others, is that you have to respect the vision of the author and try help the author bring out what they want. As a well known professional, he could have torn apart many of the images he was asked to critique, but instead he simply asked the maker what they thought the image was about and what were they trying to convey. He would then suggest simple ideas to try and improve the image. The image still may not have been that good, but  the critique was to help the author to see how he can improve his work and not replace it with his vision of how the image should look. So my point is simply that we can't go around suggesting radical treatments of other peoples images without knowing what they want to convey. Anyone can crop an image and suggest an alternative view. But if one starts to to do radical crops or treatments as critique, it might as well be their image and not the makers. I think the worst critiques are the ones that think anything can be salvaged or corrected in PP, like cloning out whole areas or fences or skies. I am not a purist, but frankly, if you don't learn to crop in the viewfinder, expose correctly most of the time, see and have an idea or vision you want to communicate (comes with time, practice and motivation), or lack some creative impetus or motivation for using photos to communicate with the world, not much will help your images.

But I take your point, this is a critique section. I was trying to move the critiques away from needless radical suggestions. And actually, simple expressions about why people like an image and what they think it expresses is also very helpful. I have no axe to grind, just wanted to express my view.

JMR
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kikashi
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« Reply #6 on: January 07, 2010, 02:58:29 AM »
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Quote from: Bradley Proctor
Whether correct or not, I tend to assume that those who post an image without saying anything else fall into #2 (or perhaps #6) and I treat it as such.  Otherwise, the poster usually says what they are looking for.
That's a rash assumption. I have posted quite a few of my images here, usually with only a "C&C?" comment. I expect, and have received, comments varying from simple expressions of appreciation or dislike to suggestions, some very helpful, as to how the image could be improved with judicious cropping, better treatment of highlights or shadows, removal of distortion, going back to re-take the shot and so on.

My aim in posting photos is never to receive simple admiration: I can get that from my mother or my four-year-old daughter. I want to improve my photography and I'm grateful that so many good artists, some professional, spend time on the forum and are prepared to give their opinions (with which I do, of course, as the photographer, feel able to disagree if I wish).

I very much appreciate others' eyes and others' viewpoints. I don't feel the need to direct their comments by specific questions.

To that extent, I disagree with John. That's not to say I don't feel a warm glow when someone simply says "I like it"!

Jeremy
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stamper
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« Reply #7 on: January 07, 2010, 05:37:31 AM »
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A very useful thread. I have went as far as bookmarking it in the hope that some more useful insights are added. I felt initially that John R had gone a little OTT - I expressed this in another similar post - but after his last post I feel that he has explained himself  better about the way he sees things. In future when I comment I will make the effort to be more expressive rather than the "nice image" comment. I was a camera club member for six years and the rough and tumble of  giving and receiving criticism gives one a good insight - subjective and objective - as how to improve your images. This forum should be the same?
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Justan
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« Reply #8 on: January 07, 2010, 08:10:55 AM »
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> So my point is simply that we can't go around suggesting radical treatments of other peoples images without knowing what they want to convey.

This is a as good observation as has been on this forum. One can’t hope to reasonably answer a question unless one has a sense of what the question is. People tend to be very polite here and that is a good thing, but politeness suggests that you don’t comment at risk of insulting the poster.

From that basis, it reasonably leads to the conclusion that the poster would serve themselves by asking the viewer things such as what can be done to improve this? Or more specifically, something such as

I was trying to bring out the muted colors in this area. Is it to much or too little? Or is there another way of doing it?

My goal was to capture the atmosphere in…

My goal was to capture the motion of…

…the mood of….

…and so on.

Communication is everything. The more one gives for others to work with the more likely the results will be helpful.


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ckimmerle
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« Reply #9 on: January 07, 2010, 09:04:42 AM »
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Quote from: John R
...my point is simply that we can't go around suggesting radical treatments of other peoples images without knowing what they want to convey. Anyone can crop an image and suggest an alternative view. But if one starts to to do radical crops or treatments as critique, it might as well be their image and not the makers....

.... if you don't learn to crop in the viewfinder....

For the most part, I agree with you. However, I think there are times when suggesting radical crops or toning changes are warranted as the image, as it exists, simply does not work (at least for that particular viewer). The photographer's vision and purpose should be taken into account, as you said, but it MUST be balanced with the viewer's reaction. To work well, a photographer not only needs to convey a message, but needs that message to be both received and interpreted by the viewer. Both parties have a stake.

More importantly, though, an honest and thoughtful image critique, however radical, has implications far beyond any single image. It will, if the photographer finds it valid, have a positive effect how all photos are shot, or printed, in the future (including cropping in the viewfinder), and THAT is what it is all about.

As is the consensus, respect is the key. Respect both for the photographer as a person, and what they are trying to accomplish.
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« Reply #10 on: January 07, 2010, 09:35:28 AM »
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Quote from: ckimmerle
... this is a CRITIQUE forum, which means users should be expected, and deserve, honest and useful feedback. It is not a simple show-n-tell forum where such feedback may not be appropriate. The forum title clearly reads "User's Critique. People should be posting photos here to get feedback to help improve future attempts.

Quote
And when commenting, nobody learns a thing with responses such as "I like this" or "good job". That is shallow and useless pandering which offers nothing of substance. Does anyone really think they're helping by such responses? Really? If you like an image, tell the photographer WHY you like it. Share your feelings and reactions. If you don't much care for a photo, be supportive yet honest. Respectfully offer suggestions on how you think it could have been improved during the shoot, and how it might be improved in post, but do so within the confines of the image itself. The original photog saw something worthwhile in the scene they photographed, and we need to respect that vision. That does not mean, however, that there may not be room for improvement.

I am in total agreement, and have stated similarly in this forum.

In particular, the "WHY" part is key. Those who are genuinely interested in receiving constructive feedbacks for improvement should be open minded and thick skinned. (I blame all my life's failings on my teachers who had not been harsh enough   ) For them (perhaps not too many here), I believe that a good critic bears the responsibility to spend time and effort to view the submitted work in detail and provide the best honest comments possible, however subjective, as long as they are supported by "WHYs". As a critic, but not as a teacher, I do not expect that my comments to be agreed, or valued by everyone.

In my web design critiques, I try to provide objective and subjective "WHYs" when possible. The objective "WHYs" would include misspells, broken links, etc., and the subjective "WHYs" would express my personal feelings such as background colors, ease of navigation, etc. The same should apply to image critiques.

Why am I doing this? Aside from helping the critique requesters, I have a few vested interests.

- I happen to believe that if I cannot explain "WHY" I like or dislike a piece of work, I ultimately do not understand it. This apply to my own work. If I can't tell why, I can't expect others to. Forcing myself to come up with answers is really learning about appreciation or lack there of. Besides, it gives me something "insightful" to chat about when attending receptions, etc.

- Critiquing others' work is a great way to improve my own. They remind me how I can apply what I like and how to avoid what I don't like. Whenever I view an image, here or elsewhere, that is within the same genre that I shoot, I would ask myself how I would shoot it given the same opportunity, and WHY. Often, I would come up with something different, in composition, exposure, etc. In my critiques, I would offer such comments. Subconsciously, I file these away, and may apply them when simular opportunites should indeed come along.

- Lastly, I learn to appreciate photography critigue books a whole lot more. A few of these books have taught me far more than the dozens of techniques books combined.
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Chris_T
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« Reply #11 on: January 07, 2010, 09:59:29 AM »
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Quote from: ckimmerle
For the most part, I agree with you. However, I think there are times when suggesting radical crops or toning changes are warranted as the image, as it exists, simply does not work (at least for that particular viewer). The photographer's vision and purpose should be taken into account, as you said, but it MUST be balanced with the viewer's reaction. To work well, a photographer not only needs to convey a message, but needs that message to be both received and interpreted by the viewer. Both parties have a stake.

The intent and messge of an image may or may not be spelled out by the photographer, and typically are not here. Some photographers do, and some phtographers don't. Some photographers do care that their work's intents and messages, spelled out or hidden, are intrepreted by the viewers the same way, and some don't. Some photographers may not have any intents or messages at all.

I personally believe that critics have a blank check when it comes to interpreting a work's intent and message, either disclosed or hidden.

For those who are interested to learn more about critiques, I would highly recommend "Criticizing Photographs" by Terry Barrett. It is the author's college level book for his course that teaches how to write critiques. In it, he cited two term papers by his students to demonstrate how viewers can have vastly different, yet equally insightful, interpretations of a same body of work by Sally Mann. That's what makes critiques and photography interesting.
« Last Edit: January 07, 2010, 10:14:10 AM by Chris_T » Logged
PeterAit
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« Reply #12 on: January 07, 2010, 02:41:38 PM »
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I disagree with that post, too. When one asks for a critique, it's not just a request for "like" or "dislike" but rather for ways in which the photo might be done differently. A photo I post is my vision of that photo given the limitations of my skill and experience, and if someone suggests a different cropping of contrast or whatever I am glad to consider it. Maybe the result will actually be closer to my vision but something I had not envisioned myself.
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« Reply #13 on: January 07, 2010, 04:21:17 PM »
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Quote from: kikashi
That's a rash assumption. I have posted quite a few of my images here, usually with only a "C&C?" comment. I expect, and have received, comments varying from simple expressions of appreciation or dislike to suggestions, some very helpful, as to how the image could be improved with judicious cropping, better treatment of highlights or shadows, removal of distortion, going back to re-take the shot and so on.

My aim in posting photos is never to receive simple admiration: I can get that from my mother or my four-year-old daughter. I want to improve my photography and I'm grateful that so many good artists, some professional, spend time on the forum and are prepared to give their opinions (with which I do, of course, as the photographer, feel able to disagree if I wish).

I very much appreciate others' eyes and others' viewpoints. I don't feel the need to direct their comments by specific questions.

To that extent, I disagree with John. That's not to say I don't feel a warm glow when someone simply says "I like it"!

Jeremy

My thoughts, exactly.
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Rob C
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« Reply #14 on: January 08, 2010, 04:16:36 AM »
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As you will have gathered, I enjoy posting here on LuLa and find much of interest and a lot of material that inspires comment. However, this particular type of thread, and it is far from unique, seems to fall into a little trap of its own making. That trap seems, to me at least, to be a very simple one where people feel an obligation to second-guess and show how they too could have handled the situation and improved upon the image from the original photographer.

This is couched in praise (sometimes) but ever with the delicate little hint that it would have been so much finer an image had this been done or that; that the critic, basically, knows best.

I have already, in the past, commented that people should just get on with it and do as they please without consulting anyone; unless it's a commercial venture, the world's yours so just do it your way and the hell with other opinions. That's one of the benefits of freedom of expression that you surely find within amateur photography; why sacrifice it on the alter of the camera club seniors or even forums such as this? Post pics by all means, but why invite criticism which, by definition, has to do more than just kiss your ass, and is also about as useful in the general scheme of things.

I believe that a picture show is a picture show, is a delightful device and that people will learn more by looking at other work than by reading remarks about their own. I see exhibitions as just that: picture shows. Of course this 'critique' title invites criticism; my contention is that it would serve a greater purpose having a space within which to display work without the rôle of the critic tossed in for no better reason than that's the way things are generally done in clubs, and this section is a virtual one.

I suspect that we would see more interesting images were the fear of criticism removed from some sensitive and more inhibited souls; not every artist is a masochist, though it helps.

Rob C
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ckimmerle
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« Reply #15 on: January 08, 2010, 08:59:18 AM »
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Quote from: Rob C
This is couched in praise (sometimes) but ever with the delicate little hint that it would have been so much finer an image had this been done or that; that the critic, basically, knows best.

I have already, in the past, commented that people should just get on with it and do as they please without consulting anyone;

A critique is not a command, nor it is a mandate. It is a suggestion. Nothing more, nothing less. As such, the photographer is free to pick and choose that which is valid and that which is to be discarded. The absolutely worst thing ANY photographer/artist can do, whether professional or hobbyist, is work in a vacuum.

And, yes, on the surface, a critique may make it appear that critic knows best, but that's unfairly simplified. We, as photographers, are in a two-way conversation with our viewers, be they family, friends, gallery owners or web forum members. If what we're doing is ineffective, our audience will not be able relate positively to our work. The worst part is that THEY will know this immediately. Without occasional feedback, the only ignorant one will be us.
« Last Edit: January 08, 2010, 09:01:31 AM by ckimmerle » Logged

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« Reply #16 on: January 08, 2010, 09:42:53 AM »
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Quote from: ckimmerle
A critique is not a command, nor it is a mandate. It is a suggestion. Nothing more, nothing less. As such, the photographer is free to pick and choose that which is valid and that which is to be discarded. The absolutely worst thing ANY photographer/artist can do, whether professional or hobbyist, is work in a vacuum.

And, yes, on the surface, a critique may make it appear that critic knows best, but that's unfairly simplified. We, as photographers, are in a two-way conversation with our viewers, be they family, friends, gallery owners or web forum members. If what we're doing is ineffective, our audience will not be able relate positively to our work. The worst part is that THEY will know this immediately. Without occasional feedback, the only ignorant one will be us.
This is well put, IMHO. 

When I show photographs, I often value feedback even more than sales. Sometimes what I am trying to express in an image may be fairly obscure. The type of feedback I get often tells me something about whether the viewer "got it" (i.e., saw what I saw in the image), or saw something worthwhile that I never noticed, or simply missed anything that the image had to offer. Any of these types of feedback is valuable to me. And in all three cases, statements of why the viewer sees it they way they do or suggestions for how to improve the image give me more of value.


Sometimes I know the image is good, and all I learn is that it only appeals to a very small audience with minds that are warped in ways similar to my own.   

Russ Lewis ("RSL") started a threa dhere recently about an Ice Storm in West Texas. I liked the photo a lot, and felt immediately that I "got" what he was doing and agreed with the way he presented the image. Several other viewers suggested various croppings and other "improvements," all of which would have made the image more conventional but much less compelling in my view.

Eric

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Rob C
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« Reply #17 on: January 08, 2010, 10:12:51 AM »
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Chuck

I agree isofar as I don't think a vacuum is the ideal space for any artist; that's why I suggested the alternative take of this being a display area without the need for comments from viewers. For example, your site, along with some others, is on my permanent Favourites list; that doesn't imply I seek or need your personal thoughts regarding anything that I might create, but that I do enjoy looking at your work and taking from it the pleasure in what I see, not perhaps exactly what you saw, though I'd be very surprised to learn we were seeing vastly different things in your frames.

Eric

I can't agree with the two-way theory at all. Two ways are only of interest where commerce, at whatever level, is expected. Then there will be a need to accommodate or even pander to the lowest common denominator of public taste: block-buster movies come cynically to my mind. But that is business acumen and not art. Where there is but naked art, as in pure, non-commercial self-expression, I see outside influence beyond what the artist choses to take on board from other visual material that he sees for himself, to be input too far. Comments can stick in the mind, and that would be fine if they came from on high with divine truth somewhere deep in the mix; as they always come from mere mortals, I believe they can do as much harm as any putative good...

Generally, telling another person that he would have done better to weight the shot to the left or right, include or exclude material is all opinion and doesn't come with any guarantee of validity; this can be destructive in its own right, as it can make the author of the artwork doubt himself, the worst thing that can happen to any artist and direct precursor to the dreaded block, something that can arrive perfectly happily of its own accord without any  extraneous help required!

Rob C
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« Reply #18 on: January 08, 2010, 10:22:39 AM »
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Quote from: Rob C
I suspect that we would see more interesting images were the fear of criticism removed from some sensitive and more inhibited souls; not every artist is a masochist, though it helps.

Rob C

Perhaps you should petition Mr. Reichmann for, as Russ Lewis put it, a "User Display" subforum.  Until that materializes, however, the current title of this forum speaks for itself.

John
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« Reply #19 on: January 08, 2010, 10:33:38 AM »
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Excellent thread. Perhaps I can offer my insight, from the perspective of a new user who joined recently, about why I joined and what my expectations of this forum are.

I have read this website for years, and have put much value into the skills, techniques, reviews, and general information on landscape photography contained herein. Recently, I decided to join the forums and enter the discussion. A large part of that decision was to be able to post images to this User Critique forum in hopes of receiving just that - critiques. I put up images because I want the opinions, criticisms, and perhaps even praise of the (in my estimation) much more experienced landscape photographers that regularly post here. So far, my experience has been great - and I hope to keep posting images and commenting on others' work.

I am not a professional photographer, with no current real aspirations to become one; I have a day job that I like, and I make photographs in my spare time because I love doing so. I live in a small town in the Sierra Nevada mountains, and I am isolated from other photographers (save for a few friends), thus most of the feedback I receive on the images I create is from family and friends who almost always seem to respond with a) "I love it!" or  they politely say nothing. never anything like "crop here, burn the grass in more, you should have used a wider aperture," etc. I post here to escape that bias and hopefully get some quality feedback from people that are more knowledgeable and more experienced than me.

My professional background is in physical research science, and a large part of my career to date has taken place in the world of peer review. I have always believed that one's work can benefit from all types of criticism - constructive and destructive. It is a nasty world out there, and there are going to be as many people who disagree with / do not like / do not understand what we are all doing as there are fans of our work, in any field. Hearing all of their critiques, and weighing them, makes us all better artists - whether we act on them or not.  

It is a rare photographer indeed who would unequivocally state that his or her images could not be improved in some way. Whether it is technique, processing, exposure, framing, artistic intent...etc....etc. - the list goes on - we can all get better. I feel like I am firmly placed in the category of "needs improvement" at this stage in my photographic hobby. So when I post images here, I expect criticism, and I will listen to all of it, good or bad, and use it to try and improve my photographs. Hopefully I can offer the same to others.
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