Being objective about your photographs or who can you trust?

Fort SunriseWhy do we take photos? It can be as simple as recording the moment for posterity or as complex as exploring your inner self.

Most of us take photos for fun and to be able to share them with our friends. If are confident of your abilities, you probably appreciate compliments on your photographs but that isn’t what you shoot for. What others think of your work shouldn’t necessarily guide you.

There is nothing wrong with that. I believe what makes us valuable is our differences and not our similarities. This especially applies to landscape photography. Do you want to shoot to the lowest common denominator?

While you are finding your way in photography, it is sometimes helpful to have a mentor, someone who will offer honest and objective advice.

I have always been a little bit stubborn when it came to doing things my own way. Some who know me will say, more than a little stubborn. Stubborn doesn’t mean being difficult to get along with it means being determined.

My thinking always has been that it doesn’t matter how many compliments you get for your work, if you know you could have done better, you should have done better.

To be different, it is necessary to be determined and unwavering  in how you shoot but it is also necessary to be a little bit like the branch that bends in the wind rather than breaks.

I learned years ago how helpful someone’s input could be while working with an artist/designer.He would wander into the studio while I was shooting food, look over my polaroids and make suggestions about cropping or how something was arranged. My initial reaction was to be dismissive and to not pay any attention to his advice.

I would hear what he said, be resistant and then gradually consider what he had said. Most times he was right and I would end up changing whatever it was that I was doing and be the better for it. Because he came into the studio after I had played with a still life for a few hours he always had a fresh perspective. If  you are focused on the same  shot for a long time it is easy to get lost in it and lose your objectivity.

Keith, the artist, has a great eye. He’s not a photographer, but being an arist he has the same tool set needed to be a photographer. Having spent time in art school, he learned all the rules that we learn, only to later break them. He would look, ponder for a moment and have a suggestion. I grew to trust Keith’s instinct became a better shooter for that.

Unlike a lot of people, Keith didn’t hesitate to say if something wasn’t working visually. It was never about being polite or flattering. He saw the photo as a puzzle that needed solving. That can be a problem when we ask for advice. When friends hear you ask for advice, they think you want to hear how nice the image is. Maybe you do. Maybe you want an honest opinion?

My kids are two of my harshest critics. From the time they were toddlers they understood that when I wanted an opinion, it meant that I wanted an honest opinion. They know that when they say, “Dad, that isn’t all that great”, they aren’t criticizing me personally  but they are helping.

And so it goes with getting advice on your photos. I tried a camera club ages ago and that wasn’t a good fit. Some people thrive in that environment. I don’t. Whatever works for you. The important thing is that you grow as an artist.

To the bald guy who has helped me all these years with his honesty, thank you. Most times you were right.  Not always. LOL

Happy shooting,


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~ by Dan Jurak on February 18, 2009.

4 Responses to “Being objective about your photographs or who can you trust?”

  1. I think the resistance is also what defines our core. That said, I think it’s alright to bend but not that easily. Not at all. :P

  2. Listening to other people and considering what they say always makes sense, but that doesn’t mean we have to follow their advice. Photography and Art in general are very subjective. We cannot and should not please everyone. Some of the best art is also some of the most controversial.
    That said, I rally love the picture of the cold snow with the warm glow of the sun. ;)

  3. Your wrote, “My thinking always has been that it doesn’t matter how many compliments you get for your work, if you know you could have done better, you should have done better.”

    That’s the key point for me. I’ve recently removed the majority of my photos from Flickr (different story) but I found that people viewing photos there are only into the “rah rah” mode and don’t give honest or constructive feedback. I’ve had only 2 people there ever give me useful input. But when I’m fortunate enough at other times (not Flickr) to receive advice, I do take it under advisement. — Sometimes they’re right, sometimes not so much. Most often, as you stated above, I know I should have done better.

    Good post.

  4. Diane, I understand what you say about Flickr. I find Flickr useful because among all the garbage and over processed photos I see, once in a while I stumble across a diamond. There are some truly talented shooters there.

    What I hate about Flickr is the backpatting, ego building and commenting to get reciprocal comments back to get you into Explore.

    I see many unremarkable photos with 300 comments, not because they are good photos but because of the croneyism that goes on there. I think you know what I mean. If I comment on your photo, there seems to be an implied obligation to comment on mine. That is just plain awful.

    Those that need to hear how good their photos are might as well be chasing rainbows. We know there aren’t any pots of gold at the end of them.

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