Calling a spade a spade

If you’re a parent like me, you’ve had a few difficult decisions to make regarding your kids over the years. You want the best for them. You want them to have everything that you didn’t. You want them to grow up strong and independent.

Adversity can build us up or tear us down. It’s only when you’re in the gym doing that last squat and you’re so sore that you want to vomit that your muscles will grow. They’ll atrophy if they don’t get used or pushed.

The path of least resistance is not always the best for personal growth.

I would never intentionally hurt my kids feelings when they were proud of something that they’d done. I’d be honest and encouraging. They’ve been taught since they were toddlers that the only bad mistake is the one that they don’t learn from but if you keep telling them that everything they do is great, no matter what, you’re doing more harm than good.

What does this have to do with photography you ask?

When I was being trained as a photographer, we had a critique class. I’ve written about them before. We had guest photographers come in and critique our assignments. They weren’t always pleasant. Nobody wants to hear that their prize image doesn’t make the grade.

Lie and tell the student that the photo is great and they’ll never progress. Be honest with them in a constructive way and the opportunity to improve is theirs.

I did my weekly Saturday morning visit of a few photo blogs. Some are written by amateurs, others not.

One was a little disconcerting. The photographer was proudly(?) posting photos of his clients photo trips and workshops over the past winter.

Some were horribly processed, the worst possible HDR processing you can imagine. Others were either taken during completely overcast days where everything was blaaaah and yet more were taken during the harshest most unkind light of mid day. They were terrible! All of them.

As my kids would say, MAJOR FAIL!

You won’t ever get better if someone in a position of authority says you’re doing a great job. All we need is a little reassurance and we’re quick to believe that we’re as good as we think we are. Those photographers will remain stagnant much like the photographer whose blog I am writing about.

Secondly, most of us aren’t stupid. If we see terrible pictures, it doesn’t matter if they’ve been taken in one of the most beautiful places on earth. An awful picture can be taken anywhere. I’ve seen gawd awful photos of Lake Louise. Because the area is gorgeous you still can’t shoot anytime you want and come back with a work of art.

If you were considering a photo workshop or a tour would you be inclined to choose one where the photos by and large were terrible? I know I wouldn’t.

Sadly, in order to make a living in photography, at least for some, they resort to this. I don’t make any friends in the photo community by writing this stuff but then I didn’t mislead my kids when they didn’t hit the mark, they turned out to be strong, smart and independent.

It’s buyer beware in the photo world. Caveat emptor.

Happy shooting,



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~ by Dan Jurak on March 26, 2011.

10 Responses to “Calling a spade a spade”

  1. I, for one, completely agree. I recently read a great magazine article by a National Geographic photographer who said the best advice he ever got in his career was by his first NG boss who told him: “Don’t set out to prove, set out to improve.” I think there is a great deal of wisdom in that comment.

    I believe I know the photoblog you were referring to because I am a subscriber and viewed those same posts just recently, and admittedly, was perplexed. Being an amateur, I guess I chalked it up to a “professional” who had more experience than me lending those images credence. But honestly, your words made me see that my initial reaction was probably the more insightful. Thanks for keeping it honest and not being afraid to tell it like it is. If everyone would do that, we’d all continue to “improve” rather than strive to “prove.” :)

  2. @ 1107photography, I stopped linking to that blog a few months ago, if we’re thinking about the same one. It’s become less about photography and all about pushing courses, merchandise, etc.

    He’s not helping his clients by not being truthful. It’s obvious to anyone who can see that the photos are for the most part terrible.

    People pay for that kind of “instruction”?

  3. I think it would be interesting to see what the ‘scene’ looks like from several of your posts taken about 10-20 feet back with a big trail where you had to crawl/wade though the snow to get to the shot! Just a thought.

  4. @ Les, I’ve thought about doing that if only to show how effective a change of perspective is. I’ll definitely keep that in mind for a future post.

  5. Thanks, Dan. Yes, with all of these shots I wonder what is ‘behind’ the camera. What is the perspective change? (grin)

  6. More than interested to see how your new “perspective change” lense works out. ;-)

  7. As usual, another insightful and spot on post. As a teacher I was always perplexed by parents who berated me for being honest about their child’s work, no matter how gently I offered critique and encouragement. I must agree, my deepest, most meaningful lessons, the ones which helped me grow and improve, were the ones where an honest instructor/guide/whatever pointed me in a better direction. One reason I subscribe to your post is because you are a “teacher” and I can learn from you. (I’m an amateur, hobbyist at best. But I do hope to improve with practice, and by following good photographers.)

  8. the nineties were full of people pulling their punches, afraid to hurt anyones feelings or mebbe just afraid of any feelings at all, but i think we’ve all grown a bit since that time and criticism should be more readily welcomed! my least favorite thing about the Flickr photo sharing site is that there are 99.9 percent vapid, full of hot-air, “you’re the best, here’s a big kiss!” comments instead of something useful like “great shot, just needs a bit of horizon leveling, or “seriously, did you consider looking through the viewfinder before you pressed the big button, wanker!” Whereby one good critique is way more useful than 100 ego-stroking ones! have a nice day-

  9. I thought that was just me regarding Flickr. I’ve seen some truly atrocious stuff get pages of platitudes. However in social media stuff many people don’t know or go beyond the capture part of the process. I sense a lecture coming on … time to go.

  10. Hi Dan, for the most part I agree with your comments regarding the photo’s published on (DW’s?) photoblog on Saturday, and sadly too have thought that his blog has become more advetorial (is that a word?) than instructional – if of course we’re talking about the same photographer. Where I disagree is in the assumption that his clients were paying for an “instructional” workshop. My understanding, having taken a couple of such tours, is that they are more to do with getting you to the right place at the right time, than instruction on composition or editing. If his participants were paying for an “instructional” workshop then I’d agree, they didn’t get what they paid for – judging only by the photo’s the participants submitted. If they were paying for a “phototour” where what you do with the scene in front of you is more or less up to you, then I’d say they got what they paid for, but maybe they should have been looking for something with a greater instuctional component. Of course this could all be a moot point bc at the end of the day, it’s the satisfaction of the participants that’s important, and if they felt they received value for money and were thrilled with their photo’s then who are we to criticise?

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